Parliament: Relook how some laws are excluded from judicial review, proposes MP
SINGAPORE – Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) on Thursday (March 4) called for a relook of how certain laws are exempted from being reviewed by the courts, saying Singaporeans desire greater checks and balances.
Citizens are increasingly calling for a reexamination of the “tried and tested ways of doing things”, and the country’s approach to governing should reflect this, he said, noting that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had acknowledged as much in his speech at the People’s Action Party Conference last November.
Mr Murali, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, was delivering an adjournment motion on judicial review, which is when someone asks the Supreme Court to evaluate the decisions of public bodies such as ministries.
He argued that making changes to how some of these laws contain provisions – known as ouster clauses – that restrict or exclude them from judicial review, would be a step in this direction.
He said: “I think it is desirable that this House regularly conduct a review of the ouster clauses against current circumstances, to ensure that there continues to be a need for such exceptions to exist and strike an appropriate balance between efficiency and accountability.”
In his motion, Mr Murali noted that some laws are exempted from judicial review to allow for the Government to take swift action in areas of national interest.
In the Charities Act, the Commissioner of Charities has the power to prohibit any fund-raising he feels should not be conducted in public interest – a decision the Courts cannot overturn.
For the Immigration Act, the Court also cannot review decisions made by the Government to deal with immigration into, and departure from, Singapore.
And in the case of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, decisions of the Minister and the Controller of Work Passes in relation to the issuance, suspension and revocation of work passes are not subject to judicial review.
But as the Government acts quickly and effectively in the national interest, there is also a need to ensure that its powers will not be abused, said Mr Murali. Singaporeans should know why these exemptions to judicial review exist, and why there are times where they might not apply, he added.
He brought up how the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, designed to protect public safety, can still be reviewed. The law, which has to be renewed every five years, allows suspected criminals to be detained without trial for charges like murder, drug trafficking and kidnapping. It came under the spotlight in 2015 in the case of alleged match-fixer Dan Tan Seet Eng, whose detention under the Act was ruled unlawful by the courts.
Mr Murali also singled out the Internal Security Act, and said the exemption on judicial review for it should remain, given the important role it plays as well as how it already has checks and balances.
The ISA enables a person to be detained for a renewable period of up to two years at a time without trial, should they be deemed a threat to national security, say for terrorism or espionage. Such a detention has to be approved by the President. But the ISA also provides for judicial review on the grounds that procedural requirements under the law are not complied with, Mr Murali noted.
Mr Murali said that a re-look at the judicial review exemptions for some laws will strengthen the legitimacy of Singapore’s legal system.
Providing greater scrutiny to how laws here are administered, be it by the Supreme Court or another higher office, will allow Singaporeans to better support them, he added. “Our people will be able to rely on the authoritative findings of these institutions to satisfy themselves of the bona fides or otherwise of government action, and that there is indeed legal limits placed on the powers vested in the Government,” he said.
“This is how the Government should be held accountable. This is what Rule of Law means.”
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