About 400 MPs’ letters received in 2017 written on behalf of constituents: AGC

About 400 MPs’ letters received in 2017 written on behalf of constituents: AGC

The act of MPs writing to the courts on behalf of their constituents is in the spotlight, after a High Court Judge said it was “somewhat troubling” for an appellant to try and downplay culpability through an MP’s letter.

Lam Pin Min during a Meet the People session
Sengkang West SMC MP Lam Pin Min during a Meet-the-People session. (Photo: Lam Pin Min/Facebook)

SINGAPORE: The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) received approximately 400 letters last year from Members’ of Parliament (MPs) written on behalf of their constituents, a spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia on Wednesday (Feb 7).

Channel NewsAsia understands MPs’ letters, in general, deal with a wide range of issues and these are addressed on their individual circumstances. It is also understood that the agency does not track the number of letters written by People’s Action Party (PAP) or Workers' Party MPs. Channel NewsAsia approached both parties for comment, with the WP saying on Thursday it declined to do so.

The revealed figure shed more light on the practice of MPs writing to the courts on behalf of their constituents, after a High Court judge highlighted a letter written by MP Lam Pin Min on behalf of Tang Ling Lee on the motor accident between her and victim Mr Vikaramen A Elangovan.

According to local media reports, the letter by Dr Lam, who is also Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport, said Tang had only “accidentally brushed a motorcyclist resulting in the motorcyclist sustaining some injuries”.

But the victim suffered multiple fractures requiring a dozen operations in two months, and was hospitalised for 69 days after he was hit by the car she had been driving, the Straits Times reported on Feb 1.

“These statements are regrettably misleading if they correctly reflect what she had conveyed to the MP,” Justice See Kee Oon said in his grounds of decision.  

“They are also not consistent with the SOF (statement of facts) that she had admitted to. It would appear that they sought to unfairly trivialise the accident and diminish the true extent of the victim’s substantial injuries.”

Following this, the PAP reportedly said it has no specific governing rules on the sending of MP letters to the courts or other agencies or ministries, but it has a “longstanding internal protocol”. This includes stating that if a resident runs into some problem with the law, the MP will listen carefully and sympathetically to the resident to understand his problem and, if the resident requests the MP to do so, the politician will write a letter to present the person’s case.

It also stated that the MP may write to the AGC under these two conditions: If charges have not yet been brought against a person, and if the MP is appealing for the AGC to not pursue charges.

If the case is already before the courts, and the appeal concerns a matter that is for the court to decide, such as an appeal for leniency in sentencing, MPs are generally advised to write to the Ministry of Law (MinLaw). MinLaw will then forward the letters to the courts for consideration.

MPs may sometimes use their discretion to give letters by hand to residents to be used in court in “urgent cases”, such as if the court hearing is in the next few days, PAP said.

Members of the public, however, have raised questions regarding this practice of MPs writing to the courts.

A retired district judge, Low Wee Ping, wrote in a letter published in the Straits Times on Feb 6 that when he was a Subordinate Courts’ Registrar, he was instructed by then-Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin “to ignore such MP letters, to not send them to the judges and to return them to the PAP Whip”.

“The reason, I was told, was that founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had instructed all MPs (in writing) that they should not be writing such letters to the courts,” he wrote. 

Source: CNA/kk