Singapore Police warning letter is as good as toilet paper says filmmaker

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Mr Jolovan Wham, Executive Director of HOME (a Non-Government Organisation helping migrant workers in Singapore) organised a candle-lit vigil at Hong Lim Park in October last year to show solidarity with the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ in Hong Kong.

Soon after the vigil, the police suspecting that he had allowed foreigners to take part in it, investigated Mr Wham for organising the event. Foreigners are not allowed to participate in such gatherings unless a proper police permit for their participation is issued.

Mr Wham however, in publicising the vigil on Facebook and also at the start of the event, had clearly indicated the condition that foreigners and permanent residents could not take part in it without a police permit.

Following investigations, Mr Wham was verbally warned by the police in March this year and also cautioned at that time that similar leniency may not be extended to him in future. Mr Wham, believing that he had done nothing wrong, refused to sign the police’s Notice of Warning and expressed that he wished to consult his lawyer before signing it. He was also not given a copy of the Notice.

Two months later when Mr Wham enquired about the outcome of his case, he was told that a warning had been administered to him in March. The police later sent him a letter to say that he had been warned and the matter was treated as closed.

Mr Wham then applied for a judicial review to ask the Court to quash the police warning as he was concerned that the stern warning would cause severe prejudice against him.

A warning is just a communication of possible consequences if the recipient continues the forbidden conduct, Senior State Counsel Francis Ng pointed out at a hearing last month. Mr Wham’s lawyer, Mr Choo Zhengxi, countered Mr Ng that the police warning could increase his chances of being prosecuted in the future as it showed that his client has committed an offence.

In the judgment released on 24 December 2015, Justice Woo Bih Li dismissed Mr Wham’s application on the grounds that there was nothing for the Court to quash as the police warning had no legal effect on the Recipient and was non-binding.

The Judge further pointed out that the “Court is not entitled to treat a warning as an antecedent or an aggravating factor for the purpose of sentencing a recipient who is subsequently convicted”.

The Judge also flagged the terms “warning” and “stern warning” which the Attorney-General’s Chambers had used interchangeably in their Notice to Mr Wham. The document meant for Mr Wham was headed “Notice of Warning” but the content referred to a “stern warning”. He commented that if there was a difference between the two terms, and that the terms should not be used interchangeably.

Commenting on the judgment filmmaker Martyn See who was issued a police warning letter for making the movie ‘Singapore Rebel‘ said, “The High Court has just ruled that such warnings are as good as toilet paper”.

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