Jane is an animal rights activist with ‘Make Apes Great Again’ (“MAGA”), a group seeking legal protections for great apes such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. Several European countries have passed resolutions and made constitutional amendments extending legal personhood and certain human rights (e.g. the right to life and liberty) to great apes as a result of MAGA lobbying.
Jane learns from Richard, a Singaporean animal-lover that the Singapore Zoo holds a large number of orang-utans. At Jane’s request, he arranges for Jane and her friends (the “MAGA activists”) to travel to Singapore in May 2017.
In Singapore, the MAGA activists stage a silent daytime protest at the Zoo entrance. They wear great ape costumes and pose with placards bearing the MAGA logo and words like ‘Human Rights are Ape Rights!’, and ‘Liberty, Fraternity and Equality for Apes!’. No speeches are made, and no interviews are given. The protest does not interest many locals. Instead, it draws more attention from amused Korean and Japanese tourists who mistake the MAGA activists for very dedicated cosplayers. Photographs of the protest soon flood Facebook and Twitter.
The next day, the MAGA activists are charged with staging an illegal assembly under
Section 16 of the Public Order Act (“POA”) as follows:
- Jane is charged for organizing the protest under Section 16(1)(a), which carries a maximum fine of $5,000;
- the remaining MAGA activists are each charged for participating in the illegal assembly under Section 16(2)(a), which carries a maximum fine of $3,000.
In addition, the MAGA activists each face a charge under Section 14(3) of the Societies Act (“SA”) for being a member of an unlawful society.
Whilst in remand, the MAGA activists learn that the Green Peas Society (“GPS”), a citizens’ group pushing for the Thomson-East Coast MRT line to be diverted in order to preserve the MacRitchie Otters’ habitat, had conducted a protest at the Botanic
Gardens whilst the MAGA activists were protesting at the Zoo. The GPS protest drew substantial crowds of Singaporeans, many of whom wore otter-themed shirts. The GPS activists also made speeches and gave interviews to the press. However, no arrests were made or charge preferred in connection with the GPS protest.
The MAGA activists have retained you as their lawyer.
- The MAGA activists say that they are clearly victims of discrimination as they were arrested and charged under the POA and SA for exercising their fundamental rights, but no GPS activists were arrested or similarly charged. They highlight that the MAGA protest was silent, drew little attention and that no speeches or interviews were given, in contrast to the GPS protest, which drew large crowds and featured speeches/ press interviews given by GPS activists. Advise the MAGA activists.
- Jane wishes to mount a constitutional challenge to the legality of the Zoo’s continued custody of the orang-utans since “it is now international law that legal personhood and the human right of life and liberty also belongs to great apes”. Advise Jane.
The MAGA activists ultimately decide to plead guilty and are convicted. Richard, who has been visiting Jane almost daily whilst she was in remand, blames himself for the MAGA activists’ predicament and becomes resentful. He attends court to provide moral support to the MAGA activists. Following their conviction and sentencing, Richard ‘tweets’ the following to the 200 animal lover groups he follows: ‘Why no GPS conviction? Bloody judge bribe by SMRT! ’ He then goes to drown his sorrows at a nearby pub, where he runs into a neighbour, Priya.
Priya (who is a Singapore Permanent Resident) tells Richard that she has just been released without charge from Central Police Station, after being detained for about 20 hours. She is angry because she was not allowed to contact anyone whilst detained. Also, when she asked the arresting officer why she was being arrested, the arresting officer only said: “Still pretend you don’t know?”. She asks Richard to help her find legal advice.
Richard has now been charged for contempt of court (by scandalizing the court) under Section 3(1)(a) of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act (“AJPA”).
Richard and Priya have come to you.
- Richard tells you he should not even be charged with scandalizing the court as the offence of contempt is “outmoded and serves no useful purpose”. He also considers the AJPA to be unconstitutional. Explain and critically discuss the law on contempt.
- Priya wants to know whether her constitutional rights have been violated by the police. She has also asked you what remedy(ies) are available in the event a person is wrongfully detained. Advise Priya.