We refer to the letters from Mr Jolovan Wham and Ms Braema Mathi (“Costs of protracted judicial process not reason for denying access to justice”, “Due process should not be subordinated to expediency”).
They confuse two issues: One, persons who have been charged before a court of law; and two, foreign nationals seeking to enter, work and/or remain in Singapore.
A person who faces a criminal charge has a right to due judicial process before he is convicted or acquitted on a charge.
A foreign national who is subject to repatriation, however, has no right under our laws to challenge the repatriation order in court.
Should our laws be changed then to allow foreign nationals who come here to work the right to be heard in court before they are repatriated? Or is it in the interest of
Singaporeans that decisions on repatriation be continued to be made by the Minister for Home Affairs?
Today, one of the conditions under which foreign nationals are allowed the privilege to come here to work is that they can be repatriated if, for example, the Minister assesses them to be security threats.
Take the case of the 57 workers who were repatriated for participating in the Little India riot: If a court process had been necessary before they are repatriated, they could have stayed on in Singapore for a considerable period. They could have been given bail and be free to walk around Singapore, including Little India. And if they had not been given bail, they could be in our jails for a very long time, waiting for deportation.
If the rules are such that transgressors can stay on in Singapore to fight their repatriation orders, then at least some among them will be less deterred from transgressing. Some may also go underground.
These are not theoretical possibilities. The example of other countries shows that these are altogether likely and the repatriation process can take years. In some countries, repatriation is almost impossible.
Mr Wham and Ms Mathi should explain how Singaporeans would benefit if they had their way and a similar burdensome repatriation process were imposed here.
The Police interviewed more than 4,000 workers and investigated 400 in the aftermath of the Little India riot. Following this immense effort, the State took carefully considered decisions, commensurate with the degree of culpability of each individual: 28 were charged, 57 were repatriated and more than 200 were given advisories.
Every country has the right to choose its own system best suited to its circumstances.
Our system places paramount importance on the safety and security of our citizens while ensuring the rights of those charged with criminal offences.
Our system is firm, just and fair.