Vol 5 (2013/14)

Downstream Investments in India

by Akshata Srinath

Foreign investment coming into India comprises of both direct and indirect investments. These investments are from non-residents and resident Indian entities. A Downstream Investment1 means such investment which is indirect foreign investment by one Indian company into another Indian Company by acquisition of shares and way of subscription. The framework until 2009 depended upon the press release by the DIPP wherein prior permission was required to be taken from Foreign Investment Promotion Board (“FIPB”) or any other concerned authority. The complication further arose when there were investments made by foreign owned Indian holding companies where not only the prior permission was required, but pre-requisite conditions were to be fulfilled, which included to keep checks on the foreign equity levels and the time period to keep track of the transfer.2 To understand such investment structure, it is important to analyse the key issues involved wherein before due diligence initiates all the parties to the transaction need to understand the investment structure along with the other approvals required from the relevant authorities.

A Core Investment Companies (“CICs”) also known as a ‘shell company’ is the company which only exists in India for the purposes of investment in other Indian companies.3 A foreign owned Indian company which is a CIC requires to fulfillment of the conditions of the regulations framed by the Reserve Bank of India (“RBI”). CICs, as per the law, needs to be registered with the RBI and they need to obtain a Certificate of Registration. It is to be noted that neither the amount being invested nor the ownership or the control of the CICs is significant for acquiring the approvals. Furthermore, when such downstream investments are made through such companies, it will need to comply with other subsequent and relevant conditions on entry route, other caps and conditions. Also while allowing such foreign investments to come in India. FIPB approval along with the RBI approval is required.4 Furthermore, the guidelines also bring out the procedure for the calculation of foreign investment in Indian Companies, transfer of ownership and control of Indian Companies along with the downstream investment of the Indian Companies.

Consequently, after seeing into the foreign investment rules and regulation, it can be indicated that even if a company tries to bring in investment in India without any approval by the relevant authorities, the foreign owned Indian company needs to make a report/disclosure to the RBI at the end of the financial year, declaring the utilization of the said investment made. Moreover, for the purpose of downstream investment, the Indian companies making the downstream investments would have to bring in requisite funds from abroad. As the new policy steps in, funds from the domestic market cannot be used. However this does not preclude downstream operating companies, from raising debt in the domestic market. Downstream investments through internal accruals are permissible by an Indian company, subject to the provisions of clause 65 which proposes a suitable regulatory framework for the CICs to comply with the registration process with the RBI. The RBI has also made further clarification on when a downstream investment is made by an Indian company which is not owned and controlled by residents into another Indian company, this investment will be subjected to the sectoral norms on entry route, conditions and caps applicable to the sector in which latter company operates.6

When downstream investments are made by a CIC which is owned and controlled by a non resident entity, further notification needs to be made to the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (“DIPP”) and Secretariat for Industrial Assistance (“SIA”) along with FIPB and RBI.7 Also issue, transfer pricing and valuation of shares should be in accordance with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”).8 The Indian company needs to comply with the provisions of the Companies Act 1956 like investments by the way of induction of foreign equity needs to be backed up by a resolution of the Board of Directors and a shareholders’ agreement.9

Therefore, the parties before the commencement of the process of due diligence, should clarify any concerns with respect to the above mentioned laws, the suitability of the investment structure to bring in foreign investments in the company, clarity on whether certain approvals are applicable to them or not.


[1] The term ‘Downstream Investment’, is widely used in practice but it is not specifically defined. It only came into definition by the Press Note 4 [2009 Series] issued by the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, Government of India (DIPP) as indirect foreign investment by one Indian company into another Indian company by way of subscription or acquisition in terms of Press Note 2 of 2009.

[2] “Press Note No. 9 (1999 Series)” Government of India, online: <http://dipp.gov.in/English/acts_rules/Press_Notes/press9_99.htm>.

[3] “Master Circular– Regulatory Framework for Core Investment Companies (CICs)” Reserve Bank of India, online: <http://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_ViewMasCirculardetails.aspx?id=7391>. It has to be understood that any such method in which investments enter in India, need approval from the RBI which includes declaration of the amount of investment coming into the company.

[4] “Foreign Investment in India – Guidelines for calculation of total foreign investment in Indian companies, transfer of ownership and control of Indian companies and downstream investment by Indian companies” Reserve Bank of India, online: <http://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/Notification/PDFs/01APDIR040713.pdf>.

[5] “Regulatory Framework for Core Investment Companies (CICs)” Reserve Bank of India, online: <http://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=5944&Mode=0>.

[6] Supra note 4.

[7] “Consolidated FDI Policy” Government of India (5 April 2013) online: <http://dipp.nic.in/English/Policies/FDI_Circular_01_2013.pdf>, “Press Note No. 6 (2013 Series)” Government of India online: <http://dipp.nic.in/English/acts_rules/Press_Notes/pn6_2013.pdf>.

[8] “Foreign Investments in India” Reserve Bank of India, online: <http://www.rbi.org.in/commonman/English/scripts/faqs.aspx?id=15>.

[9] Indian Companies Act, 1956, Act No. 1, s 31, s 40, and s 94 (1)

Consent in the context of rape: a discussion

by Ng Teng Wei

INTRODUCTION

In R. (F) v Director of Public Prosecutions,1 the English High Court examined the issue of consent in a case of rape. The case was an application for judicial review by the claimant against the Director of Public Prosecutions’ refusal to prosecute the intervener for rape and/or sexual assault.

THE UK DECISION

In R. (F) v Director of Public Prosecutions,2 the claimant had suffered from an abusive relationship with her former partner, with whom she had been in an Islamic marriage with, though they had never lived together. The proceedings came about after the claimant had agreed to sexual intercourse with the intervener with the condition that the intervener would not ejaculate into the claimant’s vagina. The intervener, however, ejaculated inside the claimant. The claimant subsequently made a police report, but the Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to prosecute. Hence, the claimant claimed judicial review of the refusal to prosecute.

The Lord Chief Justice, delivering the judgment, first considered the case of Assange v Swedish Prosecution Authority 3 [Assange], where the accused, while knowing that the victim’s prerequisite to consent to sexual intercourse was for the accused to wear a condom, consummated unprotected sexual intercourse with the victim. In Assange, the English High Court held that:

“if [the victim] had made clear that she would only consent to sexual intercourse if Mr Assange used a condom, then there would be no consent if, without her consent, he did not use a condom, or removed or tore the condom without her consent. His conduct in having sexual intercourse without a condom in circumstances where she had made clear she would only have sexual intercourse if he used a condom would therefore amount to an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, whatever the position may have been prior to that Act.”4

The Lord Chief Justice then noted that ejaculation is irrelevant to the definition of rape under Section 1(1) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003,5 but that ejaculation may be an aggravating factor in sentencing.6 The Lord Chief Justice then noted the ‘choice’ is crucial to the definition of consent in Section 74 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, 7 and concluded that:

“[i]f before penetration began the intervener had made up his mind that he would penetrate and ejaculate within the claimant’s vagina, or even, because “penetration is a continuing act from entry to withdrawal” (see s.79(2) of the 2003 Act) he decided that he would not withdraw at all, just because he deemed the claimant subservient to his control, she was deprived of choice relating to the crucial feature on which her original consent to sexual intercourse was based. Accordingly her consent was negated. Contrary to her wishes, and knowing that she would not have consented, and did not consent to penetration or the continuation of penetration if she had any inkling of his intention, he deliberately ejaculated within her vagina. In law, this combination of circumstances falls within the statutory definition of rape.” 8

THE LAW

The English High Court had basically laid down 3 rules for the law of consent in sexual offences:

  1. If there are preconditions to sexual intercourse, default of a precondition before or at the point of penetration would amount to a withdrawal of consent to sexual intercourse. (The principle as laid out in Assange.)
  2. Accidental default of a precondition to sexual intercourse would not negate consent.
  3. Penetration with the intention of defaulting a precondition to sexual intercourse, with the defaulting of that precondition occurring during or after penetration, would negate consent. (Note that it is unclear whether the consent is withdrawn at the point of such formation of intention, or whether consent is withdrawn at the point of the default of the precondition, or whether consent is retrospectively negated ab initio after the occurrence of the default of the precondition. Whether or not this matters is unclear.)

These three rules reflect this idea of “conditional consent”. The underlying principle behind these three rules is that the freedom of choice of both parties has to be respected. 9 When a party is robbed of free choice, then sexual penetration would be regarded as rape.

THE LAW IN SINGAPORE

In Singapore, there is no statutory definition of consent, though Section 90 of the Penal Code 10 does indicate situations where consent is vitiated. However, in Public Prosecutor v Iryan bin Abdul Karim 11 [Iryan], the Singapore High Court adopted the definition in Ratanlal & Dhirajlal’s Law of Crimes: A Commentary on the Indian Penal Code 1860, Vol 2 12 that:

“[c]onsent on the part of a woman, as a defence to an allegation of rape, requires voluntary participation, not only after the exercise of intelligence, based on the knowledge of the significance and the moral quality of the act, but after having freely exercised a choice between resistance and assent… Consent implies the exercise of free and untrammelled right to forbid or withhold what is being consented to (emphasis mine); it is always a voluntary and conscious acceptance of what is proposed to be done by another and concurred in by the former.” 13

This definition places emphasis on free choice, similar to s74 of the UK Sexual Offences Act 2003.14 Hence, it is likely that Singapore would adopt a similar stance to that of the UK High Court if a similar case were to be pleaded before the Singapore Courts.

However, there are some points that require clarification with regards to the law of consent in this regard.

A. Consent to What?

Firstly, what is the focus of the law of consent in a case of rape? Where consent has been given for penetration, though there is forbiddance of internal ejaculation, does the law of consent consider merely whether there was consent to sexual penetration, or is it much more than that? Section 375(1) of the Penal Code 15 states:

“Rape

375 —(1) Any man who penetrates the vagina of a woman with his penis —

(a) without her consent; or

(b) with or without her consent, when she is under 14 years of age,

shall be guilty of an offence.” 16

This statute alone suggests that consent here refers to consent to sexual penetration alone. However, when read with the definition of consent in Iryan,17 it becomes clear that the express forbiddance to internal ejaculation must not be regarded separately from the consent to penetration, as the express forbiddance is part of the “freely exercised choice” to the assent to penetration and disregard for the forbiddance would amount to robbing the party of the freedom “to forbid or withhold what is being consented to”. Thus, the ruling in R. (F) v Director of Public Prosecutions 18 would appear to agree with that in Iryan.19 Nevertheless, it is to be noted that the Court of Appeal of Singapore has yet to endorse the Iryan 20 definition of consent, and it may yet reduce uncertainty if we were to include this definition in the Penal Code.21

B. Limits to Conditional Consent

Secondly, should there be a limit to the types of conditions which when in default would negate consent? Whilst the preconditions of using protection before penetration or requiring withdrawal pre-ejaculation should be awarded protection, what about other preconditions?

Consider the situation where a woman insists that the man must make a certain amount of cash before she would agree to intercourse. If the man lies, and sexual intercourse occurs, would consent have been negated such that the man has committed rape?22 Despite the immorality of such a lie, should the man be branded a rapist and be incarcerated?

Former Barrister Laura Perrins believes that “the criminal justice system – the greatest weapon in the State’s hand when condemning a citizen’s behaviour – should be slow to fill the vacuum left by a collapse in moral standards. Dr Jonathan Rogers, senior lecturer of laws at University College London, says: “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there is no possible place for conditional consent, but we could certainly get by without using it.”23 Clearly there must be a line drawn when it comes to the type of pre-specified conditions which, in default, would negate consent. The English High Court did not test the boundaries of conditional consent, and this doctrine is yet untested in Singapore, though this could further muddy the waters in the difficult doctrine of consent. Yet, it may be that conditional consent, in light of R. (F) v Director of Public Prosecutions,24 would be a necessary tool in delineating whether consent had been given.

CONCLUSION

The doctrine of consent has always been difficult to grasp and delineate. However, this writer would agree that the ruling in R. (F) v Director of Public Prosecutions 25 is correct, though the court could afford to further explore the limits and boundaries of conditional consent.

It is interesting to note that this case has been hyped up by the media, proclaiming that there can be rape even when there is consent.26 This is not really true, as the consent is negated when the preconditions are not met, and thus there is no longer any valid consent to begin with. In reality though, behind all the fuss, let us all not forget that it is actually very simple. As Ally Fog puts it, “[i]f you do something to someone’s intimate bits (or with your intimate bits) which you know s/he has not consented to or is unable to consent to at that moment, you are committing an act of sexual assault or rape.” 27 There, it is as simple as that.


[1] [2013] 2 Cr. App. R. 21.

[2] Ibid.

[3] [2011] EWHC 2849.

[4] Ibid at [86].

[5] 2003 c 42 (UK).

[6] Supra note 1 at [21].

[7] Supra note 4.

[8] Supra note 1 at [26].

[9] Ibid.

[10] Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed Sing).

[11] [2010] 2 SLR 15.

[12] Ratanlal and Dhirajlal, Ratanlal & Dhirajlal’s Law of Crimes: A Commentary on the Indian Penal Code 1860, Vol 2 (Bharat Law House, 26th Ed, 2007).

[13] Ibid at p 2061.

[14] Supra note 4.

[15] Supra note 8.

[16] Supra note 8, s 375(1).

[17] Supra note 9.

[18] Supra note 1.

[19] Supra note 9.

[20] Supra note 9.

[21] Supra note 8.

[22] Consider also the scenario of the alleged karate champion as mentioned by Nicholas J. McBride, Fellow, Pembroke College, Cambridge, on the first page of his article. Nicholas J. McBride, “Rape and Consent” <http://mcbridesguides.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/mcbride-rape-and-consent.pdf>, p 1.

[23] Laura Perrins, ” Did you know the legal definition of rape and ‘consent’ is changing? Here’s how” The Telegraph (19 September 2013), online: The Telegraph <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10319902/Did-you-know-the-legal-definition-of-rape-and-consent-is-changing-Heres-how.html>.

[24] Supra note 1.

[25] Supra note 1.

[26] “Sex consent could lead to rape charge, judges say” BBC News UK (24 April 2013), online: BBC <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22281457>; “Sex with consent ‘can still be rape'” Metro News (24 April 2013), online: Metro <http://metro.co.uk/2013/04/24/sex-with-consent-can-still-be-rape-3665975>.

[27] Ally Fog, “Consensual sex and rape – it’s really very simple” The Independent Voices (25 April 2013), online: The Independent <http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/consensual-sex-and-rape–its-really-very-simple-8588287.html>.

Powerful to build, powerless to defend

by Lim Wei Zhen

The silent builders of our home and economy have begun to vocalize their thoughts. The landmark SMRT Bus workers strike1 raised a few eyebrows, but raised more questions – as does the increase in migrant workers falling to their deaths2. What have they fallen into? What systemic pit have we built for these workers?

Their hands have painstakingly built the hardware and software of our country. Yet, these who are powerful to build and man the social frameworks of our society, are powerless to defend themselves against the socio-legal labyrinth they find themselves trapped in. The recent spate of workmen accidents and exploitation suggests that the element of control may undermine the freedom of contract in terms of the formation and enforcement of contract. The control imbalance between the employers and migrant workers severely skews the bargaining power workers have in negotiating and enforcing the terms of their contract.

This warrants first an examination of the control disparity between employers and migrant workers, and how this disparity is more pronounced for migrant as opposed to local workers. This will be followed by a discussion of the non-contractual remedies available in tort and statute. The impact of this control imbalance on the formation and enforcement of the contract, as well as the remedies available to the workers will then be examined. It is submitted that the private law system, in theory, does have legal recourse available to these workers, but the realities of control and evidentiary burdens render these unavailable. Instead, policy should work to equalize the disparity through imposition of legislative frameworks.

Indeed, locals and migrant workers may be subject to the same employers, but what is it exactly about these migrant workers that make them exceptionally vulnerable, as opposed to local employees? Beyond their unfamiliarity with our language and legal system, the answer lies in what these workers left behind – their homes. A nagging threat preventing transient workers from raising or enforcing legal claims they have would be the threat of repatriation – a threat that lacks the same force for local employees. Workers stand to lose too much in the face of repatriation – they have invested too much in the journey here that they would stand to lose much financially and emotionally were they to return empty handed. Too many shackles chain transient workers to their jobs in Singapore – even before they touch down at our sunny shores. Placement and agent fees leave them with debts3 that must be repaid before they may return home. Delays in payment of wages force them to remain in Singapore to pursue their claim. Arbitrary deductions for sick leave, informal saving schemes and rent compel them to work overtime to earn back what was lost4. The threat of repatriation is a very real one, as it prevents workers from pursuing any claims they have against their agents and employers5. Besides threatening their financial position, repatriation threatens their social status back home, due to the shame of returning as “failed migrants”, particularly for male migrant workers6. The threat is accentuated by the ease with which repatriation can be done legally or illegally. Legal means allow employers to unilaterally cancel or refuse to renew work permits7, rendering what was legal today, an illegal overstaying tomorrow. Alternatively, employers may enlist the services of repatriation officers, to forcefully repatriate8 workers who are unwanted, or to cause workers to disappear before their case may be heard before the courts9. This control imbalance, where workers have a compelling reason to stay in Singapore, but employers have the power to make them leave before their time is up, causes employers to have a stronghold over more than the workers’ pay – but also the workers’ safety.

This control imbalance has the power to exacerbate the workers’ physical, mental and economical safety. Repatriation in itself involves the tortious offences of battery; assault and false imprisonment, which threaten both the worker’s physical and mental safety. The motive behind forceful repatriation seeks to deny the worker his rightful claim to his due wages, threatening the worker’s financial safety. While in theory, workers may try seeking legal recourse by calling the police before filing criminal or civil claims10, in practice, repatriation companies are viewed as a legal means of safeguarding the employers’ security bond11, and thus enforcement agencies may be reluctant to intervene.

Beyond actual forceful repatriation, which may be a reality for a number of workers, the control imbalance caused by the threat of forceful repatriation further threatens the safety of many, when safety regulations imposed by statute12 go unenforced due to the threat. While in practice employers have an onerous, direct and non-delegable duty to ensure workers safety by imposing a safe system of work13 in statute and under common law, the control imbalance lends them license to not enforce such precautions, especially if it would save costs and time. Unfortunately, it does not save lives14. Definitely, not every employer is guilty of flouting such safety rules, but enough are, to pose a threat to the lives of the workers who pass through their hands15.  In certain instances, threats of repatriation may even suffice to cease protests16 against commands to flout safety regulations17.

This problem is heightened when the flouting of safety regulations actually results in accidents. Under the Work Injury Compensation Act18, compensation seems to be a simple matter in that the claimant simply has to suffer from the respective afflictions. However, it is a complex issue in reality, where a heavy evidentiary burden lies upon the worker to prove the injury, as there are no formalized systems of documenting proof. There is no standardized procedure across the medical profession as a whole as to collecting testimonial evidence concerning the worker’s injury. For instance, there are no guidelines stipulating that both the workers and employers’ account of the accident should be noted down. It is understandable that in a large percentage of cases, doctors would prefer to hear an account of the accident from primarily the employers, as there is a smaller language barrier to surmount. Further, where concrete evidence such as closed-circuit television footage of the accident is available, they usually lie in the hands of employers, who can choose not to hand it over. The lack of formalized systems to help workers formally document proof, lend workers no avail when employers counter-claim that the employee’s injury was not work-related19.   Beyond legal recourse in criminal, statutory and tort law, workers theoretically have recourse in contract law. Firstly, regarding arbitrary deductions from the sum the worker is entitled to; employers are not allowed to unilaterally change the terms of the contract unless the other contracting party agrees. However, due to the control imbalance, most are afraid to persist in challenging such deductions, when they are unfamiliar with the Singapore’s legal system, and the threat of being sent home without receiving any pay looms overhead.

Secondly, contract law does not satisfactorily provide a resolution to the problem of salary delays. While salary delays are a breach of the terms of a contract, these salary delays are not conditions, as the time of payment will not be deemed as a condition in common law20. As these delays are not deemed as a breach of a contractual condition, this does not entitle the worker to the common law right to termination of the contract – which might be the next best remedy available to the worker after a long period of salary delay. The right to terminate would allow the worker to cut his losses when the employer clearly has no money to pay or will not pay the worker his salary, which would render the common law right to damages or sue for contract price a hollow one.

Thirdly, while salary delays are not breaches of contractual conditions, the Employment Act21 does stipulate that salaries must be paid within seven days of the agreed date of payment22, and that over time pay must be paid within fourteen days of the last salary period23. Thus, the law allows a form of settlement for wage disputes via the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) caseworkers and the Labour Court. However, in practice, while MOM has succeeded in helping workers receive their unpaid salaries, in most cases, where the employers themselves are penniless, the workers are still unable to recoup their losses24.

Fourthly, these salary disputes may arise out of duplicate contracts and documents, where different terms are incorporated into legal documents, which purport to be the same. For instance, in their home countries, workers sign documents which may be in their own native tongue, but when they reach their destination country of Singapore, they sign the same document in English. While the terms profess to be the same, in reality, due to the language barrier, the workers are unable to do their due diligence to ensure the contractual terms are the same. Further, the control imbalance raises questions of the equality of bargaining power between the employers and migrant workers. Having already paid their agent fees and airfares, any legal recourse available in the doctrines of mistake, misrepresentation or duress, upon discovery of the differences in terms of contract in Singapore, would be too little, too late. The differences in equality of bargaining power further undermine the true nature of the freedom of the migrant worker to contract on his terms. While local workers may lack freedom to negotiate the terms of our contracts, the ability of locals to wait out legal claims and easily switch employers without being encumbered by work permits provides local workers with a very real means of enforcing the terms of their contracts in the event of breach.

In sum, these salary delays, non-payment of medical compensation for work accidents and deductions do plague a good number of the low-skilled and semi-skilled migrant workers in Singapore. The question then is what form of legal recourse does statute or the private law system afford them and to what extent are these effective in light of the control imbalance? The answer, while dismal, offers some hope. Practically speaking, the control imbalance and the very real threat of repatriation pose a high barrier to successfully enforcing and proving any legal claims that workers have. However, the sound theoretical legal doctrines bring hope in that there are legal avenues to tackle each problem, and bring optimism that slight systemic changes may be able to address problems posed by the control imbalance.

Policy should be two-pronged: aimed at both reducing the threat of repatriation, and easing the evidentiary burden on migrant workers. Regarding the former, the Singapore Court of Appeal has been open to employers footing the travel expenses of their workers when their workers return to Singapore to pursue their claim25. This brings hope that the threat of repatriation will be eased in time, where workers need not fear being repatriated because they can return to Singapore for their case to be heard even after their Special Passes or Work Permits expire, as their employers will be responsible for their expenses. Systemic changes in the form of allowing workers to pursue their claims from their home countries, rather than Singapore, would be helpful in reducing the legal sting of the threat of repatriation. Regarding the latter, compulsory issuance of pay slips26, and streamlining the statement-recording procedures for doctors, will help reduce the level of evidentiary burden placed on workers in trying to prove the validity of their claims.

Clearly, a balance between fairness and certainty must be struck both in theory and in practice. The day where sound theoretical checks against the abuse of control imbalances can be enforced in reality is one where perhaps, these silent builders will truly be legally empowered to defend themselves fully.


[1] Fann Sim, “Singapore bus driver strike makes world news”, Yahoo! News (30 November 2012), online: <http://sg.news.yahoo.com/singapore-bus-driver-strike-makes-world-news-104247497.html>.

[2] Teckwah Tan, “Singapore’s Maids: No Respite?”, The Diplomat (05 August 2013), online: <http://thediplomat.com/2013/08/singapores-maids-no-respite/>.

[3] Kirstan Han, “Singapore’s Exploited Immigrant Workers”, The Daily Beast (11 August 2013), online: <http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/11/08/singapore-s-exploited-immigrant-workers.html>.

[4]“Debts, Delays, Deductions: Wage Issues Faced by Foreign Domestic Workers in Singapore”, Transient Workers Count Too (24 May 2009), online: <http://twc2.org.sg/2009/05/24/debt-delays-deductions-wage-issues-faced-by-foreign-domestic-workers-in-singapore/>.

[5] Fann Sim, “Chinese Worker Rescued from Being Repatriated by Employer” YahooNews – Singapore Scene (21 December 2012), online: <http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/singaporescene/chinese-worker-rescued-being-repatriated-employer-024508057.html>.

[6] Sallie Yea, “Troubled Waters: Trafficking of Filipino Men into the Long Haul Fishing Industry through Singapore” (2012) at 56. Online: Transient Workers Count Too <http://twc2.org.sg/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Troubled_waters_sallie_yea.pdf>.

[7] Ministry of Manpower, Work Permit (Foreign Worker) Cancellation and Renewal, online: MOM

<http://www.mom.gov.sg/foreign-manpower/passes-visas/work-permit-fw/cancelation-renewal/Pages/pass-cancellation.aspx>.

[8] Philip Lim, “Missing Migrant Workers Hunted Down in Singapore”, The Jakarta Globe (3 August 2011), online: <http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/archive/missing-migrant-workers-hunted-down-in-singapore/>.

[9]Repatriation Companies – Manpower Minister’s Response Belittles the Efforts of Migrant Workers, Jolovan Wham, (30 November 2011), online: <http://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2011/11/repartriation-companies-manpower-ministers-response-belittles-the-efforts-of-migrant-workers/>.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Workplace Safety and Health Act (Cap 354A, 2009 Rev Ed Sing).

[13] Chandran a/l Subbiah v Dockers Marine Pte Ltd [2010] 1 SLR 786; [2009] SGCA 58.

[14] Fiona Low, “More Workers in Singapore Falling to Their Deaths”, The Straits Times (4 November 2011), online: The Jakarta Post <http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2011/11/04/more-workers-singapore-falling-their-deaths.html>.

[15] “Workplace Injuries, ill health ‘cost billions’”, TodayOnline (31 July 2013), online: <http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/workplace-injuries-ill-health-cost-billions>.

[16] Lim Wei Zhen, “Workers Told to Ignore Max Carrying Load Per Man Suffer Injury”, Transient Workers Count Too (19 August 2013), online: <http://twc2.org.sg/2013/08/19/workers-told-to-ignore-max-carrying-load-per-man-suffer-injury/>.

[17] Arjun Naidu, “Worker May Need Operation for Back Injury, Employer Wants to Send him Home”, Transient Workers Count Too (5 August 2012), online: <http://twc2.org.sg/2012/08/05/worker-may-need-operation-for-back-injury-employer-wants-to-send-him-home/>.

[18] (Cap 354, 2009 Rev Ed Sing).

[19] “Who Said What to the Doctor”, Transient Workers Count Too (6 December 2013), online: <http://twc2.org.sg/2013/12/06/who-said-what-to-the-doctor/>.

[20] Man Financial (S) Pte Ltd (formerly known as E D & F Man International (S) Pte Ltd) v Wong Bark Chuan David [2008] 1 SLR 663; [2007] SGCA 53.

[21] Employment Act (Cap 91, 2009 Rev Ed Sing).

[22] Ibid, s 21(1).

[23] Ibid, s 21(2).

[24] Andrew Loh, “Construction Workers in Yishun Demand Pay, Refuse to Work”, Yahoo (18 December 2012) online: <http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/singaporescene/construction-workers-yishun-demand-pay-refuse-063411977.html>.

[25] Selina Lum, “Insurer Rebuked for Wasting the Court’s Time”, Asiaone (30 November 2013), online: <http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/insurer-rebuked-wasting-courts-time>.

[26] Rachel Chang, Joanna Seow and Robin Chan, “Move for Compulsory Payslips Deferred”, Asiaone (15 November 2013), online: <http://business.asiaone.com/news/move-compulsory-payslips-deferred>.

Protection of personal data in Singapore and Brazil—A general comparison

by Renato Leite Monteiro1

Data protection is current a trend topic on world politics, in both the media and society in general. The issue is far from new, but since Edward Snowden2 released information about a secret worldwide surveillance program performed by the United States of America National Security Agency on electronic communications over the Internet, news pops up almost every day revealing that not only common US and foreign citizens3, but also head-of-states4, have had their communications monitored.

These revelations by Mr Snowden exposed a surveillance program that included tapping the Brazilian President. Such an act led the head-of-state to address the situation in her opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly of 20135, highlighting that “tampering in such a manner in the affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and an affront to the principles that must guide relations among them”. It also led to cancelling an official visit to the United States, under the reasoning that “interception practices of communication and citizens’ data, companies and members of the Brazilian government are a grave fact, a threat to national sovereignty and individual rights, and incompatible with the democratic cooperation between friendly nations"6.

In a time when the amount of electronic data produced everyday surpasses the amount of regular data produced by the entire human civilization since its dawn7, several countries have yet to regulate how data which flows through its infrastructure should be processed and treated. Europe has been legislating about it for more than thirty years8. The United States has only sectorial laws9, regarding, e.g., health records or tax data. Although Brazil has statutory provisions in its constitution guaranteeing the right to privacy10, it still does not have a comprehensive protection to personal data. Rather, it only has a brief overview of the issue in its consumer code and also in specific regulations, such as medical records.11 Singapore has recently introduced the Personal Data Protection Act [PDPA] 12, which encompasses certain particularities when compared to similar provisions from other regions of the world.

As opposed to Brazil and the European signatory countries, Singapore does not provide to its citizens a statutory right to privacy, instead relying more on the tort remedy of breach of confidence to enforce such a claim.13 Confirming the theory that “privacy” and “data protection” are two different concepts14, the word “privacy” is absent from Singapore’s Data Protection Act.15 The Act focuses on information management; and the economic, commercial and competitive advantages of having clear rules on how the industry based in Singapore ought to process personal data.16  A culmination of years of discussion and comments17, Singapore’s act comprises a concept of personal data18, but does not differentiate it from sensitive data.19 Its main advantages are the rules on collection, use and disclosure of personal data, setting forth the need of actual or deemed consent from the individual to perform those acts.20 Consent can be withdraw at any moment21 and deemed consent is limited to situations when the individual voluntarily provides the personal data or there are reasons to believe that such data would be provided.22 Also, the individual must be informed as to the purpose his information is being collected23, and its use must be limited to such purpose.24 But there are exceptions to the need of consent, such as emergencies, legal services and newsworthiness.25 It created a Data Protection Authority (“DPA”)26, responsible for the enforcement of the act. In case of a violation, the authority can fix said offenders with penalties up to $1 million, amongst other measures.27

It is important to note that the PDPA left out major provisions present not only on the Brazilian Bill on the Protection of Personal Data, but in several other legislations. The PDPA does not provide, when dealing with trans-border transfers, the need for the foreign country to apply the same level of protection to personal data as Singapore. Rather, it only requires the same standard of protection.28 Also, it has not implemented a data breach notification system, setting pace on the opposite direction of countries with a very liberal approach to data protection.29 Another interesting provision that confirms that the approach of the act is to enhance Singapore’s economy, and not primarily protect the privacy of its citizens, is that data processed by government institutions do not need to follow the PDPA’s requirements30. Data breach obligations have been one of the most effective measures mandated by data protection legislations31, since data processors, data controllers and intermediaries are required to notify not only the DPAs, but also the individuals whose personal data have been breached. Up to this date publicizing data breaches has not been a regular practice of private organizations and governments, that fear liability and – more important – bad publicity that can lead to direct repercussions on businesses.32

As for Brazil, the country has been openly discussing Internet regulation33. Recently, a law was approved (“cybercrime bill”) amending its criminal code to include certain acts performed through electronic means and over the Internet34. Concurrently, a civil legislative framework is under debate.35  This bill will encompass questions such as Internet Service Providers’ (“ISP”) liability for third-party content, network neutrality and set time limits to ISPs’ storage of Internet users’ connection data. But this framework does not directly addresses the issue of protection of personal data. For this a different bill has been introduced.36 Due to the recent set of events involving privacy and data breaches of Brazilian citizens, both provisions that were on hold have been urgently brought into force.37

The Brazilian Bill38 on the Protection of Personal Data is based on the European Directives on Data Protection39 and on the Canadian Data Protection Act [PIPEDA].40 It guarantees a list of citizens’ basic rights regarding their personal data: the right to (i) access one’s data; (ii) correct inaccurate or wrong data; (iii) delete them; (iv) object to their processing; (v) not be subject to purely automated decisions; and (iv) be compensated for the misuse of one’s personal data.41

Similar to the European provisions, and different from the Singapore’s PDPA42, the bill sets forth that personal data can only be transferred to countries that guarantee the same level of protection.43 The DPA, the institution created to overview the enforcement of the act, will pronounce the acknowledgement of the same level of protection.44 It mandates a data breach notification regime;45 differentiates between personal data and sensitive data;46 and furthermore, it expands its application not only to private organizations, but also to governmental institutions of all levels.47 The bill even determines strict liability to data processors in case of data breaches.48

Therefore, both legislative provisions, Singaporean and Brazilian, aim on setting clear rules to the processing of personal data over electronic infrastructures in their territory. This is a clear reaction to digital era in which the world is currently inserted. But the laws are founded on different perspectives. Singapore’s PDPA is based on economic goals. Brazil’s bill is based on the country’s long lasting history of statutory recognition of the right to privacy.49 Which is more important depends on the different approaches given by interpreters. But it is important to bear in mind the current state of international politics due to the recent data breaches scandals.50 Nonetheless, both countries may end up achieving the same objective, which is to protect the personal data of its citizens.


[1] New York University LL.M. Candidate in Global Business Law, National University of Singapore LL.M. Candidate in Intellectual Property and Technology Law, Singapore Law Review Editor.

[2] The Guardian, The NSA Files, Edward Snowden, online: The Guardian Online <http://www.theguardian.com/world/edward-snowden>.

[3] Paul Owen, The NSA Files, 60m Spanish phone calls monitored’ as Merkel row continues – live coverage, online: The Guardian Online <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/28/nsa-files-60m-spanish-phone-calls-monitored-as-merkel-row-continues-live-coverage> (last accessed on 29 Oct 2013).

[4] James Ball, NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders after US official handed over contacts, online: The Guardian Online <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/24/nsa-surveillance-world-leaders-calls>.

[5] H. E. Dilma Rousseff, Statement by President of the Federal Republic of Brazil, online: General Assembly of the United Nations
 <http://gadebate.un.org/sites/default/files/gastatements/68/BR_en.pdf>.

[6] Literal translation of the oficial announcement: “as práticas ilegais de interceptação das comunicações e dados de cidadãos, empresas e membros do governo brasileiro constituem fato grave, atentatório à soberania nacional e aos direitos individuais, e incompatível com a convivência democrática entre países amigos.”

[7] A report from IBM informs that “every day we create 2.5 quintillion (1018) bytes of data – so much that 90 percent of the world’s data today has been created in the last two years alone. The increasing volume, variety and velocity of data available from new digital sources like social networks, in addition to traditional sources such as sales data and market research, tops the list of CMO challenges.” EdTech, How “Big” is Big Data?, online: EdTech Online <http://www.usinnovation.org/sites/default/files/ASTRA-EdTech-big-data.pdf>.

[8] Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data online: <http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/en/Treaties/Html/108.htm>; The European Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, online: <http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31995L0046:en:HTML>.

[9] For a list of federal regulation involving data protection in the US, see: Bureau of Consumer Protection, Privacy and Security, online: BCP Business Centre <http://business.ftc.gov/privacy-and-security>.

[10] Brazil Federal Constitution, 1988, Art 5, X.

[11] For more information about protection of personal data in Brazil, see <http://culturadigital.br/dadospessoais>.

[12] Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (No. 26 of 2012).

[13] X Pte Ltd and another v CDE [1992] 2 SLR 996. For more, see Mohammed Reza, Azri Tan, “Old Fashioned” Breach of Confidence: The Singapore Approach to Privacy Law, [2013] LSS 26.

[14] Cf Karen McCullagh, Protecting ‘privacy’ through control of ‘personal’ data processing: A flawed approach, (2009) International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, 23:1-2, 13-24, DOI: 10.1080/13600860902742562.

[15] Simon Chesterman, After privacy: the rise of Facebook, the fall of Wikileaks, and Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act 2012, [2012] SJLS at 403.

[16] Ibid at 402.

[17] Ibid at 403.

[18] PDPA, supra note 12, s 2(1).

[19] Supra note 15 at 405.

[20] PDPA, supra note 12, s 13.

[21] Ibid, s 16.

[22] Ibid, s 15(1).

[23] Ibid, s 14(1).

[24] Ibid, s 25(b).

[25] Ibid, s 17.

[26] Ibid, s 5.

[27] Ibid, s 29.

[28] Ibid, s 26(1).

[29] 46 US states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have implemented data breach notification requirements, even though there is no federal statute with such provision. For more information, see: NCSL, State Security Breach Notification Laws, online: National Conference of State Legislatures <http://www.ncsl.org/research/telecommunications-and-information-technology/security-breach-notification-laws.aspx>.

[30] Supra note 15 at 408.

[31] European Network and Information Security Agency, Trust services: A key to increase citizens confidence in the online world, online: ENISA Online <http://www.enisa.europa.eu/act/it/eid>.

[32] Ibid at 21.

[33] To have access to the public discussions, access http://culturadigital.br/marcocivil/ (in Portuguese).

[34] Law 12.737/12, from November 2012 (available, in Portuguese, at http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_ato2011-2014/2012/lei/l12737.htm).

[35] Supra note 33.

[36] To have access to the open discussions about the Brazilian Data Protection Bill, access: http://culturadigital.br/dadospessoais/tag/legislacao/ (last accessed in 28 Oct 2013).

[37] T. A. Ridout, Marco Civil: Brazil’s Push to Govern the Internet, online: Huffington Post <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/t-a-ridout/brazils-push-to-govern-the-internet_b_4133811.html>.

[38] To have access to the full text of the bill, http://www.acessoainformacao.gov.br/acessoainformacaogov/publicacoes/anteprojeto-lei-protecao-dados-pessoais.pdf (in Portuguese).

[39] Supra note 8.

[40] Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, online: <http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/P-8.6/>.

[41] Supra note 38, art. 15.

[42] Supra note 29.

[43] Supra note 38, art. 35.

[44] Ibid, art. 38.

[45] Renato Monteiro; Cedric Laurant, New Brazilian data protection bill adopts data breach notification regime, online: Information Security Breaches & The Law <http://blog.security-breaches.com/2011/05/09/new_brazilian_data_protection_bill_adopts_data_breach_notification_regime/>.

[46] Spra note 38, art. 21.

[47] Ibid, art. 32.

[48] Ibid, art. 6.

[49] Luis Roberto Barroso, Ana Paula Barcellos. O começo da história. A nova interpretação constitucional e o papel dos princípios no direito brasileiro, Revista de Direito Processual, Rio de Janeiro (57), 2003.

[50] Supra note 2.

Legal Points of Interest in Hong Kong: Past, Present, Future

by Meaghan Lim

Hong Kong has unique legal characteristics as both an ex-colony of Britain and a Special Administrative Region (SAR) in China. To provide background, first, a timeline.

TIMELINE1

1842 – China cedes Hong Kong island to Britain. 1984 – Britain and China sign a Joint Declaration2on the conditions under which Hong Kong will revert to Chinese rule in 1997. 1990 – Beijing formally ratifies Hong Kong’s Basic Law3

1992 October – Proposals for the democratic reform of Hong Kong’s institutions aimed at broadening the voting base in elections are announced. China is outraged at not being consulted, threatens to tear up business contracts and overturn the reforms after it has taken control.

1997 July – Hong Kong is handed back to the Chinese authorities.

2004 April – China rules that its approval must be sought for any changes to Hong Kong’s election laws, giving Beijing the right to veto any moves towards more democracy, such as direct elections for the territory’s chief executive.

2004 July – Britain accuses China of interfering in Hong Kong’s constitutional reform process in a manner inconsistent with self-governance guarantees agreed before the handover.

2007 July – Hong Kong plans for full democracy unveiled.

2007 December – Beijing says it will allow the people of Hong Kong to directly elect their own leader in 2017 and their legislators by 2020.

2008 September – Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp wins more than a third of seats in legislative elections, retaining a key veto over future bills.

2012 September – Pro-democracy parties retain their power of veto over new laws in Legislative Council elections.

PAST

There were two points at which China and Britain had disagreements regarding the administration of Hong Kong. In October 1992, China was angry about not being consulted regarding democratic reform in Hong Kong. In 2004, Britain accused China of interfering in Hong Kong’s constitutional reform process in a manner inconsistent with self-governance guarantees. As a principle in law, “the King cannot be sued in his own court”. Likewise in international law, a foreign sovereign cannot be sued in court4. This was extended to governments of States5.

The exception is where the foreign State voluntarily submits to the court, as said in Matsuyama & Sano v The Republic of China (1928)6:

“It is beyond doubt under international law that, in as much as no State acknowledges the authorities of another State except as an act of voluntary submission, a foreign State, in principle, is not amenable to our jurisdiction under some peculiar ground, such as the fact of the proceedings being in rem exists. There may be an exception only when such a State deliberately accepts our jurisdiction; and this may comprise occasions provided for by a treaty or those in which it has expressed its willingness to abide by the decision of our courts in the particular instance, or in contemplation of certain specific cases. Concession of that nature, however, must always and necessarily be made between the States concerned… It is true that the view that upon the institution of any litigation against a foreign State, it is still the duty of the Court… to issue a writ of summons and cite the parties to appear at an appointed date, so that an opportunity may be afforded to ascertaining the intention of the defendant (in this Case, the Republic of China), is a plausible one. It must nevertheless be pointed out that such issue of the note of citation ex officio … is in itself an exercise of our authority and cannot be effected against a State which does not submit to our jurisdiction.”

These principles of respect for sovereignty and non-interference with another’s domestic affairs are also reflected in C 1, art 2 of the UN Charter7, s 18 and s 79 respectively. China and Britain, as ratified members of the UN since 194510, agreed with these principles before their issues with management of Hong Kong.

Ratification11 of the Joint Declaration legally binds Britain and China to the terms set out in the Joint Declaration. However, as the declaration is without provisions subjecting China or Britain to the other’s jurisdiction, there is no enforceable method for Britain or China to enforce their legal declaration12 except goodwill13.

There was the possibility of bringing the dispute to the International Court of Justice14. However, only contentious cases can be applied for unilaterally15. These mostly concern possible infringement of territorial or jurisdictional rights16, which would not be the case in either of the disagreements mentioned.

For disputes regarding interpretation of agreements, it is more likely that the States would submit an application for Advisory proceedings17. However, this type of application would require the consent and agreement of both States18. They are rare in comparison to Contentious cases19, indicating that China and Britain would not likely agree to such a method of dispute settlement.

CURRENTLY

General Principles20 of the Basic Law

The HKSAR has a high degree of autonomy in executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication21. The socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the HKSAR, and the previous system shall remain unchanged for 50 years22. The laws previously in force in Hong Kong (common law, rules of equity, ordinances, subordinate legislation and customary law) shall be maintained, except for any that contravene the Basic Law and subject to any amendment by the legislature of the HKSAR23.

Relationship Between the Central Authority & the HKSAR24

The Central People’s Government (“CPG”) is responsible for the defence and foreign affairs relating to the HKSAR. The CPG authorises the HKSAR to conduct relevant external affairs and maintain public order in the Region on its own25. National laws are not applied in the HKSAR except for those listed in Annex III26, which are applied locally by way of promulgation or legislation by the HKSAR27. No body directly under the Central Government may interfere in the affairs which the HKSAR administers on its own in accordance with the Basic Law28.

Possible Point of Tension

There appears to be tension between the Basic Law principle of non-interference29 and its Annex I provision30 that requires amendments to election laws to be approved by Beijing. They are not technically contradictory as Art 22 on non-interference has the qualifier “in accordance with this Law”, and Annex I amends the Basic Law. Art 4531 on elections also had a qualifier of “in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress”. The tension has been tentatively resolved as Beijing has stated that it will allow the people of Hong Kong to directly elect their own leader in 2017 and their legislators by 2020, showing that the approval is merely for speed, placing it under the qualifier of “gradual progress”. However, until the election laws of Hong Kong reach a state that no longer requires change, Beijing repeals the requirement of approval or the Basic Law expires, this tension in spirit will still exist.

LEGAL FUTURE

In 2047, the 50 year hold-off of mainland policies under the Basic Law will end. It is possible that Hong Kong’s common law system would be replaced altogether by mainland China socialist-civil law. This would have the benefit of consistency. However, it also means that Hong Kong would lose part of its legal heritage and identity. Precedents under Hong Kong’s common law structure would no longer be binding. On the other hand, the legal arrangement could be allowed to continue, effectively extending the legal system arrangement that existed under Basic Law. This means that there will not be any major overhaul of the system currently in place, though without the Basic Law, China would be able to impose laws to be effected through the common law system.

Effects

Whatever the direction decided for Hong Kong, it is likely to affect Macau. Macau is under a similar agreement under the 1999 Sino-Portuguese joint declaration32. Their Basic Law33 arrangement ends in 204934. Macau is somewhat different from Hong Kong as Portugal operates under civil law, which is more similar to China’s current legal system. There would be less change with the legal system itself. However, the general direction of completely replacing or extending their current legal system would be impacted from Hong Kong’s arrangement, as Macau is the only other SAR.

CONCLUSION

The disagreements concerning Hong Kong in the past illustrate principles in international law. The current “one country, two systems” shows slight tension in the spirit of the terms of the Basic Law, which can be resolved given enough time. When Hong Kong’s Basic Law agreement ends in 2047, the direction taken by China would be illuminating as well as important as the decision regarding Hong Kong may also affect Macau.


[1] BBC, Hong Kong Profile, online: BBC news Asia-Pacific <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-16526765 on 13 Dec 2013>.

[2] The Joint Declaration sets out, among other things, the basic policies of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) regarding Hong Kong. Under the principle of “One Country, Two Systems”, the socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and Hong Kong’s previous capitalist system and life-style shall remain unchanged for 50 years. The Joint Declaration provides that these basic policies shall be stipulated in a Basic Law of the HKSAR.

Basic Law Promotion Steering Committee, Some Facts about the Basic Law, online: The Basic Law

<http://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/facts/index.html>.

[3] The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China [Basic Law].

The Basic Law ensures that the legal system in the HKSAR will continue to give effect to the rule of law, by providing that the laws previously in force in Hong Kong (that is, the common law, rules of equity, ordinances, subordinate legislation and customary law) shall be maintained, save for any that contravene the Basic Law, and subject to subsequent amendment by the HKSAR legislature.

Government of Hong Kong, Legal System in Hong Kong, online: Department of Justice <http://www.doj.gov.hk/eng/legal/>.

[4] Sompong Sucharitkul, “Jurisdictional Immunities in Contemporary International Law from Asian Perspectives” in Zou Keyuan & Jianfu Chen, eds, International Law in East Asia (England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2011) at 10.

[5] Ibid at 11.

[6] Judgement of December 1928, Great Court of Judicature, 7 Daihan Minchu, 1128 at 1135-1136; 4 Annual Digest of Public International Cases, 168 at 168-169.

[7] Charter of the United Nations, 26 June 1945, Can TS 1945 No 7.

[8] Ibid, art II, s 1. The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.

[9] Ibid, art II, s 7. Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.

[10] United Nations, Member States of the United Nations, online: United Nations Member States <http://www.un.org/en/members/>.

[11]Ratification legally binds a State to implement the Convention and/or Optional Protocol, subject to valid reservations, understandings and declarations.

United Nations, Chapter Four: Becoming a party to the Convention and the Optional Protocol, online: United Nations Enable <http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=231>.

[12] Berkeley Journal of International Law , Joint Declaration of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Question of Hong Kong with Annexes, 5 Int’l Tax & Bus Law, 424 (1987), online: Berkeley Journal of International Law <http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1073&context=bjil>.

[13] Charter of the United Nations, supra note 7, Art II, s 2.

All Members, in order to ensure to all of them the rights and benefits resulting from membership, shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter.

United Nations, Chapter 1: Purposes and Principles, online: Charter of the United Nations <http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/chapter1.shtml>.

[14] The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies.

International Court of Justice, The Court, online: International Court of Justice <http://www.icj-cij.org/court/index.php?p1=1>.

[15] International Court of Justice, Cases, online: International Court of Justice <http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/index.php?p1=3>.

[16]International Court of Justice, List of Cases referred to the Court since 1946 by date of introduction, online: International Court of Justice <http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/index.php?p1=3&p2=2>.

[17] Ibid.

[18] International Court of Justice, Cases, online: International Court of Justice <http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/index.php?p1=3>.

[19] International Court of Justice, List of Cases referred to the Court since 1946 by date of introduction, online: International Court of Justice <http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/index.php?p1=3&p2=2>.

[20] Basic Law Promotions Steering Committee, Chapter I: General Principles, online: Basic Law Full Text<http://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclawtext/chapter_1.html>.

[21]Basic Law, supra note 3, art 2.

[22] Ibid, art 5.

[23] Ibid, art 8.

[24] Basic Law Promotions Steering Committee, Chapter II: Relationship between the Central Authorities and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, online: Basic Law Full Text<http://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclawtext/chapter_2.html>.

[25] Basic Law, supra note 3, art 13-14.

[26] Basic Law Full Text—Annex III: National Laws to be Applied in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Personally compiled. All effective from 1 July 1997 unless indicated otherwise with brackets.)

1. Resolution on the Capital, Calendar, National Anthem and National Flag of the People’s Republic of China

2. Resolution on the National Day of the People’s Republic of China

3. Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea

4. Nationality Law of the People’s Republic of China

5. Regulations of the People’s Republic of China Concerning Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities

vi.            Law of the People’s Republic of China on the National Flag;

vii.           Regulations of the People’s Republic of China concerning Consular Privileges and Immunities;

viii.          Law of the People’s Republic of China on the National Emblem;

ix.            Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone;

x.             Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Garrisoning of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf [4 November 1998]

xi.            Law of the People’s Republic of China on Judicial Immunity from Compulsory Measures Concerning the Property of Foreign Central Banks [27 October 2005]

Note: The English translation is prepared by the Department of Justice, Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. It is for reference purposes and has no legislative effect.

Basic Law Promotions Steering Committee, Annex III: National Laws to be Applied in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, online: Basic Law Full Text<http://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclawtext/annex_3.html>.

[27] Basic Law, supra note 3, art 18.

[28] Basic Law, supra note 3, art 22.

No department of the Central People’s Government and no province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the Central Government may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law. If there is a need for departments of the Central Government, or for provinces, autonomous regions, or municipalities directly under the Central Government to set up offices in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, they must obtain the consent of the government of the Region and the approval of the Central People’s Government. All offices set up in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region by departments of the Central Government, or by provinces, autonomous regions, or municipalities directly under the Central Government, and the personnel of these offices shall abide by the laws of the Region.

*For entry into the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, people from other parts of China must apply for approval. Among them, the number of persons who enter the Region for the purpose of settlement shall be determined by the competent authorities of the Central People’s Government after consulting the government of the Region. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may establish an office in Beijing.

Basic Law Promotions Steering Committee, Chapter II: Relationship between the Central Authorities and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, online: Basic Law Full Text<http://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclawtext/chapter_2.html>.

[29]Ibid.

[30] Basic Law, supra note 3, annex I.7.

If there is a need to amend the method for selecting the Chief Executives for the terms subsequent to the year 2007, such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Legislative Council and the consent of the Chief Executive, and they shall be reported to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for approval.

Basic Law Promotions Steering Committee, Annex I: Method for the Selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, online: Basic Law Full Text <http://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclawtext/annex_1.html>.

[31] Basic Law, supra note 3, art 45.

The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People’s Government.

The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.

The specific method for selecting the Chief Executive is prescribed in Annex I: “Method for the Selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”.

Basic Law Promotions Steering Committee, Chapter IV: Political Structure, online: Basic Law Full Text <http://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclawtext/chapter_4.html>.

[32] “Decree of the President of the People’s Republic of China”, online: Basic Law Macau <http://www.umac.mo/basiclaw/english/main.html>.

[33] Basic Law of the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’ s Republic of China.

[34]Ibid, Art 5.

Unclear stance on de minimis patent infringement and related legal conundrums in Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association et al. v Monsanto Company

by Li Linzhe

Intellectual property rights including copyright, trademark usage and patent are actively enforced by large corporations; some may have enforced it too actively. Monsanto Co., the world’s leading multinational chemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation, has brought 144 infringement suits for unauthorized use of its seeds between 1997 and 2010. Approximately 700 other cases were settled without litigation, as noted in the case of Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association v Monsanto Co1.

The case essentially involves a declaratory judgment action against 23 Monsanto patents covering transgenic seed products like corn, cotton, canola, sugar beets, soybeans and alfalfa. The plaintiff is a coalition of several dozen farmers, seed sellers and agricultural organizations2. They seek a court order to estop Monsanto from initiating legal actions to enforce its patent rights against those caught by inadvertent infringements which allegedly occur inevitably whenever wind drifts carry pollens of recombinant plants to non-genetically modified fields.

In the United States, the rights conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of Title 35 of the United States Code3, “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the patented invention in the United States or “importing” the patented invention into the United States. The right is a positive right of exclusion against infringers regardless of whether the infringer is intentional or inadvertent which, as it turns out, opens a host of problems when it comes to patent enforcement.

It is beneficial at this stage to set out the background of the law and the case. The power of the Congress to grant patents is derived from Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which allows the Congress to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”. Patentable inventions are defined in sections 100-105 of Title 35 of the United States Code, which include inventions and discoveries of “any new and useful process, machines, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement4. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® glyphosate-resistant seeds (which are designed to be used together with glyphosate herbicide, Roundup®) contain recombinant herbicide-resistant genes isolated from Agrobacterium strain CP4 (CP4 EPSPS), making it a “new and useful improvement” within the definition of patentable inventions.

Plaintiffs in this case, who refused to use Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds, alleged that they had suffered substantial injuries because they were put at risk for inadvertent infringements of Monsanto’s patents. For fear of being sued, they were forced to forego planting even conventional (non-genetically modified) “corn, cotton, canola, sugar beets, soybeans and Alfalfa” due to the extent to which these crops were transgenic (the judge accepted the evidence that “over 85-90% of all soybeans, corn, cotton, sugar beets, and canola grown in the U.S. contains Monsanto’s patented genes”). They also suffered from increasing financial burdens by having to take costly precautions to avoid contamination, such as testing seeds for transgenic traits and creating “buffer” zones between their farms and those of neighbours growing modified crops. It is their counsel’s argument that only by eliminating any risk of being sued for inadvertent as well as uncontrollable infringements would they dare resume to grow conventional crops which are under threat of severe transgenic contamination.

Plaintiffs assisted by Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law’s Public Patent Foundation (PubPat) lost their case. The judgment delivered on 10th June 2013 held that “taken together, Monsanto’s representations5 unequivocally disclaim any intent to sue appellant growers, seed sellers, or organizations for inadvertently using or selling ‘trace amounts’ of genetically modified seeds”. The court also dismissed the action on the ground that Monsanto (through its representation) has disclaimed any intent to sue inadvertent users or sellers of seeds that are inadvertently contaminated with up to 1% of seeds carrying Monsanto’s patented traits. An express covenant not to sue as sought by the plaintiffs was also refused.

Federal Circuit considered the plaintiff’s argument that even though Monsanto has never threatened suit against them, in light of Monsanto’s evident history of aggressive assertion of its transgenic seed patents against other growers and sellers (144 suits and 700 settlements), they are entitled to assume that if they infringe those patents, they will also be sued—even if the infringement is inadvertent. However, the court held that this evidentiary history of aggressive patent enforcement alone did not suffice for declaratory judgment jurisdiction. “Allegations of a subjective ‘chill’ are not an adequate substitute for a claim of specific present objective harm or a threat of specific future harm”.

Further to the dismay of the coalition of farmers, the rule of de minimis non curat lex does not seem to offer any semblance of protection to fend off what many deem as harassing threats of litigation. Federal Circuit is reluctant to budge from its position in earlier precedents that “one who, within the meaning of the Patent Act, uses (replants) or sells even very small quantities of patented transgenic seeds without authorization may infringe any patents covering those seeds”, citing SmithKline Beecham Corp. v Apotex Corp. 6 and Abbott Labs. v Sandoz, Inc.7 In both cases, the court rejected the proposition that patent claims should be construed to avoid reading on “trace amounts” of a patented compound, even though that compound’s self-replicating properties might “place potential infringers in the untenable position of never knowing whether their product infringes because even a single undetectable [molecule would infringe (noting that de minimis infringement can still be infringement).

Hence, the practical effect of the decision is that intention does not constitute an element in patent infringement. Both intentional and inadvertent infringements are caught by the Act even though only “trace amounts” of patented materials were found in the fields of the farmers who refuse to use genetically-modified seeds. There is still a substantial risk that those farmers could be liable for infringement if they harvested and replanted or sold contaminated seed once the contaminated rate is beyond the threshold 1%. Taking the law to the extreme, merely permitting transgenic seeds inadvertently introduced into one’s land (by wind) to grow would constitute an infringing use if the threshold 1% is exceeded. Even though I tend to agree with Federal Circuit’s dismissal of plaintiff’s declaratory action on the ground that mere possibility of being sued does not suffice to allow them to claim damages caused by their own decisions to forebear from growing conventional crops with high transgenic content, I found the current legislation’s stance on “de minimis infringement” ambivalent and unsatisfactory. The 1% threshold is never expressly stated as a matter of law. As the court itself pointed out, United States Department of Agriculture has never established an upper limit on the amount of trace contamination that is permissible. It was the plaintiffs’ argument (which Monsanto did not contest and the Court refused to decide on the threshold) that “trace amounts” must mean approximately one percent (the level permitted under various seed and product certification standards).

Given that now intention no longer matters in a patent suit―inadvertent infringement is still an infringement―the law governing de minimis infringement should be all the more clearer. Farmers can no longer exert any control over possible contaminations caused by inevitable natural force. Moreover, given that no compensation is made to their increased expenditures on building “buffer zones” and testing for transgenic traits, it is only fair if the farmers can rely on a judicially fixed threshold below which they would be shielded from any threat of litigation, not as a private assurance between the parties, but as a policy across the board regarding patent issues involving transgenic crops.

It must not be overlooked that in reality, large corporations have a far stronger leverage against individual farmers and non-profit agricultural organisations not by threatening to sue but by threatening the mere prospect of litigation. As revealed in documentaries like Food Inc., it is an unannounced fact that Monsanto regularly sends private investigators to force inspections of farmers’ crops at ungodly hours and threatens them with the prospect of being sued, indirectly forcing many to switch to cultivate Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds or to forego growing conventional crops altogether, even though they have been growing those crops on their acres for decades. Even in those settled cases, farmers are usually gravely prejudiced by corporations’ bargaining power. Not surprisingly, massive compensations for infringement apart, as a condition of the settlement, the farmers are banned from talking to the media about any of their encounters with the corporation including, invariably, the details regarding private investigations and threats.

As long as the law on “de minimis infringement” is foggy, Monsanto can and would continue its aggressive enforcement of its patents and its investigations which have put many on severe distress and others out of business. Emotional turmoil aside, those farmers’ livelihoods are at stake; either legislative or judicial protection must step up to give them redress.

Currently, the only silver lining of Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association v Monsanto Co. is that applicants can rely on a de facto judicial estoppel to fend off potential patent suits with contaminant level below 1%. As Federal Circuit points out in the obiter, while Monsanto’s representations are not an express covenant not to sue, they have a similar effect. Since the Court has relied on Monsanto’s representations to defeat the plaintiffs’ declaratory judgment claims, those representations are binding as a matter of judicial estoppel8.

Unfortunately, this protection is not available against de minimis infringements of other patents by other corporations if there is no prior action or similar representation by the corporation giving rise to judicial estoppel9. As a result, the chilling effect caused by the uncertainty of the law as well as its enforcement is likely to ensue.


[1] 718 F.3d 1350, 107 U.S.P.Q.2d 1067

[2] Plaintiff organisations include, inter alia, Organic Crop Improvement Association International Inc., Beyond Pesticides, Navdanya International, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter, Inc.

[3] 35 U.S.C. s 154 (a)(1)

[4] 35 U.S.C. s 101

[5] A statement posted on Monsanto’s website reads: it has never been, nor will it be Monsanto policy to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patented seeds or traits are present in farmer’s fields as a result of inadvertent means.

[6] 403 F.3d 1331, 1336, 1339–40 (Fed. Cir. 2005)

[7] 566 F.3d 1282, 1299 (Fed. Cir. 2009)

[8] It is well established that a party who successfully argues one position is estopped from later adopting a contrary position in a case involving the same patent, see New Hampshire v Maine, 532 U.S.

[9] The main factors warranting judicial estoppel are [1] a party’s later position is “clearly inconsistent” with its prior position, [2] the party successfully persuaded a court to accept its prior position, and [3] the party “would derive an unfair advantage or impose an unfair detriment on the opposing party if not estopped.” (see New Hampshire v Maine, 532 U.S. at [750]–[751])

Open Justice and Secret Courts

by Victor Yao Lida

For some time now, the media has been awash with the story of Edward Snowden’s leakage of top secret National Security Agency (NSA) documents. While interest in Singapore has been muted on this issue, the same cannot be said for the Americans, British, French, German, even Brazilian citizens who are outraged by the fact that they have been spied on by their own governments, or their ostensible ‘allies’. At the heart of the massive interest generated by the Snowden revelations is necessarily the issue of privacy.

This article will examine a legal facet of that issue, by first looking at the secret courts which have been instituted in the United States and the United Kingdom in the context of Open Justice. These institutions arguably represent a movement against Open Justice. This article then moves to examine a contrasting shift in the tide in China, where the Communist Party government was unusually open and public in the trial of Bo Xilai.

What is Open Justice, and why is it important?

“[I]t is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.” Hewart CJ in R v Sussex Justices, ex p McCarthy (1924).

Open justice is the legal rule which requires courts and other bodies which discharge functions of a judicial nature to conduct their proceedings in public.1 It is one of the key tenets of the rule of law, and applies to both criminal and civil trials. It is usually regarded as being of higher importance to the former however, and therefore finds explicit expression in such crucial legal documents as the U.S. Constitution (Sixth Amendment), the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 6), the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 11). Notably, there is no mention of such a requirement in the Singapore Constitution- the closest would probably be Sections 230 and 233 of the Criminal Procedure Code.2

Three main arguments have been made in support of the concept of Open Justice.

Firstly, the key value of open justice is intimately associated with the concept of the fair trial. As Lord Neuberger, President of the UK Supreme Court noted in his judgment in Bank Mellat v Her Majesty’s Treasury (2013)3, “Even more fundamental to any justice system in a modern, democratic society is the principle of natural justice, whose most important aspect is that every party has a right to know the full case against him, and the right to test and challenge that case fully. A closed hearing is therefore even more offensive to fundamental principle than a private hearing.”4 Secondly, there is the disciplinary rationale of open justice- ‘that the community should be able to see that the law is being properly applied and administered.’5 Underpinning this rationale is the need to ensure that judgments are given fairly and without bias by judges.

Thirdly, there is also the deterrent function of open justice, where the conviction and harsh sentencing of criminals are made publicly known, thereby deterring would-be criminals from acting illegally.

America: the foreign intelligence surveillance court

The United States has long had a mechanism for ensuring a judicial check on the investigative powers of the executive branch. In 1978, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs and restricts the executive’s ability to conduct surveillance in both the domestic and international spheres. Keen to protect the American citizen’s right to privacy, Congress also created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), a special court with a mandate to review applications for warrants related to national security investigations.

Proceedings before the FISC are ex parte and non-adversarial, where the presiding judge will only receive submissions from the government due to the sensitive nature of the material.

United Kingdom: Justice and Security Act

The United Kingdom has taken a similar turn towards secret courts, with the Justice and Security Act just passed in April this year. While the UK has not created a separate court, what the Act essentially does is to extend the scope of “closed material procedures.” Under these procedures, the government can request that the court move into secret session, such that its submissions would only be reviewed by the presiding judge and other security-cleared personnel.

Similarly to the American approach, the other party – if there is one – will not have any right to examine the government’s submissions.

Is there (Open) Justice?

Both the US and UK approaches seem to go against the notion of open justice, since the only arguments the judge will hear are those of the executive, whose very presence at the court suggests that they wish to create further incursions into the privacy of the unknown, unrepresented individual. There will thus be a tendency towards bias by favouring the state, as against the individual.

Pitted against the arguments for openness however are the valid concerns of national security. National security demands that sensitive material not be exposed to the public eye, lest their revelation endangers the safety of intelligence personnel, or compromises the ability of the state to protect the greater welfare its citizens.

It seems commonsensical that in such a situation courts will have to strike a balance between upholding the rights of the individual, and state’s interest in protecting national security. Yet, the actual practice of the courts thus far seems to be somewhat beyond the pale.

At the time of writing, the FISC has been found to have approved an NSA request to intercept millions of telephone metadata, the timing and location information about whom someone dials, texts, or email.  Moreover, there is now widespread concern that such approval has been rather purposeless- as even Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall note that “intelligence agencies made statements to both Congress and the [FISA court] that significantly exaggerated this program’s effectiveness.”6

Across the pond, the UK judiciary itself has been noticeably reluctant to embrace the new Justice and Security Act. This was made evident in the UK Supreme Court judgment in Bank Mellat, where Lord Neuberger, President of the Court wrote “any judge, indeed anybody concerned about the dispensation of justice, must regard the prospect of a closed material procedure, whenever it is mooted and however understandable the reasons it is proposed, with distaste and concern.”7 Lord Hope, deputy president of the court, was even more vociferous, declaring that, “Secret justice at this level is really not justice at all.”8

Indeed, in view of the fact that there is no written constitution in the UK, and correspondingly that Parliament is supreme, the judiciary has had no choice but to accede to the requirements laid down in the Justice and Security Act. Consequently, they seem to have taken to the court of public opinion. Lord Neuberger has publicly gone so far as to say that “the campaigns for improving open justice in the courts are to be applauded.”9

China: A remarkable openness

China witnessed one of its most sensational trials in decades earlier this year, with the trial former Politburo member Bo Xilai on charges of corruption. The severe sentence meted out, life imprisonment, was of significant interest to the general Chinese public as it illustrated the new Chinese government’s commitment to rooting out corruption. Yet what was arguably more significant was the manner in which the trial itself was carried out.

Most spectators had expected the trial to be a carefully scripted ‘show trial’, ending with the inevitable conviction. Many were instead surprised by the remarkable openness shown by the Chinese government, as the proceedings of the trial were instead updated on a live stream on Weibo- the Chinese equivalent of Twitter- set up by the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court itself.10

While it may be argued that within the trial itself the verdict was inevitable, the fact remains that China has taken a huge step in the direction of openness here. The harsh sentence itself satisfies the deterrent function of open justice, but the open nature of the proceedings itself validates the disciplinary rationale of open justice as cited above. By allowing the public access to what was actually said in court, the government has decisively moved to inspire greater faith in the integrity and fairness of its judicial system.

Whither Open Justice Now?

The courts have traditionally been seen as the final bastion in the protection of the individual’s rights, serving as the definitive check on the executive’s exercise of power. However, trends in both the U.S. and the U.K. point to an undermining of the court’s independence, and serve to provoke questions to whether the courts are still in the best position to adjudicate over the executive’s actions, especially where they do not receive the benefit of opposing arguments. As public interest grows on this issue, perhaps the trend against openness will be reversed.  In contrast, China’s steps towards openness are to be applauded as a step in the right direction. It can only be hoped, though, that these tentative steps will eventually become a full-fledged embrace of open justice, such that public faith in the judicial process becomes entrenched.


[1] Jaconelli, Joseph. Open Justice: A Critique of the Public Trial (Oxford University Press, 2002) at 1.

[2] (Cap 68, 2012 Rev Ed Sing)

[3] Bank Mellat v Her Majesty’s Treasury (No. 1) [2013] UKSC 38 [Mellat]

[4] Mellat, supra note 3 at [3].

[5] R.A. Duff, Trial and Punishments (Cambridge University Press, 1986) at 147-8.

[6] U.S. Senate, Press Release, “Wyden, Udall Statement on the Disclosure of Bulk Email Records Collection Program” (02 July 2013) online: <http://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/wyden-udall-statement-on-the-disclosure-of-bulk-email-records-collection-program>

[7] Mellat, supra note 3 at [51].

[8] Mellat, supra note 3 at [98].

[9] David Barrett, “Openness a ‘fundamental principle’ of justice, says Britain’s most senior judge” online: The Telegraph <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/10351250/Openness-a-fundamental-principle-of-justice-says-Britains-most-senior-judge.html>

[10] Qiang Zhang, “Microblogging the Bo Xilai trial: Transparency or theatre?” online: BBC <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-23806657>

ASEAN: In a Daze Over the Haze?

by Ryan Nicholas Hong

The countries of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand experienced one of the worst transboundary haze pollution crisis in June 2013, with the Pollutant Standards Index in Singapore reaching a record of 401, and Malaysia declaring a state of emergency in some areas. This annual “haze season” has indeed plagued the region for decades, prompting calls for regional unity in the face of this perennial problem. The protracted nature of the issue can be attributed to it being multifaceted; involving many different stakeholders who have conflicting interests and influence. This essay will thus examine the complex interplay of regional and local forces, with a special emphasis on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the way forward in forging a stronger regional architecture.

The Blame Game Ensues: J’accuse!

The haze crisis resulted in severe losses to the economies of the aforementioned Southeast Asian countries, with tourism and productivity suffering the most. Its aftermath also saw the usual finger pointing, with many of them pointing at the Indonesian government. Much ink has been spilled over the lack of political will on the part of the Indonesian government. After all, domestic laws have existed for some time: any individual found guilty of starting a forest fire can face a jail term of up to 10 years, and fines of up to 10 billion rupiah. Firms found guilty of the offence can also have their profits seized, operations shut down, and be sued for damages.1 Yet, enforcement of laws remains difficult. According to a Riau Provincial Police spokesman, most fires are started at night in remote locations, making it difficult for the culprits to be tracked down.2 Rampant corruption also remains a big issue in Indonesia, with “rent-seeking local leaders and corporations taking advantage of lax law enforcement and murky regulations to continue clearing forests at an increasingly rapid rate”.3

However, what stoked tempers more was Indonesia’s response and reactions to the crisis. Many felt that the response by the Indonesian government was far too slow, and the magnitude of the response, too small. Cloud-seeding operations (with two aircraft) only commenced when the haze reached critical levels in the countries of Singapore and Malaysia, and only three helicopters were used to put out the fires on hundreds of hectares of peatland.

Even more troubling was the reactions of some in the Indonesian government. While the government purported to shift some of the blame on Malaysian and Singapore-based palm oil companies, the minister coordinating Jakarta’s response to the crisis, Agung Laksono, accused Singapore of acting “like children” in a tizzy. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa also remarked that Indonesia would not apologise for the haze.

It should however, be heartening to note that the Indonesian Government has taken, and continues to take action. In October 2013, the Riau police charged 29 people, including plantation owners and field workers, for their alleged role in starting forest fires. One company that was thought to be a possible culprit behind the fire is PT Adei Plantation and Industry. According to a Wall Street Journal Report, investigations are currently ongoing, with senior employees of Adei Plantation, including one Danesuwaran K. Singham, and one Tan Kei Yoong currently assisting with the investigations.4

Ultimately, it still remains to be seen if the government will impose harsh penalties on any persons convicted, to ensure deterrence. The government must also resolve to stamp out corruption if it wants to ensure compliance with and enforcement of the law. Yet, this may be a simplification of a complex issue. Burning of peatland remains the cheapest and fastest way to clear large swathes of land, and farmers are used to this system. Unless a viable alternative is proposed, the problem is likely to remain persistent.

Other Actors

Given the difficulties faced by the Indonesian government, what then can other countries and the international community do?

Firstly, governments could ban the import of products by companies responsible for the fires. However, this is not an easy solution given the difficulties in identifying the culprits behind the fires, especially since investigations are still ongoing (as aforementioned), months after the crisis. Further, such actions may well affect bilateral ties and trade relations between countries.

A second alternative is a boycott by an active citizenry of the same products. However, this is not a viable solution given that not all consumers make environmentally-conscious choices when it comes to their shopping. There is also no guarantee that such a boycott would be effective, if it is even initiated in the first place, given that there would always be a segment of the population that would be apathetic to such a cause (think pragmatic Singaporeans). Palm oil, from the plantations in Indonesia, is also seemingly ubiquitous, and can be found in many products that we use daily, such as toothpaste, shaving cream, soaps, and it is even used as an ingredient in foods. The geopolitical realities of Southeast Asia must also be considered. Can a boycott in our tiny red dot affect the large and powerful behemoth that is Indonesia?

A third recourse is to be found in International Law. As Professors Tommy Koh and Michael Ewing-Chow note, international law allows for extraterritorial jurisdiction if the actions affect the state asserting such a jurisdiction. With such laws, governments can prosecute the culprits for activities carried outside their territory.5 Yet, once again, this proves tricky if the culprits cannot be identified in the first place.

Lastly, cooperation is required from industry and corporations. A good example is Sime Darby, which gave the Indonesian government permission to re-take its fire prone lands to prevent wildfires, and also gave an assurance that it would educate farmers on their land about the dangers of open burning6. More work has to be done towards making sustainable farming the new norm. This will eradicate slash-and-burn techniques.

The ASEAN Way

Given the challenges faced by the Indonesian government and a lack of viable options through international law, perhaps we can look to ASEAN for a solution. The ASEAN summit in Brunei saw the adoption of the joint haze monitoring system, marking a small, but important milestone in anti-haze efforts. The system will employ high-resolution satellite images together with land use and concession maps to identify the culprits behind future forest fires. This unprecedented move, garnering the backing of all 10 ASEAN leaders, underscores the cooperation and resolve by the regional group in tackling this problem. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also welcomed the move as a “concrete example of cooperation”7. However, problems remain. While Singapore had pushed for official land use and concession maps that show where companies are allowed to conduct their economic activities, to be made publicly available, Indonesia and Malaysia registered their disapproval, citing legal concerns.

Although ASEAN has long been noted for the so-called “Asean Way”, which prioritises consensus over conflict, perhaps ASEAN is not quite the paper tiger it is so often made out to be. As much as ASEAN is powerless as long as Indonesia does not ratify the 2002 Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (and indeed, powerless even if Indonesia does ratify the agreement8), it should be noted that the five environment ministers of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Thailand did reach a compromise that the maps be shared on a case-by-case basis between governments. Indonesia’s Presidential advisor on climate change Agus Purnomo has also come out in support of the release of maps that show the burnt areas.

In the aftermath of the crisis, leaders from the affected countries, including Singapore’s Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan made numerous trips to Indonesia, placing pressure on the Indonesian government. It is submitted that ASEAN is highly relevant as a forum for small countries like Singapore, especially in light of the geopolitical realities of Southeast Asia, where Indonesia has the largest economy. As Singapore’s Law Minister K Shanmugam noted, “ASEAN and international organisations prove useful and important platforms for issues to be raised and countries have to then account for their actions. That by itself has had, in the past, impact on the conduct of countries”9.

Conclusion

It has now been about half a year since the region’s worst air pollution crisis in 16 years. The embers are long gone, and the smog has subsided. But let us not forget that the problem remains perennial (and an annual issue), and addressing it would require the concerted efforts of industry, government, and citizenry.

Southeast Asian regionalism may well be a driving force for change and it shall be interesting to observe the evolving role that ASEAN will play in the near future, especially with the ASEAN Economic Community due in 2015. By then, Indonesia ought to have ratified the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution if the undertaking by its Environment Minister is followed through. Indonesia constitutes about 40 per cent of the ASEAN economy10 and it shall have to demonstrate more resolve and sincerity in dealing with the haze problem if it wants to assume a leadership role in Southeast Asia.

Singapore’s national broadsheet pessimistically noted that we, like others in the region, ought to learn to be better prepared when the haze inevitably returns again.11 Hopefully, there can be a day when that statement shall no longer hold water.


[1] “Two Malaysian plantation managers in haze probe, banned from leaving Indonesia” online: MSN Malaysia <http://news.malaysia.msn.com/malaysia-news/two-malaysian-plantation-managers-in-haze-probe-banned-from-leaving-indonesia-1>

[2] Arlina Arshad, “Indonesia begins cloud-seeding to fight haze” online: Yahoo News <http://sg.news.yahoo.com/indonesia-begins-cloud-seeding-fight-haze-051337093.html>

[3] Sara Schonhardt, “How corruption is fuelling the haze”, The Straits Times (25 June 2013) online: The Straits Times <http://www.straitstimes.com/the-big-story/asia-report/opinion/story/how-corruption-fuelling-the-haze-20130625>

[4] Supra note 1

[5] Tommy Koh and Michael Ewing-Chow, “The transboundary haze and the international law”, The Jakarta Post, (27 June 2013) online: http://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/ips/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2013/07/pa_TK_Jakarta-Post_The-transboundary-haze-and-the-international-law_270613.pdf>

[6] Supra note 1.

[7] S Ramesh, “PM Lee welcomes adoption of ASEAN haze monitoring system”, online: Channel News Asia <http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/pm-lee-welcomes-adoption/841538.html>

[8] See Koh Kheng Lian, “A Breakthrough in Solving the Indonesian Haze”, online: http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/html/EPLP-072/section12.html

[9]Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Press Release, “Transcript Of Minister For Foreign Affairs And Minister For Law K Shanmugam’s Press Conference On The Haze Issue” ( 22 June 2013) online: <http://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/media_centre/press_room/pr/2013/201306/mfa-press-release–transcript-of-minister-for-foreign-affairs-an.html>

[10]“Indonesia will be strong in ASEAN Economic Community 2015”, The Jakarta Post (08 September 2013) online: Asia News Network <http://news.asiaone.com/news/asia/indonesia-will-be-strong-asean-economic-community-2015>

[11] Joyce Lim, “For Riau’s farmers, livelihood trumps haze”, The Straits Times (30 June 2013) online: The Straits Times <http://www.straitstimes.com/the-big-story/asia-report/indonesia/story/riaus-farmers-livelihood-trumps-haze-20130630>

Case Commentary: Sembcorp Marine

by Victor Leong

Introduction

The Singapore Court of Appeal in Sembcorp Marine1 has recently clarified the law as regards, inter alia, the implication of terms in fact. This article will examine three aspects of the court’s decision regarding the implication of terms: the basis of ‘necessity’, the complementary approach towards the common law tests, and the practical framework which the court has chosen to adopt.

It is this author’s view that the court in Sembcorp has laudably confirmed the basis of necessity and clarified the conjunctive nature of the common law tests as applied in Singapore. However, the court unfortunately chose to import the vague concepts of foreseeability and normative bases other than business efficacy into the picture. Finally, the court should have taken the opportunity to clarify the exact scope of application of the common law tests in Singapore – especially what exactly constitutes business ‘efficacy’.

The basis of necessity

The prevailing approach in Singapore towards the implication of terms in fact is a basis of necessity. Although this seems to have been established law2, there was some confusion in the common law recently, given Lord Hoffmann’s seminal decision in Belize3. In the Belize decision, Lord Hoffmann put forth an approach based on the ‘interpretation’ of the contract as a whole – ostensibly a basis of reasonableness. The Court of Appeal in Sembcorp conclusively rejected the Belize test to the extent that it purports to impose this standard of reasonableness to implied terms4, following previous decisions in Foo Jong Peng5 and MFM Restaurants6.

This unequivocal clarification is welcome for law students such as this author for two reasons. First, it reaffirms the Singapore courts’ commitment towards giving effect to parties’ intentions as much as possible. Implying terms into a contract is to give effect to parties presumed intentions, ie, what they must have meant when drafting the contract7. This is as opposed to implying the reasonable rights that the courts would like them to have – even if parties may have meant for a slightly imbalanced bargain to reflect other considerations.

Second, this accords with other areas in contract law. As mentioned, the Singapore courts’ attitude of giving effect to parties’ intentions whenever possible is also currently reflected in other areas of contract law. For instance, in the absence of express stipulation or contextual evidence that parties meant for a term to be a condition, the court will not easily find that the effect of a breach is so severe as to ‘substantially deprive’ the aggrieved party of the benefits of the contract8. This gives effect to the severity that the parties intended (or did not intend) to accord the particular term, rather than the court imposing its own standard by looking at the effect of the breach.

However, a possible problem is that the distinction between what is necessary and what is reasonable is not always clear. For instance, the House of Lords in Liverpool9 purported to apply the standard of necessity to implying terms in law. Accordingly, the term eventually implied was that the landlord would keep the common areas clean and would maintain the lift, among others. However, it is unclear how exactly this is necessary rather than merely reasonable. The occupation of premises in that case would still have been perfectly usable even without the common areas being clean, even though it would have been an annoyance. Similarly, the lift being out of order would have served as an inconvenience for the occupiers, although they could still climb the stairs. Arguably, such annoyances or inconveniences, while reasonable for the landlord to fix, is not entirely necessary for the operation of the contract.

It is thus necessary to analyze the common law tests which were developed to manage this problem (in the area of implied terms in fact), and how they apply in Singapore.

The complementary approach towards the common law tests

The common law has developed two tests to give effect to the basis of necessity. The business efficacy test posits that a term should only be implied if to do so would be the only way to achieve ‘business efficacy’ in a contract. Thus, in The Moorcock10, the court concluded that the only way that a contract to use a wharf could be given business effect was to imply a term in the contract that the wharf would be safe. On the other hand, the court in Shirlaw11 employed the legal fiction of the ‘officious bystander’ to decide whether to imply a term. The term would only be implied if, had the term been suggested by the officious bystander, the parties to the contract would deem it so obvious as to silence him with the obligatory, ‘oh of course!’.

Accordingly, the prevailing approach in Singapore is a complementary approach to these two existing tests12. Under the complementary approach, the officious bystander test is the practical application of the business efficacy test, which provides the theoretical basis. Taking the complementary approach to its logical end, the two tests must then be two sides of the same coin and must necessarily give rise to the same result whenever applied.

However, the Court of Appeal in Sembcorp finessed the complementary approach by preferring to see the two tests conjunctively rather than as two sides of the same coin13. According to the court, the business efficacy test posits that the current state of the contract is lacking because in this current state, it would not achieve business efficacy. However, this test by itself does not inform the court as to exactly which term should be implied14. This is where the so-called officious bystander comes in as a test as to whether a precise term should be implied15. Thus, the two tests are not only complementary insofar as one is the practical application of the other. Rather, they are two different steps in one approach16.

This clarification is helpful for three reasons. First, it provides a cogent explanation of why the complementary approach should be taken as opposed to an alternative approach17, which the court has previously rejected18. Under the alternative approach, either test would be sufficient to indicate that implying a term is necessary. The existence of two tests rather than its amalgamation into one is because the tests may be better suited for different contexts. However, as has just been explained, it is clear that the two tests serve different purposes under the same umbrella of necessity.

Second, the previous interpretation of the complementary approach is not convincing. It is entirely possible that only one of the two tests is satisfied. For instance, it is arguable that even in The Moorcock19, the paradigm case of business efficacy, the officious bystander would not have been silenced in the required manner. The safety of the wharf would not have been such an obvious term to imply into the contract – rather, in the commercial context, such a term should instead be negotiated for by the parties. Arguably, a term which would have prompted the requisite reply from the contracting parties would be one far more obvious – such as the existence of the wharf in the first place. The court in previous cases did not explain how this could be the case if the officious bystander test is identical in substance to the business efficacy test, with the only difference being that the latter is the theoretical underpinning of the former. Thus, the current interpretation of the complementary approach is a much more convincing one.

Third, the court also held that business efficacy is not the only normative standard possible20. The test of business efficacy is only suitable insofar as the contract is meant for businesses in the first place, ie, in commercial contexts. The different attitudes towards different contexts mirrors Singapore’s current approach in other areas of contract law. For instance, the contextual approach towards the interpretation of terms posits that different contracts have different starting points21. Thus, the court would be slower to admit extrinsic evidence in commercial contracts because parties would be presumed to have had independent legal advice and bargained the terms they considered necessary into the four corners of the contract. Applying the same principle in the context of implying terms is satisfactory – it represents a principled approach22 which applies to any stage of the construction process23.

On the other hand, two problems also arise with the court’s decision in Sembcorp.

First, although adopting different normative standards for different contracts is appealing in theory, but it is unclear why other normative standards should exist in the first place. By first principles, the court will only look into implying a term into a contract should a valid contract be found in the first place. A contract lacking in ‘efficacy’ in any context other than a business context should already have failed at the formation stage. This is because a contract lacking in such efficacy would be uncertain in itself24. In a commercial context, it is still arguable that the lack of certainty should not matter so much because, for instance, it is commercial practice to begin part performance before the actual determination of certain terms. However, this is not the case in non-commercial contexts. The presumption that parties intend to create legal relations where they do not deal at arm’s length is much weaker25. Thus, the court should not even need to apply other normative standards because these contracts could not have passed to the stage where implication of terms is necessary. Accordingly, the business efficacy standard should be the only available standard.

Second, it is not entirely clear what exactly the court means by business ‘efficacy’. This problem was explicitly acknowledged by the court in Sembcorp26. Although business efficacy is the standard, it is unclear what degree of efficacy the court strives to achieve. Arguably it should be the minimum efficacy because any higher would betray the basis of necessity, instead importing a standard of reasonableness. But even if the court were to give effect to the minimum efficacy necessary, it is unclear what this minimum level entails27. In fact, it is arguable that given that parties are already performing the contract, it is a pointer that a minimum level of efficacy has already been achieved.

The practical framework in Sembcorp

Finally, the court in Sembcorp laid down a practical framework as to when the common law tests should even be engaged in the first place. Under this framework, the common law tests would only be applied to the factual situation if the gap in the contract arises in a manner which the court deems that it might imply a term28.

To illustrate this, the court provided three situations, although they are non-exhaustive: (a) parties did not contemplate the issue and so left a gap; (b) parties contemplated by chose not to provide because they mistakenly thought express terms provided; (c) parties contemplated but chose not to provide because they could not agree on solution. It is only in the first situation where the court is able to imply a term to fill that gap. The second situation is more amenable to rectification, and the third is a gap which the court should not fill – a function of negotiation that parties were unable to come to a solution29.

Three problems arise with this framework.

The first problem is that the court did not spell out exactly what it is about situation (a) which allows the court to imply the term. This is important because the court itself recognized that these are just three possible situations and that the categories are not closed30. Thus, should a fourth situation appear in future cases, it would be wise for the court to lay down some sort of underlying principle to classify this new situation. Examining the 3 different situations, therefore, it seems that the crucial quality of situation (a) is that parties did not contemplate the issue. However, it is unclear if the crux is that both parties did not contemplate the issue or if one of the parties did not contemplate the issue. Ostensibly it should relate to a situation where both parties did not contemplate. Only in such a situation would the court not be interfering with freedom of contract in implying a term. Thus, this could be applied to a possible fourth situation where only one of the contracting parties had contemplated the term. Adopting the probable reasoning underlying this approach, this fourth situation would probably not be allowed because it did not fall outside the contemplation of both parties; thus, the court would be interfering with freedom of contract in implying a term.

The second problem is that the amorphous concept of ‘foreseeability’ has arguably been introduced by this framework. Looking at what the parties have ‘contemplated’ is in essence a question of foreseeability, which is a slippery term incapable of being defined. As seen in the context of frustration, whether one concludes that foreseeability of a future event ipso facto precludes it from being a frustrating event depends on one’s definition of ‘foreseeability’ in the first place31. Should foreseeability merely mean a ‘possibility’, this would make the test for frustration – and consequently situation (a) in Sembcorp – an inordinately high one to fulfil. Indeed the Singapore position regarding this matter seems to be that foreseeability is inconclusive32. Thus, it is probably unwise that such a problematic concept is seemingly re-introduced in implied terms. Indeed, the Singapore courts seem to have had problems applying even the same test of foreseeability. For instance, even the low threshold of ‘factual foreseeability’ in the tort of negligence33 was later re-applied, arguably erroneously, as the much higher threshold of ‘reasonable foreseeability34.

The third problem is that it is difficult to identify which ‘situation’ any given case falls into in the first place. The contemplation of the parties is evinced by first, the express terms, and second, extrinsic evidence. Requiring extrinsic evidence to be admitted to conclude which situation a case falls into would arguably be too onerous – especially since the law in that area is itself unsettled. The Court of Appeal in Sembcorp itself left it open as to whether prior negotiations are admissible as extrinsic evidence35. Whether such an issue was within parties’ contemplation is ostensibly from this very source of evidence.

Conclusion

Overall, the current Singapore position is as follows: First, identify how a gap in the contract arises. Only where both parties did not contemplate the gap should a term be implied. Second, where there is a gap to be filled, the court will only imply a term where necessary to give business efficacy, although other normative bases are in theory also allowed. Finally, the court will employ the fiction of the officious bystander to determine exactly which term should be implied.

Implying a term into a contract is always tricky business because it is the court’s search for what they presume to be parties’ intentions. Thus, strict guidelines must be put into place. To that end, the clarification of the conjunctive nature of the business efficacy and officious bystander tests is welcome. However, it is this author’s view that this court should clarify the application of the amorphous concepts of foreseeability and efficacy in future cases.


[1] Sembcorp Marine v PPL Holdings Pte Ltd and another and another appeal, [2013] 4 SLR 193, [2013] SGCA 43 [“Sembcorp”].

[2] See generally, Forefront Medical Technology (Pte) Ltd v Modern-Pak Pte Ltd, [2006] 1 SLR (R) 927; Panwah Steel Pte Ltd v Koh Brothers Building & Civil Engineering Contractor (Pte) Ltd, [2006] 4 SLR (R) 571.

[3] AG of Belize v Belize Telecom Ltd, [2009] 1 WLF 1988.

[4] Sembcorp at [77], [82].

[5] Foo Jong Peng v Phua Kiah Mai, [2012] 4 SLR 1267 at [31], [36].

[6] MFM Restaurants Pte Ltd v Fish & Co Restaurants Pte Ltd, [2011] 1 SLR 150.

[7] Sembcorp at [29], see also generally Forefront Medical Technology (Pte) Ltd v Modern-Pak Pte Ltd, [2006] 1 SLR (R) 927 [“Forefront”].

[8] See generally, Hongkong Fir Shipping Co Ltd v Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd, [1962] 2 QB 26; RDC Concrete Pte Ltd v Sato Kogyo (S) Pte Ltd and another appeal, [2007] 4 SLR (R) 413, [2007] SGCA 39.

[9] Liverpool City Council v Irwin, [1977] AC 239.

[10] The Moorcock, (1889) 14 PD 64.

[11] Shirlaw v Southern Foundries (1926) Ltd, [1939] 2 KB 206.

[12] Forefront Medical Technology (Pte) Ltd v Modern-Pak Pte Ltd, [2006] 1 SLR (R) 927 at [35].

[13] Sembcorp at [98].

[14] Sembcorp at [90].

[15] Sembcorp at [91].

[16] Sembcorp at [101].

[17] Loh Siok Wah v American International Assurance Co Ltd, [1998] 2 SLR (R) 245.

[18] Forefront at [35].

[19] Supra note 10.

[20] Sembcorp at [85].

[21] Zurich Insurance (Singapore) Pte Ltd v B-Gold Interior Design & Construction Pte Ltd, [2008] 3 SLR (R) 1029, [2008] SGCA 27 [“Zurich Insurance”] at [110].

[22] See for e.g., Zurich Insurance at [132].

[23] Sembcorp at [31], referring to the composite process of ascertaining parties’ true intentions.

[24] See generally, Sudbrook Trading Estate Ltd v Eggleton, [1983] 1 AC 444; Tan Yeow Khoon v Tan Yeow Tat, [1998] 2 SLR (R) 19.

[25] See for e.g., Balfour v Balfour, [1919] 2 KB 571.

[26] Sembcorp at [86].

[27] Sembcorp at [87].

[28] Sembcorp at [94].

[29] Sembcorp at [95]-[96].

[30] Sembcorp at [94], referring to “at least” 3 situations.

[31] See generally, Ocean Tramp Tankers Corporation v V/O Soufracht (The “Eugenia”), [1964] 2 QB 226; Walton Harvey v Walker and Homfrays, [1931] 1 Ch 274.

[32] Lim Kim Som v Sheriffa Taibah bte Abdul Rahman, [1994] 1 SLR 393.

[33] Spandeck Engineering (S) Pte Ltd v Defence Science & Technology Agency, [2007] 4 SLR (R) 100, [2007] SGCA 37.

[34] See for e.g., Animal Concerns Research & Education Society v Tan Boon Kwee, [2011] 2 SLR 146, [2011] SGCA 2 at [106].

[35] Sembcorp at [75], after considering Chartbrook Ltd v Persimmon Homes Ltd, [2009] 1 AC 1101.

Assisted dying in Singapore—Should we suffer in silence?

by Tian Kuang Kai

Assisted dying includes euthanasia and assisted suicide. The two are distinguished by who actually causes death – who commits the actus reus, if you will. Neither is legal in Singapore by virtue of the Penal Code1 Attempted suicide is an offence pursuant to s309, and read together with s107, abetment of an attempted suicide is also an offence. The question is whether or not this should be the case, and this article seeks to explore the issues, concerns and arguments regarding the state of the law.

At its root, the debate about assisted dying revolves around the two great competing principles of sanctity of life versus freedom of choice. However, it is not simply an exercise in arithmetic to decide which of these wins out and results in whether or not a specific act is legal. In fact, there are countervailing considerations to each of these two principles that complicate matters.

Sanctity of life can be overridden by what is deemed to be the best interests of a patient in a persistent vegetative state. This is the landmark case of Airesdale NHS Trust v Bland2 [Bland], where the House of Lords held that the artificial feeding of Mr Bland, a victim of the Hillsborough disaster who was in a persistent vegetative state after being injured, was allowed to be withdrawn, i.e. he was allowed to die. Crucially, their Lordships’ judgments recognized that the principle of sanctity of life is not absolute. Secondly, freedom of choice also gives way to other considerations. Baroness Campbell, in a letter to The Guardian3, said that “[a]ssisted dying is not a simple question of increasing choice for those of us who live our lives close to death. It raises deep concerns about how we are viewed by society and by ourselves.” She made the point that the very people whom the intended legislation (Bill Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill [Bill]) was intended for did not support and in fact condemned the Bill. Her view stems from the fear that allowing such choice leads to the presupposition that the life of the disabled is somehow less worth living and would lead to a slippery slope of society further marginalizing the terminally ill and disabled.

However, this does not answer the concern of allowing choice for those who think that they need it. One of the strongest arguments, in my opinion, for the legalization of assisted dying is that death is at times a better option than protracted suffering. Further, there is an obligation to relieve our fellow man of suffering. In the words of Professor Stephen Hawking4, “[w]e don’t let animals suffer, so why humans?” The difficulty with this, of course, is that most medical practitioners swear under the Hippocratic Oath, in which they refuse to administer a deadly drug even if asked for. Thus, this brings us back full circle to the fragile balancing act required if assisted dying is to be legalized.

In Singapore, s3(1) of the Advance Medical Directive Act 5 provides that any person of 21 years and not mentally disordered may make an advance medical directive if he does not wish to be subjected to extraordinary life-sustaining treatment in the event of a terminal illness. This deals with situations such as that in Bland. In that sense, it is a very limited statute given that, while it does give some effect to personal autonomy, it does not go too far beyond the common law in terms of permissible actions of medical practitioners.

There are two potential ways forward: first, the decriminalization of suicide and second, the careful use of prosecutorial discretion. However, any change in the former would be met with at least the same considerations in the above. As to the latter, there would need to be clear and principled guidelines based on good legal or ethical reasons, as the Attorney-General’s Chambers safeguards the public interests and should not be seen to undermine parliamentary intention. As it now stands, it is unlikely that there will be any major changes to this area of the law in Singapore in the near future, but as Singapore’s population rapidly ages, it is anticipated that there will be greater public debate as regards the planning of one’s death.


[1] Cap. 224, 2008 Rev Ed

[2] (1993) AC 789

[3] Campbell, J 2006. ‘Stop trying to kill us off’, The Guardian, 09 May. Accessed at <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2006/may/09/comment.health> 28 September 2013

[4] Duffin, C 2013. ‘We don’t let animals suffer, says Prof Stephen Hawking, as he backs assisted suicide’, The Telegraph 17 September. Accessed at <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/10315476/We-dont-let-animals-suffer-says-Prof-Stephen-Hawking-as-he-backs-assisted-suicide.html>  21 September 2013

[5] Cap. 4A, 1997 Rev Ed