Gag orders – the law in Singapore
A gag order is a court-made order protecting the identities of witnesses in court proceedings. This power is derived from section 7 of the State Courts Act, and section 8 of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act.
What do Gag Orders Entail?
Generally, gag orders enable the court to order that no person shall —
- Publish the name, address or photograph of any witness in any matter or proceeding or any part thereof tried or held or to be tried or held before it, or any evidence or any other thing likely to lead to the identification of any such witness; or
- Do any other act which is likely to lead to the identification of such a witness.
The gag order is imposed on both the press and members of the public.
To enforce the anonymity of a witness, the court can also prohibit the publicising of the identity of an accused person, especially if the witness is related to the accused.
Punishments for Breaches of Gag Orders
Where gag orders are contravened, the offender can be fined up to $5,000, sentenced to imprisonment, or both fined and jailed.
“Re-publishers” are just as liable as the original publisher of the information breaching the gag order – this means that reposts or retweets of the offending information could land the re-publisher in hot soup. Network service providers, such as Twitter and Facebook, will be protected by section 26 of the Electronic Transactions Act, as the acts are carried out by someone outside its control.
When are Gag Orders Commonly Made?
Gag orders are commonly issued by the courts to protect minors, vulnerable persons, mentally depressed individuals, and victims in sexual offence cases. In camera hearings may also be ordered so that these persons do not have to testify in open court. The gag order is a discretionary order and has also been applied in cases involving state secrets, such as where the Official Secrets Act is violated.
Since an accused person can also be a witness, it would be within the power of the court to grant gag orders protecting accused persons. Nevertheless, such an order is extremely rare. Even if a gag order is made to protect the accused, people attending the open trial, such as the public or the media, would still know the identity of the accused.
Gag order applications may be rejected by the courts where the identity of the witness has already been revealed to the public, rendering the order redundant.
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