Yahoo News reported:
“[Law Minister K Shanmugam] also agreed with what [deputy Attorney General Hri Kumar] stated in court that one should not refer to “every MP’s speech and every minister’s speech and then try and interpret as if it’s a statutory interpretation. You go back to the legislation.””
This is utter rubbish by Shanmugam.
First, the speech being referred to here is a KEYNOTE speech IN PARLIAMENT by THE PRIME MINISTER on a CONSTITUTIONAL amendment to the Elected President scheme.
It was a significant and momentous occasion to introduce the Reserved Election.
Second, such speeches in Parliament are important – this is why there is an OFFICIAL RECORD of these called The Hansard. Parliament expends resources to record these speeches for a reason – so that they can be referred to when necessary, even by the courts (as I shall explain below).
Before the minsters’ and MPs’ remarks and speeches are recorded in The Hansard, they are asked to verify that their remarks and speeches are accurate and true before they are entered into official record. This is why Hansard records take at least a week after a sitting before they are available online to the public.
The Hansard is not some two-bit useless junk of records. It is Parliament’s OFFICIAL and AUTHORITATIVE records of proceedings, recording context and giving insights to intent of legislations and debates.
The Law, under the Interpretation Act, also gives regard to Hansard records. [See Nizam Ismail’s comment in the comment section below.]
Third, such speeches set in context the subsequent debate or legislations which follow. Laws are not made in words alone but also in context, in spirit. This should be quite clear to the Law Minister, himself a Senior Counsel. The spirit (context, intent) of the laws is as important (if not more so) than the wordings of the laws.
One such recent instance was the Government’s case against Dr Ting Choon Ming and The Online Citizen, where the Government claimed that the former 2 parties had harassed it by publishing an article online. The Government was claiming that the Protection from Harassment Act should be invoked in this instance to compel Dr Ting and TOC to remove the article.
The court rejected the Government’s argument.
Because in Parliament, during the debate on the Bill, it was clear that the law was meant to protect the truly vulnerable, and not an entity like Mindef, which the Government claimed needed protection from Dr Ting and TOC.
The learned judges had recourse to the parliamentary speeches by the Law Minister himself (Shanmugam), and the context of the debate and the legislation being contemplated, and the judges made the decision based partly on this.
This is significant because in Parliament itself, during the debate on the Bill, WP’s Pritam Singh had asked Shanmugam if the Act would apply to organisations and govt departments.
Shanmugam said the Interpretation Act would apply – meaning that yes, the Harassment Act would apply to organisations which the Interpretation Act deems to be “persons”.
But the courts rejected this, partly because of the context of the debate in Parliament as recorded in the Hansard, which the court referred to.
So, to summarise, for the Law Minister to dismiss in a rather cavalier manner the words spoken in Parliament is quite astonishing to me.
If such parliamentary speeches and contexts are not to be taken seriously, then what really is the whole point of Parliament?
May as well pack up and go home and save everyone’s time, if words spoken in the House meant nothing much.