Ang Cheng Hai and Others v Public Prosecutor and another appeal

JudgeKarthigesu JA
Judgment Date31 August 1995
Neutral Citation[1995] SGCA 69
Docket NumberCriminal Appeals Nos 18 and 19 of 1995
Date31 August 1995
Published date19 September 2003
Plaintiff CounselWilliam Glen How QC and S Asogan (R Raman & Co)
Citation[1995] SGCA 69
Defendant CounselBala Reddy (Deputy Public Prosecutor)
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Subject MatterApplication for transfer of subordinate court proceedings to High Court,ss 15 & 29A(2) Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322),Whether High Court exercised original criminal jurisdiction in hearing application,Courts and Jurisdiction,Whether there was a right of appeal to Court of Appeal,Court of appeal

These were appeals against Rubin J`s dismissal of the appellants` applications for the transfer of police summons proceedings from the subordinate courts for trial in the High Court pursuant to s 185 Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68) (CPC). Both appeals were heard together as similar issues arose. At the conclusion of the hearing, we were of the unanimous opinion that we had no jurisdiction to entertain the appeals. We dismissed the appeals accordingly and we now give our reasons.


The appellants are Jehovah`s Witnesses. They faced charges under s 4(2) of the Undesirable Publications Act (Cap 338) (UPA) for being in possession of certain prohibited publications and cassette tapes which were published by one Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (WTBTS) and the International Bible Students Association (IBSA). Both the WTBTS and the IBSA are bodies which are closely associated with Jehovah`s Witnesses. The first and second appellants in Crim App 18/95 faced further charges under s 21(1)(a) of the Films Act (Cap 107) for being in possession of uncensored religious video tapes.

The appellants conceded that the relevant publications were prohibited material either under gazette notification No 123 of 1972 (Order 123), or gazette notification No 405 (Order 405).
By Order 123, the Minister for Culture, in the exercise of his powers pursuant to s 3(1) UPA, prohibited the importation, sale and circulation of all publications published or printed by the WTBTS. By Order 405, the Minister for Information and the Arts exercised the same powers under the UPA and prohibited the importation, sale and circulation of all publications published or printed by the IBSA.

The application and the decision below

By separate criminal motions (No 36/94 and No 6/95), the appellants applied under s 185 CPC for the cases to be transferred and tried in the High Court on the grounds that there were questions of law of unusual difficulty (s 185(1)(b)) and that such an order was expedient for the ends of justice (s 185(1)(e)). The appellants contended that the prohibitions in Orders 123 and 405 were arbitrary and sweeping. They impinged on their right to practise their chosen faith, contrary to art 12(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, read in the context of arts 15(1) and 152(1), under which `every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and to propagate it` and which enjoins the government to `care for the interests of the racial and religious minorities in Singapore`.

In the proceedings before Rubin J, counsel for the appellants outlined the issues as follows: whether the respective ministers had exercised their discretion lawfully in making Orders 123 and 405; whether these orders were promulgated in contravention of the principles of natural justice and whether they were ultra vires the UPA.
Counsel contended that there were questions of law of unusual difficulty, in connection with the phrases `public interest` under s 3(1) UPA and `public order` under art 15(4) of the Constitution. Finally, counsel contended that the constitutional arguments to be advanced on behalf of the appellants reached beyond the jurisdiction of the subordinate courts.

Rubin J dismissed both motions, agreeing with the prosecution that the very same issues raised by the appellants had already been fully dealt with twice by the learned Chief Justice in Chan Hiang Leng Colin & Ors v PP [1994] 3 SLR 662 and in its sequel, reported in [1995] 1 SLR 687 .
Rubin J noted that in both the Chan Hiang Leng Colin cases, the order primarily challenged was Order No 179 of 1972 (Order 179), under which the Minister for Home Affairs had ordered the dissolution of the Singapore Congregation of Jehovah`s Witnesses under s 24(1) of the Societies Act (Cap 262). Nevertheless, the learned judge opined that `the reference to Order 179 does in no way alter the composite of the issues at hand`; in those cases, the argument canvassed was also that Order 179 was invalid and void on account of it being ultra vires the UPA and thus contrary to arts 12, 15 and 152 of the Constitution. In essence, the same challenge was raised in both the cases before him.

The appeal

The first hurdle for the appellants was to establish that...

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