Ang Cheng Hai and Others v Public Prosecutor and another appeal

CourtCourt of Three Judges (Singapore)
JudgeKarthigesu JA
Plaintiff CounselWilliam Glen How QC and S Asogan (R Raman & Co)
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
Defendant CounselBala Reddy (Deputy Public Prosecutor)
Date31 August 1995
Docket NumberCriminal Appeals Nos 18 and 19 of 1995
Published date19 September 2003

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...

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