City Harvest Apex Court Hearing: Interpretation Of “Agent” At Heart Of Debate
The Criminal Reference filed by the Prosecution in the City Harvest case was heard today before a packed crowd in the public gallery.
The Court of Appeal today sat to hear the Prosecution’s Criminal Reference, filed in response to the High Court’s decision to convict the six City Harvest Church respondents on less serious charges, which led to the imposition of reduced sentences.
In April this year, the six—Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng, Chew Eng Han, John Lam, Serina Wee and Sharon Tan—had the High Court change the charge against them from the most serious criminal breach of trust (CBT) under Penal Code Section 409 to that of basic CBT under section 406.
The Prosecution is seeking a ruling on questions of law of public interest, revolving essentially around one, the legal definition of the expression “in the way of his business as an agent” found in Section 409 of the Penal Code and two, whether directors of companies and the equivalent in societies or charities entrusted with property are entrusted “in the way of his business as an agent”.
It is also asking the apex court to restore the original sentences meted by the District Court in 2015, which ranged from between 21 months and eight years.
Court proceedings began at 10am, with Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair arguing that there was more than one way to interpret section 409, and that the High Court had been too restrictive in its interpretation of the term “agent.”
The judges in the majority of the High Court decision—Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justice Woo Bih Li—had found that Kong and the others did not act as “professional agents” just because they were acting as directors, being members of the CHC management board.
The hearing today boiled down to whether the various reasonable meanings for the term “agent” in the context of criminal breach of trust was a legislative issue, to be debated in Parliament—or if it was a question of the interpretation of the law for the Court to decide on.
The criminal reference was heard before Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash, and Justices Belinda Ang, Quentin Loh and Chua Lee Ming.
Today also saw Kong, Tan, Lam, Wee and Sharon Tan appearing in public for the first time after they started their jail terms on Apr 21. Wearing violet jumpsuits, they appeared to have lost some weight, but looked healthy and in good spirits, occasionally smiling at familiar faces in the packed gallery. The men sported very short crew cuts while the women wore short bobs.
CHC member Lim Jer Blinn was grateful to see Kong, Tan and the others today. “They looked thinner, but I felt they looked healthy. It was good to see Pastor Kong smile. Serina Wee and Sharon also looked fresh-faced and well. It was really good to see them all—my heart is full.”
Another member, Ong Hsin Yi said, “I went today to see John Lam and the rest. It was a bit emotional but I was heartened to see them smiling.”
Before the hearing ended at 4.30pm, Justice Phang told the court that the verdict will be given “in due time”, but did not specify when.
中文报道 – 城市丰收最高法院审讯：决定权在法院或国会？
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by Theresa Tan