Saturday, December 7, 2013

Crisis Communications: Theft of Account Information from Standchart Singapore. Is it time to reconsider the Sub judice Law?

News of the theft of account information from Standard Chartered (Stanchart) Bank Singapore has been making its way around the world.  In fact, some international media reports have hinted that the theft may hurt Singapore's reputation as a private banking hub.

What is conspicuously missing is any form of statement from Stanchart.  This is however not surprising has Singapore has and has threatened to use the Sub judice law.  This law  makes it inappropriate to comment publicly about cases "under judgement".  Making such comments is an offence and can lead to contempt of court proceedings.

As a crisis communications consultant, my job is to help corporations deal with the fall-out of incidents that may harm its reputation and hence its brand value.  While I can appreciate the value (and the purpose) of the Sub judice law, I believe that the nature of global communications has made it irrelevant.  

Firstly, Singapore is pushing itself to be a global player and many industries have heeded the call and based their headquarters here.  When something occurs in Singapore, the ripple effect around the world on the brand and reputation of the company around the world cannot be denied.  Denying these international companies the ability to respond to challenges to their reputation is thus counter-productive.  And as police investigations and court proceedings can take years, damage done cannot be undone.

Secondly, the nature of global communications is such that Sub judice laws are impossible, or extremely difficult, to enforce.  Even if Singapore has this law, people and other news entities (not based in Singapore and hence not subject to Singapore law) will continue to talk and report about it.  Singapore's AGC does not have the bandwidth, or resources to challenge these international entities.  Thus, via the internet, such comments will still reach Singaporeans and the Sub judice law is ineffective in achieving its intent of preventing the perversion of justice.

In my opinion, the Sub judice law is archaic and has been made irrelevant in era of social media.  The law is thus just little more than a statement about our judiciary's belief about due process and should thus be repealed to allow international companies to defend challenges to its brand and reputation.

I feel sorry for Stanchart as they are unable to respond to this challenge on their reputation as a leading global financial institution.  Years of hard work and money invested to build trust in their private banking business have been lost.

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CW Fong & Associates is a boutique communications consultancy that specializes in social media communications and reputation management.  justin[a]cwfongandassociates.com

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