2 Apr 2007
JUSTICE IN SINGAPORE is Janus-faced.
The preface to Francis Seow's latest book, Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary (Southeast Asia Studies Monograph Series) Is included below. Francis Seow is a former Solicitor-General of Singapore, former president of the Singapore Law Society -- and a former prisoner of conscience. He now lives in exile in the USA. He is a prominent human rights defender and critic of Singapore's ruling party and has published extensively on Singapore's human rights record.
The Preface of 'Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary'
The Singapore courts - when adjudicating commercial cases between two contending parties where neither the authorities nor the political élite are involved or interested - may be relied upon to administer justice according to the law. In this regard, Singapore judges have an overall reputation for the integrity of their judgments. The enthusiastic reports of international organizations, such as the Geneva-based World Economic Forum or the Hongkong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, have to be read subject to this important rider.
This book, however, is concerned with the other face of justice in Singapore: where these very same judges, sad to say, inpolitically-freighted cases have repeatedly demonstrated a singular facility at bending over backwards to render decisions favourable to the Singapore government and its leaders. Whereupon their judicial contortions have acquired an international notoriety that concerned human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, and latterly the Lawyers' Human Rights Watch Canada, were moved to send their legal representatives to Singapore to observe the trial proceedings herein at first hand. Their observations confirmed what many Singaporeans have known all along: that the political context of such cases invariably influence the judges in their decisions.
And yet, the Singapore judiciary was historically free and independent of the government of the day or any other controlling legal authority, until the ruling People's Action Party - with no viable political opposition to keep it balanced and in check - began insensibly to entrench itself in the body politic of the nation. In that time, Prime Minister Harry Lee Kuan Yew, now nominally senior minister but still the enduring éminence grise of the People's Action Party (PAP) government, systematically gained control over the courts, which he exercises currently through his judicial point man and great friend, Yong Pung How: the chief justice*. In addition, Lee appoints only politically correct lawyers as judges whose loyalty he ensures with princely remunerations - well over and above the comparable market rates for judges worldwide. Corruption often-times simulates many forms and disguises: paying obscenely high salaries and bonuses to judges is one, for they inevitably assume the gratifying form of monthly retainers by the government for loyal services rendered or to be rendered. Given that he who pays the piper calls the tune, it is virtually impossible for judges to do justice by the citizens when the state or its leaders are involved as litigants, as this narrative will amply demonstrate.(* Yong Pung How has since stepped down from the judiciary. The current Chief Justice is the former attorney-general, Chan Sek Keong, appointed in April 2006)
Unlike previous defamation actions, the legal blitzkrieg herein - masterminded by Harry Lee Kuan Yew - was exceptional in the sheer number of PAP plaintiffs who retained in concert disparate law firms of high-priced lawyers and who, against valid objections and normal procedural laws, were allowed by the courts to maintain multiple lawsuits over the same matter against the defendants: lawyer and unsuccessful opposition candidate Tang Liang Hong, his wife, Teo Siew Har, and, ultimately, his defence counsel, J.B. Jeyaretnam, who was also then the secretary general of the opposition Workers' Party. The insidious purpose of this unusual legal manoeuvre was intended to overwhelm the resources in personnel and finances of the defendants, and of Tang in particular, and to hamper their defence - a manoeuvre that was patently obvious to the judges but who, chose to turn a Nelsonian eye on these legal shenanigans.