Ladies and Gentlemen,
Mr. Johnny B Good had written a comment on my blog "Singapore. The Worker's party's recent seminar on laws" of Feb 04, 2007 requesting that I provide an account of how the Lee Administration persecuted me as a result of my joining the Workers Party and standing as an election candidate against the Lee Kuan Yew's People's Action Party in 1988 and 1991. This is a brief account of the events.
I returned from England in 1979, after living there for 7 years, with a law degree and admission to the English Bar. I was admitted to the Singapore Bar in 1980. It was a time of JB Jeyaretnam and the WP being in the news everyday, with his challenges against Lee and Lee's defamation suits against him. It was an exciting time. I was attracted to his cause. Justice was on his side. After considering the matter of joining the WP for some years, in 1984 or so, I finally decided to join the party.
And very soon became a council and cadre member in the WP. At the time, I did not realize the real political situation in Singapore. I was naive. I thought in politics, you persuade the public to your cause, and you win elections. I was not aware that Lee Kuan Yew had other plans. I did not know that he was a dictator. Now I do, of course.
The dates that I will be referring to may not be very accurate. I have the papers at home, but there is no need here to be exact. I am writing from the office.
Here are the direct instances of persecution. In my case, it was a series of instances where the law is abused with political judges and political lawyers bending and breaking the law to punish me.
In 1988, I had a client named Patrick DeSouza, a Eurasian, an unemployed indigent. He lived in a HDB flat which he inherited from his parents. The payments on the flat were still outstanding. He had no money, so he could not keep up with the HDB payments. My office then was at 03-04 Golden Mile Complex. I was a sole proprietor. My friend Bala who lives at Tekka introduced him to me as a client. Bala knew him from the Rochor Canal Road "thieves market" where DeSouza sold used items spread out on the street. He was a second hand dealer. The HDB threatened eviction proceedings. I asked for more time to pay. They granted me more time. However although he kept up some payments, at one point he could not pay. I again asked for more time. The HDB said no. They insisted on eviction.
However before the actual eviction proceedings, DeSouza somehow managed to find not only the money, but also the outstanding interest. I immediately informed the HDB that since they have not yet executed on the eviction, and since my client had the money plus interest, it was surely in the interests of justice to accept the money and discontinue the eviction proceedings. Now listen to this. The HDB replied that it didn't matter that DeSouza had the money or that the eviction was yet premature. Since they had commenced the proceedings, it was too late to stop it. They must throw DeSouza and his belongings bodily on to the street!
I was enraged. I was fuming mad (I use the word mad in it’s American meaning, for the avoidance of doubt!). I think it was Goh Chock Tong who was the PM. He had a phrase which went something like this "Singapore has the best 4 Ps. The best party (PAP), the best outdoor party (I think he organized a large music and dance party near Orchard Road), the best Airport and the best sea port." I wrote to the HDB in protest. I said is this what they meant by the best party etc, when people dance but yet have no concern at all for the poor, when they throw them out of public housing.
By the way, DeSouza by this time was evicted. I heard the police came to his flat and threw the few belongings he had on to the street and threw him out as well and changed the lock. Coming back to my letter to the HDB, I copied it to all Embassies, High Commissions and all foreign diplomatic posts is Singapore. Lee Administration was upset. The Law Society began disciplinary proceedings. Their charge was that in my distributing my letter to the HDB to foreign embassies and consulates, I went beyond my duty as a lawyer representing a client, and therefore I should be punished.
Let me tell you one thing. Whenever I was faced with any of these trumped up charges, I have never given in. I always fought these cooked up charges. I fought this one too.
At the Law Society, with JB Jeyaretnam as my lawyer, I attended a hearing. I asked for the exact details as to where in my letter did I go beyond my ethical duties. For some reason the Law Society did not provide any information. And mysteriously, the Law Society did not proceed with it. They never told me whether they were dropping it. I just did not hear any more about this case.
Second case. 1988. JB Jeyaretnam returns from England after the Privy Council restoring him to the Rolls. However his criminal conviction cannot be overturned because there was no appeal to Privy Council on the criminal convictions. You will recall that the Privy Council Judges had suggested that since they found Jeyaretnam completely innocent of any crime, as the only course available to him, JB Jeyaretnam should request a pardon from the President of Singapore.
Yes, JB Jeyaretnam duly filed a request for a pardon. Mr. Tan Boon Teck was the Attorney General. On behalf of the President Mr. Tan in his refusal to grant a pardon, stated that since "Mr. JB Jeyaretnam did not show remorse repentance or contrition for the crimes he committed" he is not deserving of a pardon. He further said that as he, the Attorney General, was not given an "opportunity to be heard before the Privy Council,” the Privy Council's judgment is tainted and therefore not binding. This reply from Mr. Tan appeared in the Straits Times.
Now tell me this. How can a man show "remorse, repentance and contrition" for a crime he never committed! The Privy Council had stated as plain as daylight that Jeya did not commit any crime. Therefore there clearly was no need to show remorse, repentence and contrition. Surely.
Second, the facts are clear. The parties before the Privy Council were the Law Society of Singapore and the JB Jeyaretnam. Since the question of JB Jeyaretnam's disbarment was dependant on whether he committed any criminal offense, the Privy Council had to look into his criminal record. The party responsible for the criminal record was the Singapore Attorney General. To be fair, not wanting to decide on the criminal cases behind the Singapore AG's back, I was told that the Lord Bridge, one of the Justices had expressly asked the Law Society Counsel 2 questions. One, whether the Attorney General was aware of the proceedings before their Lordships. Second, did the Attorney General wish to be heard? To both these questions the answer of the Law Society counsel was in the negative, that the Singapore AG was aware, and he did not wish to be heard.
Only after this assurance, did their Lordships hear the case giving JB Jeyaretnam a resounding victory on all counts. My question in my mind, as it was in the minds of many others was this. How could the AG say that "he was not given an opportunity to be heard" when the Privy Council Justices went out of their way to give the Singapore AG full opportunity to be heard, had he so wished. He did not wish to be heard. Therefore for him to say that he was not given an opportunity was completely untrue, and he knew it. I was naturally upset. I was a lawyer. How could this man, the Attorney General of Singapore be permitted to tell such a lie, and get away with it? I refused to let this pass.
I wrote to the Attorney General. I asked him if what I had said actually transpired. And if so how could he say he was not given an opportunity to be heard. The Attorney General first sent me a short reply. In it he said he was not a party to the JB Jeya case, and that if I needed answers, I should ask Mr. Jeyaretnam. I was not prepared to accept this. I replied to him saying that I am not prepared to take that answer from him and if he did not give me a satisfactory reply within 14 days, I will distribute the correspondence publicly. His reply to that letter was that he was going to report me to the Law Society for unethical conduct.
True to my threat, at the expiry of the 14 days, I faxed the correspondence between us to all Singapore lawyers. Many lawyers there still have my correspondence with them.
The matter came before the Law Society. They decided that there was no basis to proceed against me. However, there was a provision in the law to permit the Attorney General to override the decision of the Law Society and insist on prosecution. This is what he did. Anyhow, the matter came before the Disciplinary court. It was a court room in one of the higher floors of the old Supreme Court building. Choor Singh presiding. I fought the case.
It took many days. Choor Singh wanted me to answer in short form with a yes or no answer. I refused. I said I will answer the way I want or none at all. Rather than hold me in contempt and not hearing any testimony, he gave in. It wasn't exactly Mandela's "I am preapred to die" speech at the Rivonia trial, but at least I was able to say my piece. I used the opportunity to explain why the Singapore justice system was all wrong and why the case against me was politically motivated.
My writing to the Attorney General was not wrong and neither was the distribution of the correspondence. The charges were that I intentionally accused the Attorney General of making false statements and that I threatened the Attorney General by distributing the correspondence between them. Even if you try, you will not able to see how I could have possibly committed any ethical violation.
After about 14 days of hearing Choor Singh delivered the expected verdict. I was found guilty. The next stage was the 3 Judge Court delivering the sentence. The time now was about 1991. I was getting disillusioned. I finally realized that there was no justice in Singapore. It was no more than a Kangaroo Court. It was Alice in Wonderland.
Third incident. 1991 Elections Bukit Merah. I was Workers Party Candidate. Ch'ng Jit Koon, PAP. Single seat. JB Jeyaretnam was at this time a bankrupt. He could not stand for elections. I stood in his place. I spoke at an election rally. There was a huge crowd. In this rally, I said that if the WP came to power, we will change the system of appointment of Judges in the Subordinate Court. Then as now, the Sub Court Judges are appointed by the Legal Service Commission. As the Attorney general, a member of the Executive has the overriding authority over career decisions over judges; it did not seem impartial, since justice must be seen to be done. I said that if the WP came to power, we will change the system of the Subordinate Court legal appointments to be more in line with the present day High Court.
The police tape recorded my speech. About a week later, I was surprised to receive a call from a New South Wales paper asking me about what I thought about the case against me for contempt of court, which up till that time, I knew nothing about. True enough, the next day, the court process server appeared. I was being charged for contempt. The charge was that by my saying that the public will have more confidence in the impartiality of the Sub Court judiciary if the system was changed, I had implied that all the Sub court judges were corrupt and beholden to Lee Kuan Yew.
On hindsight, it may have been a laughing matter, but the reality was I was being charged for contempt. The Judge was Sinnaturay. My lawyer was JB Jeyaretnam. I fought the case. As expected I was found guilty. $8,000.00 fine plus costs, otherwise 2 months jail. Then I was not as strong as now. I did not want to go to jail. I paid $8.000.00. Also now, Choor Singh had found me guilty. I would probably be disbarred, suspended or whatever.
I arrived in San Francisco in December 1991. 2 years later, in 1993, my case ( the complaint by Mr. Tan Boon Teck) finally came before the 3 Judge court in Singapore. The presiding judge was Judge Yong Pong Howe. I was in Oakland, California then. I read in the Straits Times, a copy which was sent to me from Singapore, that I was suspended from law practice for 2 years for unethical conduct.
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