Monday, January 21, 2008

The declining numbers of lawyers in Singapore

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me give you the bitter truth. The bad news. I have taken the figures from the Law Society of Singapore website: In the year 1999, there were 3,401 lawyers in Singapore. As of March 31, 2006, there are 3,476. An increase of only 75 lawyers in an almost 10 year period! And during this time, the Singapore population had increased almost a million or two! The GDP had greatly increased! And despite the government's claims that the economy has steadily and progressively improved during these years! And despite the fact that all manner of offshore banking and other financial services has allegedly mushroomed throughout the island! Why then are Singaporeans so reluctant to become lawyers. So much so that as of now, I have heard that the numbers are falling even further. It is going to go below 3,000!

Well, the reason for this should be quite obvious, isn't it? If you have judges such as Belinda Ang giving judgements in favor of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew against Dr. Chee Soon Juan for defamation of character, from her office in the High Court, without even letting Dr. Chee say a word; by the way the name for this is summary judgment; what do you expect people to think of the state of the law? Do you expect anyone to have respect for the law?

The law in Singapore is totally discredited thanks to Judge Belinda Ang making a fool of it. Thanks to High Court Judge VK Rajah who told some political activists that as far as he was concerned, Singaporeans have no right to protest! Thanks to Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong who said PAP politicians were not in violation of the Parliamentary Elections Act when they were actually found unlawfully inside a polling station during the 1997 elections. According to his weird logic and reasoning, it was an offense only if they were caught loitering near the station! Not if they were actually caught red handed inside it!

Singaporeans also watch with alarm and outrage the law being abused to repeatedly arrest Dr. Chee and his friends for doing no more than peaceful political activity. Such as public speaking and peaceful assembly. The law is being routinely and blatantly abused for political purposes. Singapore they see has turned into a lawless country. A country run according to the pleasure of Lee Kuan Yew; not according to law.

A legal system where if you knew the identities of the litigants, you can predict the outcome of the trial with absolute accuracy. That is if Lee Kuan Yew or his family were parties to an action, the outcome of the litigation is known even before you step into court! Lee wins. Hapless opponent loses.

Recently a number of lawyers were made Senior Counsel. One of them was Hri Kumar. His client is Lee Kuan Yew. He need not know any law to become a Senior Counsel. Having Lee Kuan Yew as a client is sufficient to be bestowed the honor!

Another reason is bloggers like me. This blog is being read by the Singapore Legal Profession. By large sections of the Singapore population. By aspiring law students. By parents with school going children who may have shown an interest in the law. Including I suppose Chief Justice himself. I am exposing the true miserable state that the profession is in Singapore. It's discredited state. This puts off anyone from planning to enter law as a career. So they go to Australia or some other place. The last place they want to practice law is in Singapore courts.

The effect on the minds of Singaporeans is cumulative. They see what is happening around them and they do not see a future in the law. They are made aware of the abysmal depths to which the state of the law has descended, with blogs such as mine. The damage is being done. It continues to be done.

An effort of everyone including my blog is beginning to hurt this administration. Their true character is being exposed. They are being put to shame. And the wheels are turning. For the better.

Very soon, I expect the legal population to drop below 3,000. Most Singapore lawyers capable of doing so are filling up forms at the Australian High Commission in their attempt to leave Singapore. As a stop gap measure Lee can try to fill these places with foreigners but the quality of these foreigners is bad. No capable self respecting foreign lawyer would want to remain permanently in Singapore. So you get some transients. The rejects. They come and they go. While true Singaporean lawyers leave Singapore. That is the capable ones.

We just have to wait and see what this government will do with a further fall in numbers at the Singapore bar.

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

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