Sunday, January 20, 2008

Singapore's subservient lawyers

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Singapore is famous for it's many laws intended to keep it's population obedient and uncomplaining. You have laws requiring permits to speak which are never granted to political opponents. Same thing for laws to assemble. Same for printing presses. Same for printing newspapers. The litany of do and donts controlling the everyday lives of ordinary citizens is long. Singaporeans have grown over the years to accept them all. This has been possible through fear instilled into them by Lee Kuan Yew and his government. Many in the past who have had the courage to question, have lost their jobs, their life savings in paying defamation of character judgments and even imprisoned. The average man has decided it is best to accept their orders from above without complaint. Since complaining has its consequences.

I knew all along that peculiar only to Singapore, there is a law in the books preventing the Law Society, the official organ of lawyers from giving opinions on or criticizing Singapore legislation. To me, living in California, or for that matter any lawyer in any other part of the world, such a law would be totally unacceptable. In fact, the law would be no more than an oxymoron. Lawyers are involved in law; this is obvious. And if they are involved in law, the one thing they should be doing is overseeing the laws put out by the government. Surely, since this is exactly what they are trained to do. Part of their job.

But I have heard that in Singapore, it is quite the opposite. Lawyers who have to be trained in law; have no right to comment on government legislation. It is understood that they can do so, in the event that the government asked for their opinion. If not, comment on laws by them becomes unlawful.

I have read Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland but studying Singapore would probably beat Lewis Carroll's fantasy land by the mile!

Wanting to know this totally strange upside down provision in the law, I looked at the Legal Profession Act Chapter 161, but could not find it. I rang the Law Society pretending to be a member of the public and was directed to Section 38 (1) (c) which reads as follows:

The purposes of the Society shall be (c) to assist the Government and the courts in all matters affecting legislation submitted to it, and the administration and practice of the law in Singapore"

Even after being referred to it, I still could not see it. I told the Law Society official that it does not prohibit them from commenting on legislation. He then referred me to the words "submitted to it" and advised that if the issue was not "submitted" to the Law Society, then it becomes unlawful do do so.

Again, I am thoroughly confused here. Surely if the government wants to prohibit the Law Society from commenting on government legislation, why should they not just say so? Why could they not have said for instance:

The Law Society is prohibited from commenting on legislation unless they have been specifically requested to do so" !

Any prohibition has to be clear on its face. It is totally unreasonable for anyone to assume a prohibition from a statue conversely from what is permitted! But then again, it is Singapore. I am not surprised that even such a stupidly drafted legislation has not generated any controversy!

And what sort of lawyers do we have in Singapore? None has taken issue with this totally unacceptable illogical ridiculous piece of legislation. And what about Mr. Sydney (not the city in Australia) Michael Hwang, the present President of the Singapore Law Society? Has he nothing to say? What does he think his job is then, as President of the Law Society of Singapore? Does he not take issue with such nonsense such as this? Apparently not. Just as his predecessor Mr. Philip Anthony Jeyaretnam, the son of the famous JB Jeyaretnam, he has been no more than a seat warmer to the office of the President of the Law Society. A man such as this, has let himself down, let his university down, let his conscience down and let the members of the legal profession down.

Shame on him. And shame on the castrated eunuchs that Singapore lawyers have turned out to be.

This is what I will say to Singapore lawyers. There are many who are very unhappy inside as a result of these violations against their independence and their profession. I am sure, every Singapore lawyer who wants something good for his country cannot expect Mr. Sydney Michael Hwang to do anything. We all know he is nothing more than a piece of furniture placed there by the Singapore government. And when his time to go arrives, he will be replaced by another piece of furniture by the same government.

Lawyers should know this. There are laws and there are laws. Laws which are clearly unjust on the face of it, such as this, is an affront to your person and your calling. In such cases the only right thing to do is to defy it. I am not suggesting that all laws that you disagree with should be defied. No. Not like that. But there are laws such as this which is stupid, blatantly stupid. Nonsensical. Fit for the comedy. Highly suitable inside the pages of Alice in Wonderland.

And when you come across these laws they should be broken. If you do not do it, then it is you yourself that you shame.

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


Anonymous said...

Mr Nair,

Do you think that the political situation in Singapore will improve after Lee Kuan Yew passes away?

Will the PAP regime relax their control over Singaporeans?

Singapore now is not much different from a one party state.


Gopalan Nair said...

thanks for the comment.
You should not wait for the government to change anything. they will not. It is you who should demand change. It is your country. You have rights. You should not wait for them.
Contact Dr. Chee Soon Juan Singapore Democratic Party and they will advice as to how you can help.