Friday, November 6, 2009

Singapore's second rate legal system.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A foreigner visiting Singapore's courts on a day trip will no doubt go away impressed. What, with Latin aphorisms of truth, integrity and so on; beautiful decorated crests and emblems of grandeur, latest high tech, glass and immaculate buildings, attorneys all dressed in black suits, pulling briefcases of files, you cannot help but a sense of feeling of being in the presence of unwavering rule of law and justice.

But my friend, if you knew Singapore a little better, you would know that it is nothing of the sort. All this glitter and jazz is nothing but glitter and jazz. It has half rate lawyers and a corrupt judiciary, parading as something else, with the help of the state controlled newspapers to prop up the bluff.

I was born in Singapore, was educated there and practiced law there for about 10 years. I must also tell you that I am about to be disbarred in the island for calling the judges there "rats" or words equivalent to that meaning or worse. And the very fact that I am so sure of disbarment, would also explain my argument.

A government job in Singapore, including that of judges requires them to punish or treat enemies of Lee Kuan Yew's dictatorial regime more harshly and unfairly. Political dissidents; those who are known to speak openly against the autocratic rule in Singapore; those who challenge the ruling party's right to govern; once identified are persecuted in the courts. Since they all willingly betray their duties of impartiality as judges, I call them corrupt. In other words, in their daily duties they are beholden to Lee Kuan Yew and his family who are in power, and they shamelessly carry out this dirty work on a daily basis.

The need to punish Lee Kuan Yew's critics unjustly, by extension, also means Lee Kuan Yew's friends and cronies must receive favorable treatment in court. When a government crony or supporter has a lawsuit against another ordinary man, automatically the government official/ crony is favored. The judge skilfully bends the law to achieve this biased result, thereby pleasing the Lee family and those in power and ensuring the judge's career and prospects. For a Singapore judge not to bend the law to favor a government official would be as good as suicide.

The lawyers are no different. With government contracts being the bulk of well paying work, lawyers connected with Lee Kuan Yew and his government get it all. This means, in order to succeed at the Singapore Bar, you first have to get the attention and nod of those at the top. They do this by joining Lee Kuan Yew's political party the PAP and their associated organizations, the People's Association; they volunteer their time and services at the Lee's Resident's Committees and work hard in catching the eye of the men at the top; or as we know, the men in white (Lee Kuan Yew and his PAP wear white uniforms as their mark). With hard work in developing the PAP seal of approval, the lawyer can expect to join one of the larger government connected law firms and work on the lucrative government contracts.

It is the shameful ambition of each and every lawyer in Singapore to achieve success in this disgraceful manner. They live, literally miserable lives of shame. But what else could they do in such circumstances. Dr. Chee Soon Juan, Lee Kuan Yew's political bete noir, has always defended himself in Lee's law suits and criminal charges brought against him; not because he is aspiring to be a lawyer, but because no lawyer can represent him. If he does find a lawyer, he would have to go to court and tell Lee Kuan Yew that he is simply a crook; which no one in his right mind would dare to do!

No lawyer in Singapore would want to do any work in anything even remotely displeasing to Lee Kuan Yew, such as human rights work. This means, you will not be able to secure a lawyer even if you tried, e.g.if you were arrested for civil disobedience. It would be impossible for you to get a lawyer if Lee Kuan Yew sued you for defamation. No political dissident in Singapore has ever managed to find a lawyer to represent him. If he did, that would be the end of that lawyer's career.

Vinod Kumar Dube, a Singapore lawyer, once represented Mr. Francis Seow, one of Lee Kuan Yew's arch political enemies. Mr. Seow now lives in exile in the United States. Last year, on my fateful trip to Singapore which resulted in my arrest and imprisonment for attracting the ire of Lee Kuan Yew, I had met this lawyer by accident at a Singapore Chinatown coffee shop. He appeared smoke ridden, emaciated shell of a man from what he was in the past. He rented a cheap office cubicle in Peoples Park Center or other similarly cheap premises nearby. He appeared worn down, a broken man. He told me that his representation of Francis Seow now "hangs around his neck like an albatross" and bears him down. His practice had suffered greatly and he was hardly making a living. It is quite clear what has happened of course. Once he had represented what we know as Lee Kuan Yew's arch enemy, no one would want to give him a job, associate with him and neither would his clients. Representing a man like Francis Seow rang the death knell of his career, so to speak.

Singapore lawyers live in fear of Lee Kuan Yew, just as everyone one else. If you happen to be the odd lawyer who stood up for your rights as a citizen, demanding free speech expression and assembly, you would soon find you were left high and dry. If you had a good job, you would have lost it, and you would scrape out a living the best way you can. If you had any clients, they would have all left you; which client would want to lose his case by retaining a lawyer that Lee Kuan Yew and by extension, his judges dislike?

Singaporeans, not just lawyers lead miserable lives. Miserable because they have to somehow suppress what they believe, they have to give up their personal independence of thought, and say and do things that reflect what the powers to be want to hear.

It is in fact a perfect Orwellian society. You may personally think Big Brother is a bully and wrong. But you somehow have to make yourself say that you love Big Brother. Everyone knows that Lee Kuan Yew and his family are no better than thieves, paying themselves $3.9 million a year, calling it a salary; denying the right of people to assemble or speak even though these rights are etched in stone in the Constitution. But no, you cannot say that openly. You have to say that Lee Kuan Yew knows best, he is the father of modern Singapore, he has done a lot of good and similar drivel; even though you personally do not believe a word of it.

It is, as yo can see, a classic case of split personality, that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You know that the Singapore legal judges are all rotten and corrupt, yet you cannot say it; because if you do, you will be sent to prison and like in my case, you will soon be disbarred from ever practicing law in the island.

With his sort of judges and lawyers in a country that have to daily calibrate their minds in uttering the correct words like the citizen of Eurasia of the novel 1984; you end up with crooked justice and half witted lawyers who have forgotten what is the truth and what is false hood.

And it is this legal system that Lee Kuan Yew's recently appointed Minister for Law K Shanmugam tries very hard to convince people as the best in the world. In the end, it is not the glass buildings and the latest electronic gadgets that exist in it's courts. It is justice that matters. It is real lawyers that matter. Not people whose first and foremost objective is to please Lee Kuan Yew and Son.

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

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