Update 10/13/2011/ have faxed this blog to Shamila Nathan of Rajah and Tann, and the 2 others lawyers interviewed (other than the Swiss William Hold)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Yesterday I had wanted to speak to Singapore lawyers to find out what they thought about their lives in Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore.
We already know that Singapore has no free press, the entire island's press media TV and radio all controlled by the government, which meant you get propaganda there, not real news.
Second the Constitutional rights of citizens are denied with legislation in place denying peaceful assembly, free speech, protests or anything else. Being lawyers supposedly trained in common law jurisdiction, one would have thought these restrictions which go to the root of one's very existence would be totally unacceptable particularly to lawyers who by training are experts in citizen's rights.
I spoke to 4 lawyers yesterday over the phone and what I discovered was an eye opener. Contrary to what I had expected, which was to complain about their disagreeable lives under a Stalinist Lee Kuan Yew regime, they were in fact supportive of the system.
First I managed to speak to Shamila Nathan of Rajah and Tann, of Straits Trading Building at Battery Road Singapore. I mention her name because she came across as an thoroughly unscrupulous person, a mercenary, completely devoid of any conviction or principle and she had thought she could say anything she wanted just because I may not have known what Singapore really was. I confess I used a false name to get her speaking to me after which I told her who I really was. Once I did that she was almost pleading that I should not quote her in this blog. The following is a brief summary of the conversation:
Gopalan Nair: I am (so and so, not my real name). I am from California. May I ask you a few questions about the law in Singapore?
Nathan: Sure go ahead.
Gopalan Nair: I have read that the Singapore legal profession is shrinking as many are leaving the country such as to Australia
Nathan: Yeah, but now they are all coming back
Gopalan Nair: I understand that foreign lawyers are allowed to practice in Singapore now. Are you a foreign lawyer?
Nathan: Yes, I am a foreign lawyer but if you pass certain exams, you can practice Singapore law.
Gopalan Nair: Are you sure, you can practice in all areas of law just as a local lawyer?
Nathan: Yes, that's true.
Gopalan Nair: How do you find practicing law in Singapore when the government denies human rights such as the Constitution being violated
Nathan: I don't know because I don't involve myself in politics
Gopalan Nair: How long have you lived in Singapore?
Nathan: I have lived in Singapore all my life
Gopalan Nair: have you heard of a man called Chee Soon Juan
Nathan: I have not heard of Chee Soon Juan
Gopalan Nair: That appears impossible
Nathan: I don't read Singapore newspapers
Gopalan Nair: Do you not agree that Lee Kuan Yew is a dictator and you live in a dictatorship?
Nathan: He is not a dictator
Nathan: In fact tomorrow I will be able to practice in all areas of the law in Singapore as I have completed the requirements
At this point I thought I had had enough and thanked her and got off the phone. A minute later, I called again and this time identified myself:
Gopalan Nair: Have you heard of a Gopalan Nair who was recently disbarred in Singapore
Nathan: Yes, you are from Fremont.
Gopalan Nair: Do I have your consent to publish what we spoke in my blog Singapore Dissident?
Nathan: No please don't publish it. I did not know who you were at first. I don't want my name to be published in your blog.
Gopalan Nair: Do you not admit that whatever you told me was the truth
Nathan: Yes but I don't want my name to appear in your blog. I am just starting out in may career, and I don't want to spoil it.
Gopalan Nair: Do you agree that I am not violating any one's right by publishing it?
Nathan: Yes, but please don't publish it.
(By this time, she was almost pleading)
This young woman Shamila Nathan does not cut a figure of a lawyer anywhere in the world, rather like a fearful little girl trying to make a buck the best way she can.
One thing is certain, if your rights are on the line, I don't think you would have much success with a woman like this. This is not the sort of character who would defend your rights at all costs, even to her own detriment, as a good lawyer is supposed to behave. But in Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore where it is better to say that you have never heard of Chee Soon Juan, I think she would probably have a very bright future.
Then I called William Hold, a Swiss man from the same firm. This conversation was short:
Gopalan Nair: What do you think about practising in a country that denies human rights
Hold: (With a Swiss German accent) I practice commercial law only.
Gopalan Nair: But still you are a lawyer and you are form a democracy. What do you think of practicing in Singapore which denies human rights
Hold: I have some work to do. I am sorry. Good bye
As far as Hold is concerned, I think he would be as comfortable in Rangoon Burma if they had work in commercial law. Nothing more to be said of Hold.
I then called an Singaporean Indian lawyer, lets call him X, whom I knew before from the 1980s. He has a practice in Peninsula Plaza North Bridge Road Singapore. He used to be a partner with another senior criminal lawyer in the Arcade, Singapore who died of a heart attack at which time the practice ended and he later set up on his own. Then X was full of vigour and ambitious. I saw him in 2008 when I was in Singapore on my fateful trip, a much weaker man in spirit.
Gopalan Nair: Are Singapore lawyers leaving the profession and going to Australia
X: Actually I am not sure
Gopalan Nair: What sort of work do you do now
X: Only insurance (motor) cases
Gopalan Nair: Don't you want to go to Australia too? ( I knew he had been to Australia but had returned)
X: No I will stay here
Gopalan Nair: But I thought you had gone to Australia before?
X: No I have never gone. OK thanks. Maybe we can talk later
End of conversation
Frankly he did not want to speak much. He appeared a disappointed person. He does not appear to have advanced much in a Singaporean career.
I think the problem was that he did not make a real effort to join Lee's ruling party and sing praises which is the principle means of advancement in Stalinist regimes such as Singapore. I have not identified him. He is already in his 60s and if he the way he is now, he is not going to get a spark about rights and justice anytime soon. Best to let him be.
Third I spoke to another lawyer, also Indian, who also started practicing in Singapore around 1980 or a little sooner. His office is at GSM building Middle Road, Singapore. Lets call him Y
Gopalan Nair: Is there a shortage of lawyers in Singapore because they are leaving for settlement abroad
Y: No I don't think so.
Gopalan Nair: those who left, is it for political reasons, because they did want to practice in a dictatorship?
Y: No that is not what I have heard. They have left because they found their children are being too stressed in Singapore schools
Gopalan Nair: You know the Singapore lawyer population figures is about 3,000 only. Don't you think it is very small for a country such as Singapore. Whereas London would have about 100 times that number of lawyers
Y: We always had that figure. We have somehow managed. Now the figures are increasing because those who left Singapore are returning, and there are many foreigners now practicing too
Gopalan Nair: I don't think that lawyers are returning to Singapore to stay. I can return to Singapore for a meal of mee goreng (a popular Singapore dish) but that does not mean I am returning
Y: Many foreigners are being admitted to practice here.
Gopalan Nair: Don't you think the standards of Singapore lawyers are being lowered by 2 Singapore colleges offering easy 2 year courses to make it easier to enter the profession
Y: No, it is the other way round. Singapore law courses are too hard which is why they are going to England because it is easier there and then return to Singapore to be admitted. Today you have lawyers from all over the world practicing in Singapore and are Singapore citizens
Gopalan Nair: You mean like Delany (an Englishman who practices local law in Singapore and who appears to have learnt how to grovel like a dog before the judge like the other Singapore lawyers do. I met him 2008 when he was there doing this disgrace)
Y: Yes, Singapore has now all sorts of people practicing law.
Gopalan Nair: But tell me, how much confidence can you have in your lawyer if all he has is an employment pass and who can be deported anytime by Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew. He is not likely to tread on any one's toes to defend your rights, which is what you want.
Y: No I don't think that is the case.
End of conversation.
Y can be described as the standard Singapore specimen, one who has not stood up for anything, and neither would he for the remaining years of his life, which has been one long crusade to blend in and not stick his neck out for anything. No ideals, no convictions. Nothing. In other words the quintessential Singaporean lawyer.
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