Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Singapore's reluctant lawyers

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dr. Chee Soon Juan, of the Singapore Democratic Party, the most outspoken critic of Lee Kuan Yew Administration's dictatorial policies; has repeatedly complained that he has not been able to find any Singapore lawyer, not even one, to represent him in the various criminal and defamation cases brought against him by Lee in the Singapore courts. Dr. Chee Soon Juan is not a lawyer and has no training in the law.

As a result, Dr. Chee Soon Juan has had to represent himself in almost all these politically motivated cases. Even the one going on now; the speaking without a permit charge, which has already begun and due to continue next month, in the Subordinate Courts before Judge Jusvinder Kaur who will undoubtedly find him guilty as charged and send him to prison yet again.

It appears that lawyers in Singapore are afraid to represent him. The possible consequence, they say, in such representation is the fear Lee Kuan Yew will, through his agents, make like difficult for them. For instance, if they were getting government clients, this source will possibly terminate. Judges would be ordered to find against their clients when are are in court. Their clients will be threatened to stay away from them. False accusations would be made against them, such as professional misconduct and their licences revoked. This fear runs throughout the legal profession in Singapore. Therefore, Singapore lawyers refuse opposition politician's cases. It is not good, they say, for their livelihood. But what about their conscience?

Not too long ago, a prominent Singapore lawyer, who is now the head of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, unashamedly stated in an interview with a foreign correspondent that "he was prepared to represent any murderer, thief or serial killer that you throw at him. But please, no political dissidents". Imagine that.

In any other self respecting country with a self respecting bar, any lawyer would have been ashamed to say such a thing; that he is not prepared to represent political dissidents! But not in Singapore. In Singapore it is no longer shameful, even for lawyers trained in the law, to say that they live in fear of Lee Kuan Yew. That their legal representation will only extend this far. That despite their training and their knowledge in the law, they fear to use it, when it is something that Lee Kuan Yew may disapprove!

Singapore lawyers, should be ashamed of themselves. All of them. They allow themselves to be used in a charade, a make believe, because it suits this man, Lee Kuan Yew.

I was a lawyer myself in Singapore. Lawyers when they are admitted to the Bar, have to take an oath. This oath requires them to uphold the Singapore Constitution. The oath is taken before a High Court Judge in a courtroom. Yet, having made this solemn oath, every Singapore lawyer unashamedly, the very next minute professionally behaves as if they have never heard of the free speech clause or the freedom of assembly clause; provisions that they only a minute ago had solemnly promised to uphold!

They have also completely forgotten the law of defamation or its procedure; if they were asked to represent Dr. Chee Soon Juan!

These lawyers are seen shamelessly with the outward trappings of lawyers; black robes, black suitcase, black suit and necktie and so on, speaking or trying to speak in high sounding English, as if they were in fact lawyers. But in fact, they lack the very basic underlying quality a lawyer is supposed to have; the courage to represent your client when your client needs you. This question we should ask the lawyers in Singapore. Where were you when your fellow citizen Dr. Chee Soon Juan needed you?

It is not a case that Dr. Chee See Juan's cases are without merit. If there was a single case, worthy of merit, surely it has to be Dr. Chee's. All his cases were either for defamation of character, i.e. Lee Kuan Yew's character; for illegal protest or speaking in public without permits. Every lawyer in Singapore knows that there are a thousand defenses, meritorious defenses, that can be mounted in every one of these cases, starting with the valid argument that laws contrary to the constitution are ultra vires and unenforceable, except on a showing that there is an overriding public interest.

Any first year law student knows it and can do it. But yet there is not one; not a single lawyer in the entire profession of 3,000 who will come forward and do his duty to the law and to Singapore.

If there is one profession, among all the professions in that island, who should be particularly ashamed themselves, it is sadly the legal profession.

In such a case, we begin to ask the motivation that made these lawyers read law in the first place. Was it not a desire to seek justice? Was it not a desire to seek the truth? Was it not to represent your client in his time of need? If not, what was it?

I say this to the entire legal profession in Singapore, starting with the President of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme. It is about time you searched your conscience and ask yourself if you are truly upholding the oath you took when you were first admitted the Bar, perhaps decades ago. And if not, perhaps, it is time that you did what is right.

Just across the Causeway, a mere 2 hour drive on the Malaysian highway, or an hour by air as the crow flies, is Kuala Lumpur and the Malaysian Bar Association. There however the lawyers are a different breed entirely. The President of the Malaysian Bar spoke up fearlessly against the erosion of the rule of law in Malaysia and swore to fight till the bitter end to uphold it. These brave words were said at the International Bar Association annual meeting held in Singapore last year. Ironically these words were said by a woman; the President of the Malaysian Bar happens to be a woman. One courageous woman and one courageous group of lawyers.

If only Singapore lawyers had half the courage of this woman president of the Malaysian Bar!

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914
Email: gopalnair@us-immigrationlaw.com


Anonymous said...

Hi Gopalan,

I agree fully with your reluctant lawyers blog.
And I can hardly believe what I read.

Would love to see a blog in the style of 'By the numbers' box in ..

3000 The number of lawyers sworn to defend the constitution.
0 The number of lawyers willing to defend Dr Chee Soon Juan.
5 The number of people in a public gathering to break the law
$3000000 A minister's pay.
you know the numbers.

Have a peaceful new year.
Kim Teo

Anonymous said...

These people of the courts are the main reason why LKY n his gang in white are able to systematically "rape" our population with impunity.