Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Singapore lawyers, an endangered species

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Singapore state controlled newspaper Straits Times March 7, 2012 online edition reports on the one perennial problem which simply refuses to go away, the unrelenting decline in the number of lawyers.

In fact 20 years ago there were more lawyers than there are now, which presently stands at 3,000 in an island state of 5 million! They are fast becoming an endangered species.

In this story "Committee to look into boosting lawyer supply", this newspaper states "the government will take a fresh look at the supply of lawyers here in a move that could see more Singaporeans and permanent residents qualify to practice law". Wait a minute. Haven't we heard this before? In fact we have heard this so many times but it simply never happens. Have they ever asked why?

The report: http://www.straitstimes.com/Parliament/Story/STIStory_774729.html

It says "the Minister will review the supply of Singapore lawyers to meet the legal and business needs of the country". It says "It's important that we get this right to ensure access to justice and our efforts to be a legal hub". And so on and so forth.

In fact for the last 20 years or so, the legal profession in Singapore has been slowly declining, not increasing, like you would have expected anywhere else. The problem in Singapore is too few lawyers, not too many like in most other places.

And we have heard these periodical repeated attempts by the Lee ruling family in Singapore to increase lawyer numbers without any success whatsoever. This latest report is simply a waste of newsprint.

With this latest in a series of attempts to increase lawyer numbers which simply refuses to budge, the question is why do they keep trying, when it simply does not happen.

If the government is determined to undermine the law as they are, turning it on it's head, repeatedly misusing it as a political tool to destroy the opposition, applying it in a preferential way for the elite and foreigners and a harsh way for locals, the law becomes discredited.

The legal profession in it's entirely is discredited. And Singapore lawyers as they are now are looked upon with disrespect, as unscrupulous men and women who misuse their profession for profit. And when you do this, nobody wants to be a lawyer. Unlike in other countries a Singapore lawyer does not walk with his head high, not a profession to be proud of.

Singapore style of law requires one to shut himself out of major areas of the law, such as human rights, Constitutional law, racial discrimination, the abuse of power by the rulers, the lack of due process in the legal system, and the corruption of the judiciary who are biased in favor of the government.

Singapore's Lee ruling family has made it very clear that their judges are allowed to abuse the law to destroy political opposition such as the case of JB Jeyaretnam and Chee Soon Juan has shown and no lawyer should question them. They can racially discriminate as much as they want. They can violate the Constitution as much as they want. They can deny anyone from speaking publicly. Or protesting publicly or any other activity that is acceptable anywhere else in the world but not so in Singapore. And no lawyer should question any of this and if they did, they would be harassed, punished and disbarred.

Singapore criminal trials have no jury; only a single judge decides guilt or innocence. So no matter how much justice and truth was on the side of a defendant, if the individual was a political opponent, he stands no chance regardless of the evidence. The judge is obligated not only to find him guilty but impose unimaginably harsh punishment on him.

Remember Tang Liang Hong, opposition politician in 1997 who had fled the country. All he did was stand outside the electoral constituency and wave a police report he had lodged against Lee Kuan Yew and company for having called him a Chinese chauvinist which he was not. For that the government came down on him like a ton of bricks. He was slapped with million dollar damage awards and his wife was not spared either.

I think in Singapore, the lawyers have learnt their lesson. The law in Singapore is not what we think it is. It is the Alice in Wonderland variety. Yes, you put on black robes and cart along a ton of books. But in reality, you are a half lawyer. Always keep your mind completely shut off about what the government does. Don't worry your Singaporean head about the lack of free speech. Don't worry about the lack of the right to peaceful protest. Neither do you worry about the Lee family making off with $3.7 million a year which they call a salary. Neither about the fact that Singapore has no free press. Or that Malays and Indians suffer state sanctioned racial discrimination. Or that their judges are corrupt and biased.

All you are allowed to do is to go through the motions of a lawyer. If your criminal client was tortured, don't mention it. If he was not allowed access to counsel, don't raise it. If the judge was biased, just keep quiet.

In other words if you are prepared to accept the fact that the Lee ruling family are free to do whatever they want to Singaporeans, I suppose you can survive as a lawyer. You can represent your client in contract cases. Represent him in a motor accident case. You can do a real property conveyancing case. And you can do any other case where you do not have to question the authority of the Lee Kuan Yew family and their minions.

No self respecting qualified individual would ever want to practice in such a disgraceful manner as demanded by Singapore's Lee ruling family. You may get a few half witted poorly educated men and women without any scruples into this sort of work, but not any decent human being within a mile of the Singaporean profession.

I suppose they can lower the qualifications in their desperation, which they now appear to be, to increase the numbers but in the end, it will have far reaching unintended consequences that will hurt in more ways than you can imagine.

Yes, the "Committee can look into boosting lawyer supply" but as to whether you are going to be successful is pretty dim. Why is it that the Lee ruling family does not appear to understand that if you discredit yourself, as you are now, no one is going to like you?

The only way they can boost lawyer numbers is to bring back the rule of law, which I suppose the Lee ruling family is not prepared to do. Well in that case, I can only say that you cannot have the cake and eat it as well.

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
Disbarred from practicing law in Lee's Singapore, imprisoned and refused entry to the island for criticizing Singapore's judiciary in this blog (see blogpost May 29, 2008 Singapore. Judge Belinda Ang's Kangaroo Court)
Actively practicing law in California and in good standing at the California Bar.
Member in good standing as a lawyer in England and Wales (Barrister).
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914
Email: nair.gopalan@yahoo.com
Blog: http://singaporedissident.blogspot.com/

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