Legal Consensus, by Tey Tsun Hang

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Whoa, I really went on a blogging hiatus!

Thanks to all who asked how I’ve been doing.

I’ll keep it short — in my early 20’s, I was not exactly very wise or practical with money matters. So I’ve spent the past couple of years reading up on topics like personal finance and sitting down to really think about my career direction.

With that out of the way, I finally got round to reading Legal Consensus. 

It is an excellently researched and painstakingly referenced book (the content is in no way “fake news” or figments of an overactive imagination — the footnotes are a very detailed list of the factual events that occurred).

I have collated a few excerpts which capture the essence of the substance of the content.

I have also included a quote by the author, Tey Tsun Hang, and a quote on why the rule of law matters.

legal consensus book 

You may order a copy of Legal Consensus from Select Books.


TEY TSUN HANG on his academic integrity

“I am no longer willing to self-censor,” Tey wrote to the colleague who had advised him. “I certainly do not want any longer to compromise my intellectual honesty.

Source: The Monthly

WHY DOES RULE OF LAW MATTER?

It requires that society be ruled by law, and not by the arbitrary (often self-interested) decisions of the small group of men and women who happen to wield public and private power at any given point in time. If the laws are unclear, secret, constantly changing, or retroactive, or if officials and judges do not comply with the law impartially without fear or favour, then it becomes impossible to act within the law.

Source: World Justice Project

QUOTES FROM “LEGAL CONSENSUS”

Pg 3: The imposition of Asian values [served] as a replacement for western liberal ideology, which was deemed by the PAP as threat to its political dominance. . .the importation of Asian values has been seen as artificial and selective; certain Confucianist values like obedience to authority were emphasised, while other values like validity of criticism against evil governments were conveniently neglected.

Pg 76: An accused [would] be found guilty as long as the statements scandalised the judiciary. Therefore, no one can make any adverse comments on the judiciary, regardless of the extent of truth there is in the comments. This is an untenable position [and] may potentially condone judges who do not act in the best interests of justice.

Pg 121: Such clinical and carefree approach in this area of jurisprudence, where execution of the condemned prisoner is the end product, leaves a lot to be desired.

Pg 127: …the perceived need for out-of-bound markers (OB markers) to set the limits of political participation even with an open and consultative government.

The basis for the existence of OB markers lies in a patronising view of society: citizens have to be protected from their own irrationality by a father-figure in the form of the state.

Pg 128: The ideology of pragmatism, together with a paternalistic and elitist mindset, has enabled the PAP to carry through unpopular policies, in the name of national interest.

[The political model] reflects a doubtful trust in society’s judgment…this conception of politics provides the rationale for the PAP’s “monopoly of power,” because it is able to denounce any political interference that does not follow the official rules.

Pg 131: Civil society [in Singapore] was not left to develop independently, but had to develop according to PAP guidelines.

The idea of a “civic society,” as opposed to civil society, was first mentioned by George Yeo. The notion of civic society highlights the civic responsibilities of citizens, instead of their rights, as in the conventional understanding of civil society. The key difference between civil and civic society is that civil society engages the state in political matters, while civic society does not. The emphasis on civic society reveals the Executive’s preference for a state-endorsed civic society rather than a liberal civil society.

The Executive was able to maintain control and consensus through a strategy [that included] circumscribing the limits of the Law Society’s statutory powers, reducing the legal profession’s independence in self-regulation, and creating a climate of fear which keep members of the legal profession safely within prescribed limits.

Pg 161: Civil society in Singapore, therefore, is not being genuinely liberated, but is being “steered in a fixed and institutionalised framework,” [and] should not be confused with a fully fledged civil society endowed with autonomous associations organised independently from the state.

Source: Legal Consensus, by Tsun Hang Tey (2011)

Get a Copy @ Select Books

 

Book Review: Dare to Change

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The dedication of Dare to Change is a memorable one:

“Dedicated to: all the political detainees who struggled for democracy and all Singaporeans who long for openness, humanness, and justice for our nation.”

Dare to Change is Dr. Chee’s first book (published in 1994). Do not be fooled by the book’s slim size — the content is possibly more relevant than ever, and would still be eye-opening to people who are not familiar or conscious of Singapore’s political system and situation.

Over the course of seven clear and concise chapters, the reader is given a substantial evaluation of the PAP government’s authoritarian policies on the nation.

The main message of the book is apparent from beginning to end: that change is imperative if Singaporeans are to be allowed to “lead their own lives” in order to achieve a higher “quality of life.”

In the first chapter, Dr. Chee writes that society would be more robust if the Government did not compartmentalise and pigeon-hole everyone into its grand scheme of things. He also makes the argument for a country needing a society that is “courageous in its participation of the nation’s politics,” if that country is to be stable and successful in the long run.

In the next chapter, Dr. Chee puts forth the notion that the biggest fear of the PAP could be the “thought of having to share political power with other parties,” as well as having “non-political organisations form a proper check and balance system.” He writes that “if the control of power is all that the ruling party cares about, Singapore is in for a very unpleasant journey into the future.” Fast forward a couple of decades since the book was first written — has the journey been more pleasant or unpleasant, with socioeconomic forces such as rising inequality, stagnating wages, and a growing foreign population?

Two chapters are dedicated to the economy and distribution of wealth and resources. Dr. Chee mentions that funds for public welfare in 1994 amounted to about 1% of total government expenditure compared to an international average of 30%. He also points out that the Prime Minister of Singapore gave himself a monthly salary of $96,000 at the time, while the government carefully studied whether a man who was unable to look after himself deserved $150 a month.

The closing chapters give a comprehensive overview to major violations to Press Freedom and the Rule of Law. The local press is described as having been “reduced to a mere mouthpiece for the government,” with a note that totalitarian and dictatorial regimes have long used censorship and the restriction of information to “subjugate their people.” Dr. Chee notes the role of the ISD in the 1987 Marxist Conspiracy, and points out that physical abuse and torture “cannot be used by leaders to justify ends” in a society which claims to “have a sense of civility and decency.”

Dare to Change does not strike me as being written by a “dud” or “near psychopath” (to mention a couple of colorful adjectives Lee Kuan Yew reserved for Dr. Chee Soon Juan). The content reflects common sense logic throughout. A list of alternative solutions are presented at the end of the book along with the rationale on how these changes are beneficial to the country (this is the inspiring “appendix” section at the back of the book, which is like an ultra-summarised version of the book’s contents).

The book ends with the underlying hope and motivation to create more openness and progress in Singapore in the long-term. This gently reminds the reader of a quote which features at the start of the book:

“We cannot resist change.”
— Goh Chok Tong, 1994
(Prime Minister, Singapore, 1990-2004)

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cheesoonjuan

DR. CHEE SOON JUAN is a politician and political activist from Singapore. He is currently the leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Recognised by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, Dr Chee has been arrested and jailed more than a dozen times for his political activities, mainly for repeatedly breaking Singapore’s laws requiring organizers to obtain a police permit before staging political demonstrations or making public speeches on political issues.

CSJ Online: Website | Facebook (CSJ) | Facebook (SDP)

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More Information on Dare to Change:

Amazon | NLB | SDP | Excerpts

Excerpts from “Dare to Change”

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Excerpts from “Dare to Change”

by Chee Soon Juan (1994)

Link: Amazon | NLB | SDP

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Excerpts from Book:

1. There is no guarantee that the same Government that has led Singapore into prosperity cannot become corrupt and ineffective in future. . .if Singaporeans continue to behave in an uninterested manner, the tendency for the Government to abuse its power will become greater. (Pg-15)

2. An overpowering state-elite with a subjugated mass has proven time and again to be the worst formula for a country’s long-term prosperity. (Pg-25)

3. Singaporeans are constantly told how to behave in a certain manner. . .any one who dares to challenge the authority is quickly labelled as “bad” and discredited. (Pg-32)

4. Perhaps the closest definition [of “Asian democracy”] is the one provided by the PAP itself: a political system consisting of one dominant party and several small fringe parties with no turnover in the government. (Pg-39)

5. What do we make of the notion that there should be no change in the Government of Singapore? The frighteningly curious thing is that shouldn’t the citizens be the ones to determine this instead of the PAP? If this premise of no turnover in government is accepted it would logically follow that the PAP is legitimate in using every means, constitutional or otherwise, to stop its political opponents. (Pg-40)

6. It would make much sense for [opposition] camps to pool their resources together with the ultimate and overriding objective to entrench the Opposition in Singaporean politics. (Pg-49)

7. The Prime Minister of Singapore gives himself a salary of $96,000 a month. . .meanwhile, the PM studies carefully whether a man who is unable to look after himself deserves $150 a month. (Pg-74)

8. Of late, the Government has been strongly advocating Confucianist values. Embedded in the teachings of Confucius is respect and care for our elderly. However, judging from present policies and actions, it is clear that the Government has no intention on practising the sage’s preachings. (Pg-78)

9. [Singapore Inc.]: The PAP runs the country like a corporation with the Party leaders as employers and the citizens as its employees. (Pg-90)

10. In 1992, a study by business professor Alwyn Young from the MIT compared Hong Kong’s economy with that of Singapore’s. He showed that while Hong Kong got richer by becoming more efficient in its use of its labour, capital, and technology, Singapore became richer by taking more and more money from its citizens through taxes and forced savings. (Pg-97)

11. At a time when the nation requires individuals of innovation and creativity to help it stay ahead in an increasingly competitive world, the PAP’s heavy handed approach and tight control in governing the country produces a generation of people who are averse to risk-taking. (Pg-105)

12. David Marshall, Singapore’s former ambassador to France, described Singaporean journalists as “running dogs” and “poor prostitutes” of the Government. (Pg-109)

13. It is dangerous for any government to control the circulation of information within a country. . .totalitarian and dictatorial regimes have long used this tool to subjugate their people. (Pg-116)

14. In a society which claims to have a sense of civility and decency, physical abuse and torture cannot be used by its leaders to justify its ends. . .Every citizen of this country is born with a set of rights which cannot be removed at the whim of the Government. (Pg-138)

15. “I think what prevents Singapore from being a home to people is the lack of freedom of speech. Think about it this way. What is the difference between living in a hotel and living in a home?”
— Dr David Chan / NUS (Pg-139)

Source: “Dare to Change,” by Chee Soon Juan (1994)

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cheesoonjuan

DR. CHEE SOON JUAN is a politician and political activist from Singapore. He is currently the leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Recognised by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, Dr Chee has been arrested and jailed more than a dozen times for his political activities, mainly for repeatedly breaking Singapore’s laws requiring organizers to obtain a police permit before staging political demonstrations or making public speeches on political issues.

CSJ Online: Website | Facebook (CSJ) | Facebook (SDP)

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More Information on Dare to Change:

Amazon | NLB | SDP | Review

Excerpts from “Scandalising the Singapore Judiciary”

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Excerpts from “Scandalising the Singapore Judiciary”

by Tsun Hang Tey (2010)

PDF Link to Journal Article: Informit.com.au | Ebscohost

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Definitions:

1. Rule of Law: The legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by arbitrary decisions of individual government officials (Wiki).

2. Scandalise: To dishonor and disgrace (TFD).

3. Jurisprudence: Legal system.

Extracts from Article:

1) [This article] hopes to open up a new line of debate over the extent to which it is ‘rule of law’ or ‘rule by law’ that is adopted in matters where criticisms of the ruling party and its leaders in Singapore are involved.

2) Scandalising the Singapore judiciary [is] an archaic phrase which embodies ‘any act done or writing published calculated to bring a court or a judge of the court into contempt, or to lower his authority’.

3) The Singapore courts have dealt firmly with these contemnors through the contempt of court committals, shaping a jurisprudence that places [emphasis on] maintaining good public perception of its ‘integrity and impartiality’, at the expense of freedom of political speech and critical reporting.

4) It is said that the rationale behind the law of contempt is ‘not to vindicate the dignity of the court or [judge], but to prevent undue interference with the administration of justice’, as well as to preserve public confidence in the integrity and competence of the judiciary.

5) The 11 November 1974 issue of Newsweek magazine that was alleged to have had the effect of scandalising the court of Singapore. . .ended with the shocking allegation – that ‘in the courts in Singapore it makes a vital difference whether it is the government or the opposition that is in the dock.’

6) Christopher Lingle, the author of an article published in the International Herald Tribune was convicted [of] contempt by scandalising the court [by] suggesting that the Singapore judiciary was ‘compliant’ to its government.

7) [The Singapore judiciary] has failed to undertake a searching or meaningful analysis of the issue of the permissibility of derogation from the constitutional right of free speech, and has also failed to appreciate the importance of achieving an appropriate balance between the social benefit of preserving its integrity, and the freedom to report critically.

8) The Singapore judges have sworn to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution’, [where] the purpose of the Constitution is in protecting and guaranteeing the rights of citizens. Where freedom of speech and expression is considered to be a basic human right, it is all the more important that the courts provide a proper rationale for derogation of such a right.

9) It is common to observe the courts citing from other judgments without giving much input into the rationales and reasons for doing so. . .the rigour and depth in the reasoning employed in judgments pertaining to other areas of the law seem to be lacking in contempt of court judgments handed down in Singapore.

10) One’s right to freedom of speech and expression can be abrogated rather easily – so long as the criticism made is ‘scurrilous abuse’ or ‘excites misgivings as to the integrity, propriety and impartiality brought to the exercise of the judicial office’, one would be found guilty of scandalising the court.

11) It does not matter if one had made such criticisms honestly in exercise of one’s recognised right to freedom of speech and expression. Such an approach amounts to the imposition of a strict liability offence and renders the right to freedom of speech and expression almost obsolete (at least with regard to criticisms one can make of the courts). This renders the recognition of the right to freedom of speech and expression superfluous and meaningless.

12) While the court will expressly recognise a right to freedom of speech and expression, it will be quick to note that such a right is not absolute and subject to multiple limitations.

13) While no right can be absolute, the courts ought to engage in a rigorous analysis to find the right balance between the competing interests, and before setting down limitations on the rights it is sworn to protect.

14) The rights of the people should be given its maximum space and recognition, for the entire purpose of rights is to guarantee the fundamental liberties of the people. If such rights were to be curtailed and limited right from the start, there is not going to be much to guarantee and uphold.

15) An accused, regardless of whether he or she was justified in their statements, would be found guilty as long as the statements scandalised the judiciary. Therefore, in effect, no one can make any adverse comments on the judiciary, regardless of the extent of truth there is in the comments. This is an untenable position for it amounts to a derogation from the right to freedom of speech and expression without a proper justification, and it may potentially assist judges who do not act in the best interests of justice.

16) This right to criticise is explained by Lord Atkin in Ambard v A-G of Trinidad and Tobago [[1936] AC 322]:

. . .no wrong is committed by any member of the public who exercises the ordinary right of criticizing, in good faith, in private or public, the public act done in the seat of justice. . .Justice [must] be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments, of ordinary men.

17) See article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’.

While Singapore is not a member of the Human Rights Council in the United Nations, it has obligations with respect to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made by the General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

18) Recent developments indicate that the law enforcers are swiftly and decisively enforcing Singapore’s law of contempt against contemnors exhibiting behaviour of various types, namely, contemptuous blogging on the internet and the writing of insulting emails to judges (as seen in [Mr Gopalan Nair]; the wearing of T-shirts imprinted with images of a kangaroo dressed in a judge’s robe while appearing at [the] Supreme Court courtroom; and the Attorney-General’s committal for contempt proceedings [for] three allegedly contemptuous articles published in Wall Street Journal Asia in June and July 2008).

19) Harsh allegations made by a range of international bodies in questioning the integrity of the Singapore judiciary:

What emerges … is a government that has been willing to decimate the rule of law for the benefit of its political interests. Lawyers have been cowed to passivity, judges are kept on a short leash, and the law has been manipulated so that gaping holes exist in the system of restraints on government action toward the individual. Singapore is not a country in which individual rights have significant meaning.
— The New York City Bar Association (1990)

Source: “Scandalising the Singapore Judiciary,” by Tsun Hang Tey (2010)

PDF Download: Informit.com.au | Ebscohost

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AUTHOR:

tey_tsun_hang

Prof Tey obtained first class honours from Oxford University and practised law in Malaysia before being hired to teach at NUS Law faculty. Prof Tey entered the legal service in the Supreme Court as a Justice Law Clerk during the tenure of then Chief Justice Yong Pung How. Prof Tey went on to become a District Judge, after which he returned to academia at NUS Law Faculty.

In 2011, Tey decided to go ahead with publishing a number of articles highly critical of Singapore’s judiciary without approval from the ISD. “I am no longer willing to self-censor,” he wrote. “I certainly do not want [to] compromise my intellectual honesty.”

Of the 2014 sex-for-favours case against him, Tey maintains that the case was politically motivated from the start.

Tey Online: TOC | Yahoo | The Monthly (AU) | Legal Consensus (Tey’s book on Singapore’s judiciary) | Singapore Consensus (Tey’s articles)

Tey’s Court Actions: NUS | Singapore ICA (to show how high-handed and well-coordinated the executions were)