The judiciary and its checks and balances role
Over the past few years, I have been heartened to see how Singaporeans have truly stepped up to play a part in shaping the future of Singapore. Opposition parties have upped their game. Supporters have crawled out of the woodwork. Online debate is flourishing. Credible alternative news sources have popped up and more significantly, citizens have begun to realise the full extent of their legal rights.
The opposition parties have always been there and a desire for alternative voices has always been simmering beneath the surface. Fuelled by the advent of technology, these have burst forth onto the political scene. What is curious however, is the increasing usage of the courts to fight for our civil and social rights.
The courts have always been there but where social, political and civil rights were concerned, Singaporeans have never taken that route to defend their rights. Law suits have always seemed one way – the government suing various individuals or publications for defamation. Now we are seeing an influx in citizens using the medium of the judiciary to assert their rights.
In the past 2 years, we have seen Vellema D/O Marie Muthu, a Hougang resident, file a high court application requesting the Prime Minister to call a by-election in her ward; gay couple Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee filing a legal challenge against a law banning homosexual intercourse; and most recently, the mother of Dinesh Raman s/o Chinnaiah has filed an affidavit in the High Court to seek a mandatory order to compel the coroner to re-open and continue his inquiry into Dinesh’s death while in prison. This follows her earlier letter to the Attorney General Chambers to complete the Coroner’s Inquiry into his death.
In most functioning democracies, the judiciary is long recognised as an important check against the unfettered powers of the executive and legislative bodies of the state. The recent upsurge in the utilisation of the court system in Singapore is therefore a development that should be applauded and encouraged.
The reasons for the progress are manifold. Technology has given us the power to connect with like-minded people and has also given us the security of “safety in numbers”. As people spoke up, it encouraged others to speak up as well and the momentum took on a life of its own. More coverage was given to people who have “taken on the establishment” and this in turn gave them and other individuals the strength they needed to either continue the good fight or challenge existing status quos that are no longer relevant to modern Singapore.
I like this vocal and more confident Singapore whereby its citizens take ownership of their future and do not feel hemmed in and helpless. I am proud of this new Singapore where citizens do not take things as they are but are willing to question and hold accountable the actions of its elected government. I embrace this Singapore where Singaporeans are beginning to be aware of their rights and what it means to be a functioning democracy. With the efforts of all Singaporeans through the combination of courageous individuals and the advent of technology, Singapore is finally on its way to taking its place amongst the developed democracies of the world.
Uncontrolled power in the hands of a limited few will never create a fair system for the benefit of the whole. It is only when citizens constantly act to hold their elected government accountable that an equitable system can be maintained for all. Harnessing the power of the judiciary to counterbalance the power of the executive and legislature is a useful addition to a freer press, opposition parties and rigorous debate.
I am encouraged by the individuals who have believed in our court systems and mounted legal challenges to right their wrongs. The road to maintaining accountability should be trod in a multi-pronged fashion. The media, technology, opposition parties and the judiciary must work in tandem to create a society where everyone has a say.