The following letter by the press secretary to the Minister for Law was published in the Wall Street Journal on 23 July.
Your editorial “Judging Singapore’s Judiciary” (July 15) perpetuates the baseless allegations and errors of fact in the Report of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute.
The IBA Human Rights Institute’s criticism of Singapore‘s judiciary is contradicted by the International Bar Association itself. Last year, IBA President Fernando Pombo said publicly that Singapore “has an outstanding legal profession, an outstanding judiciary, an outstanding academical world in relation to the law.” You have suppressed this, and instead attributed the IBA Human Rights Institute’s criticisms to the IBA, when the IBA President had stated the very opposite!
You also repeat the vague allegations in the Institute’s Report that defamation suits involving the ruling party lack “impartiality and/or independence.” The decisions of the Courts in these cases are matters of public record, and anyone questioning the verdicts can analyze and examine the decisions properly. Yet the Report contains nothing to back these claims.
Singapore ministers and government officials are held to the highest standards of probity and integrity. This has been recognized by international agencies like the Property and Environment Research Center and Transparency International. That is why investors put in billions of dollars into Singapore, and why Singapore is an oasis of prosperity and stability in Southeast Asia with one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world. Thus when scurrilous allegations of corruption are made, ministers and officials defamed will sue to clear their name. We see no virtue in becoming a society where anyone can freely publish untruths without having to back them up in court.
Further, contrary to the Report, all Supreme Court judges in Singapore enjoy “security of tenure” until retirement at 65. There is also no need to “put an end to the transfer of judges between executive and judicial roles” because Supreme Court judges cannot be transferred and there has never been such a transfer.
Western newspapers, NGOs and human rights groups like the IBA’s Human Rights Institute prescribe Western norms as the way for other countries to “join the ranks of modern democracies.” But not every Western norm is suitable to all countries in the world. Singapore cannot allow those who carry no responsibility for Singapore‘s future to dictate its political and legal systems. Singaporeans know that they have a noncorrupt government and an independent judiciary. They live in one of the top five most transparent countries in the world, with the freedom to express their views, oppose the government and take part in free and fair elections. Singaporeans will choose for themselves the shape and norms for their society.
Press Secretary to the Minister for Law