Kenneth Jeyaretnam: Rule of Law – Dirty Tricks?

~by Kenneth Jeyaretnam ~

This is my comment on the attempted action by the Law Society of Singapore against Lawyer M Ravi which I witnessed in court today.

When I ran my Hedge Fund I had a “global” remit meaning that I had permission to trade on any and every stock exchange. Potential Investors would usually query that, asking whether I would really take a position in any country. My answer was that I would only invest in trades originating in Nations where there was a legal framework that I was familiar with ( UK or US model) and where there was also demonstrable ’Rule of Law’. Although I had legal consultants on retainer for the details, I needed those basic pre conditions before I would consider a position.

There has never been any doubt that Singapore and its courts score high on ‘The Rule of Law’ and control of corruption indicators certainlykas scored by institutions such as The World Bank’. However as a report by Lawyer’s Rights Watch of Canada said,

“Notably, though, the definition of the World Bank’s rule of law indicator focuses on the predictability of rules with respect to economic interactions, and importantly, the extent to which contractual and property rights are protected.”

So as a Hedge Fund, a commercial entity, I was satisfied tha4 I could rely on Rule of Law to protect my investors’ monies.

The real question is, can individuals and particularly those individuals going up against the PAP have a similar confidence in the Rule of Law?

Everyone agrees that Independence of the Judiciary is the cornerstone of The Rule of Law. In other words, can we rely on independence of the judiciary when it comes to cases by individuals who are taking a stand that will be unpopular with the PAP government?

Let us be clear. Independence of the Judiciary is not the same as impartiality of the judges. There is a detailed document by Lawyer’s Rights Watch of Canada on Singapore’s Legal independence and I recommend it as essential reading. But here are a few key factors taken from the report.

  • Impartiality is the state of mind of the judge whereas Independence of the Judiciary is the status or relationship of the judicial branch to the other branches of government.
  • Judicial independence comprises both an individual and an institutional component.
  • The individual dimension relates to the independence of the particular judge. The institutional dimension relates to the independence of the court on which the judge sits
  • Courts must be independent from all other participants in the justice system.
  • Therefore the essence of judicial independence is that the “relationship between the judiciary and other branches of government be de-politicized.
  • An individual judge may exhibit the essential conditions of judicial independence but if the court over which he or she presides is not independent of the other branches of government, then he or she cannot be said to be an independent tribunal.

You can read the report here.

Tomorrow at 9:00 am I will be in Court for the first step in my own case. I am pleading this case, which I feel is essential to all Singaporeans, as an individual. And there is no doubt that it is a case which will be very unpopular with the PAP.

Coincidentally, I was in court today to support M Ravi and Madame Villema . Whilst there I witnessed an event that allowed me to get close up and personal with the issues relating to independence of the judiciary. Although the best action was removed to chambers, my basic understanding is that some gentlemen from Singapore’s Law Society tried to get M Ravi taken off the case (or disbarred?) by revealing details of a medical condition. It was all over in minutes and I believe the judge basically told them to get lost- I hope in Latin. I believe he said something along the lines that M Ravi has a certificate to practise law and that was the end of it.

I am now satisfied from my own personal experience that the Rule of Law and independence of the judiciary both on the institutional and the individual dimension is upheld. However the Law Society, if indeed this action was prompted by them, has acted disgracefully and so has the medical professional who released confidential medical information. Let us hope that the medical council deals with him in a manner that sufficiently demonstrates their independence.

M Ravi is a true hero. Not only is he working on the by-election case and my case but he continues unabated on his work for death row inmates. Who else would take on all this work pro-bono? He needs all our support right now as does Madame Villema who is under great pressure from many sides.

Tomorrow promises to be an interesting day. Are we to expect more dirty tricks?

This article first appeared on Kenneth Jeyaretnam's blog here.