In a speech froom 2009 which focused on where Malaysia’s constitutional lawyers seek inspiration and precedents from, the current Attorney-General (“AG”) of Malaysia and constitutional expert, Tommy Thomas highlighted the jurisdictions of India, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In listing these jurisdictions, he made reference to how their constitution and the constitutional courts have developed a robust system over the years.
However, in addition to stating where their constitutional lawyers seek inspiration from, he also stated, in no uncertain terms, that the one place that they never look to is across the causeway.
“The one place that Malaysia’s constitutional lawyers never look to is to Singapore. Singapore does not have a constitution. It does not have a constitutional court. It does not have constitutional judges. It does not have lawyers. So I cannot make this speech in Singapore. So whenever we criticize Malaysia, we must remember that it is a 100 times better than kiasu-land.” – Tommy Thomas, Malaysia’s AG
Mr Thomas’ speech, in its entirety, can be viewed here. It is not known whether Mr Thomas’ views on the legitimacy of Singapore’s Constitution have changed since then.
Mr Thomas is no stranger to controversy. His long list of high-profiled clients include the current Finance Minister, Mr Lim Guan Eng, the former leader of the Malaysian Communist Party, Mr Lim Chin Peng and the victims of MH370 and MH17.
His appointment as AG itself was mired with controversy and a near-constitutional crisis as the King and the Malaysian Government disagreed about whether the office of the AG should be filled by a Muslim. Eventually, the Agong heeded the advice of the Government and appointed Mr Thomas as the AG.
Across the Causeway
Mr Thomas, in his speech, conceded that he would not have been able to say the same things in Singapore without facing the consequences.
Mr Jolovan Wham, and the vice-chairman of the Singapore Democratic Party, Mr John Tan were recently prosecuted for making a statement in a similar vein to that of Mr Thomas.
Both Mr Wham and Mr Tan had contempt of court proceedings brought against them by the Attorney General’s Chambers (“AGC”) last month for a Facebook post.
The contents of the post were not too different from the final sentence of Mr Thomas’ speech above.
In response to article about Malaysiakini filing a constitutional challenge against the new fake news laws in Malaysia, Mr Wham said:
“Malaysia’s judges are more independent than Singapore’s for cases with political implications. Will be interesting to see what happens to this challenge.” – Mr Jolovan Wham(27th April, Facebook post)
Mr Tan, who shared the news of Mr Wham’s prosecution, was also subsequently charged with scandalizing the judiciary.
“By charging Jolovan for scandalizing the judiciary, the AGC only confirms what he said was true.” – Mr John Tan(6th May, Facebook post)
The AGC argued that the statements of Mr Tan and Mr Wham “impugned the impartiality and integrity of Singapore’s judicial system and posed a risk that public confidence in the administration of justice would be undermined.”
Commenting on the charges levied against him, Mr Wham said that he had made the comments based on a book by Singapore’s exiled AG Francis Seow and his knowledge of Malaysian court cases.
Mr Wham added that
“I did not accuse our judges of corruption, nor did I say they had no integrity and independence at all. I only made a comparison with Malaysia. Regardless of whether one agrees with my assessment, surely this is reasonable comment?”
At the time this article went to press, the video of Mr Thomas’ speech had already garnered no less than 400 shares and 6,000 views within the span of two hours.