The Law Society of Singapore seems to have remained noticeably silent in the wake of the publication of the “fake news” bill. Can their silence be taken as tacit agreement with the stance of the government in relation to alleged “fake news”?
The “fake news” bill has already been criticised as unduly arbitrary and harsh. Given that the law could potentially be used as a means to silence critics of authorities , it would be interesting to hear what the view of the Law Society is on this issue. After all, isn’t the Law Society arguably morally obliged to prevent any potential abuses of the legal process?
I recall that in the wake of the unfortunate death of North View Secondary School student Benjamin Lim amid allegations of police heavy handedness, then President of the Law Society, Mr Thio Shen Yi argued for better protection of suspects, especially minors, by granting them early access to counsel. Even though Thio was subsequently singled out by Minister of Law K Shanmuggam for apparently making inaccurate statements, I am still heartened that Thio had chosen to speak out. The law is supposed to be a noble profession. One that has a duty to ensure that processes and procedures are adhered to – a pillar of accountability and a check on power. As President of the Law Society, Thio had a moral obligation to make a statement and that he did.
Why then is the current President of the Law Society, Senior Counsel Gregory Vijayendran, deafeningly silent in the wake of such a draconian bill? Does this silence create the impression (rightly or wrongly) that this bill cannot be criticised because it is endorsed by the political establishment in Singapore? Could he be conscious of a potential public telling off akin to what happened to Mr Thio is 2015? Do we really want to create the impression (however unwittingly or otherwise) that our Law Society is in some way beholden to the political establishment such that it is unwilling or unable to have an opinion on legal issues that could have far ranging consequences on the rights of Singaporeans?
Going further back, do Singaporeans remember the firebrand Law Society President Francis Seow who openly criticised then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and ended up in self exile in the United States? Clearly, the role of President of the Law Society was supposed to have been an active one. What’s happened now?
More importantly, do we expect a more vocal Law Society?