The start of the new year heralds the first Parliamentary session of 2021. In this inaugural session, apart from the reading of new bills and ministerial statements from the Minister for Health and Minister for Education, 99 oral questions and 52 written questions have been scheduled to be asked.
It is noteworthy however that none of the questions relates to an inquiry into our judicial system – something that 27 civil organisations have jointly requested President Halimah Yacob to convene a committee of inquiry (COI) into.
Just to recap, the sensational Parti Liyani case broke in September 2020, raising concerning questions into how police investigations are being conducted and revealing potential gaps in how the Attorney General’s Chambers formulate charges. Further, it exposed the possibility of well-connected citizens using state resources to propagate a personal agenda. It also exposed the disturbing fact that the poorer and less educated among us may have unequal access to legal advice and support.
In other words, Parti’s case is not just about one foreign domestic worker. Rather it is an opportunity to investigate and improve upon systemic unfairness and unconscious biases. The judicial system is one that affects us all and Parti’s case is a chance for us to make the necessary changes.
One might argue that Parti’s exoneration is a sign that our system does work. However, a strong counter-argument to that line of reasoning is that Parti overcame a system against all odds only because of her tenacity and the unwavering support of a pro bono lawyer, Anil Balchandani and the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME).
What if Parti had not been as persevering as she was? What if HOME had not learnt of her plight and supported her? What if no pro bono lawyer was found? The alternative of what could have happened in the “what ifs” is unthinkable.
Yet, Parti’s case is just one that made it to the High Court. How many others may not have made it due to an accused person being too tired or too scared to fight even if he or she was innocent? How many others may not have had the support of HOME’s limited resources?
Looking at things from this perspective, Parti’s case is very much a public interest issue that cannot simply be closed just because the Minister for Law and Internal Affairs, K Shanmugam says it is off the back of a “behind closed doors” internal investigation that is not independently verifiable by an objective third party or the public.
Yet, it would seem that none of the MPs has filed any questions on this matter. Are they prepared to let this matter die just like that? If we do not press hard for a COI, will any lasting changes really be made to ensure that something like that never happens again?