Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The sorry state of Singapore's judiciary

These are some quotes from a book titled Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary,
This book, however, is concerned with the other face of justice in Singapore: where these very same judges, sad to say, in politically-freighted cases have repeatedly demonstrated a singular facility at bending over backwards to render decisions favourable to the Singapore government and its leaders. Whereupon their judicial contortions have acquired an international notoriety....- Francis Seow, in the Preface to his book of the same title
There is no crueller tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice - de Montesquieu, 1689-1735

The more the courts are asked to handle political issues, the more their fragility is exposed....A judge's integrity, fairness, temperament, and knowledge of the law are all pertinent areas for public inquiry - Chief Justice Rose E. Bird

Singapore's leaders are masters at using libel suits in a compliant court system to silence or intimidate their domestic opponents and to discourage critical commentary....It saves the trouble of throwing opponents in jail, and has provided the leaders with a tidy source of outside income....- Stuart Littlemore, QC

The independence of the judiciary from the executive is the prime defence against tyranny - Winston Churchill

News reports below about the damages awarded to the PM and MM in their case against the SDP. Read SDP's article here. Read also these two reports here and here.
Singapore PM, Lee Kuan Yew win defamation damages

SINGAPORE, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Singapore's high court ordered an opposition party and its leaders to pay S$610,000 in defamation damages to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father Lee Kuan Yew, court documents showed on Monday.

The outcome is likely to result in the shut down of the opposition party Singapore Democratic Party, said its leader Chee Soon Juan, who is due to pay the damages together with sister Chee Siok Chin and six others.

Chee Soon Juan said the deadline for payment had not been set but they will not pay because they are bankrupt, after they failed to pay libel payments and legal costs in previous lawsuits.

If the damages are not paid the SDP party will be declared bankrupt, he said.

"It's not unexpected. But it's not going to deter us from doing what we have been doing, and that is speaking up for issues that Singaporeans should know about," Chee Soon Juan said.

The damages were the latest in a series paid to Singapore's ruling politicians, who have repeatedly sued the opposition and foreign media over the years.

Critics say the lawsuits are used to crush opposition, but Singapore's leaders say they need the lawsuits to protect their reputations against defamatory remarks.

The SDP was found to have defamed the Lees, two of Singapore's most powerful leaders -- Lee Kuan Yew is the founder of modern Singapore -- in 2006 after the SDP compared the government to the country's largest charity in a party newspaper.

The charity shot to notoriety in 2005 after its chief admitted to misusing public donations for extravagancies such as gold-plated taps in his office bathroom. He was forced to quit and has since been sentenced to three months in jail.

"There were serious allegations of corruption, dishonesty, nepotism and financial impropriety which the defendants persisted in maintaining without foundation to the end," the court document showed.

The document said "the libel struck at the core" of the Lees' "life achievements and personalities", and the damages took into account "the position, standing and reputation" of the Lees.

Singapore leaders have sued or won damages in the past from foreign media groups including the Economist, International Herald Tribune and Bloomberg.

(Reporting by Koh Gui Qing; Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Jerry Norton)

Singaporean opposition party ordered to pay PM

By ALEX KENNEDY,Associated Press Writer

SINGAPORE, Oct 14 - Singapore's High Court ruled that an opposition party and two of its leaders must pay 610,000 Singapore dollars (US$416,000) in defamation damages to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The court on Monday ordered the Singapore Democratic Party and its general-secretary, Chee Soon Juan, to pay damages related to criticism published in 2006 in the party's newspaper.

The story, which questioned the government for its handling of a scandal at the National Kidney Foundation charity, was deemed libelous, according to court documents.

The ruling may bankrupt the Singapore Democratic Party and force it out of existence, the party said in a statement on its Web site.

"The Singapore Democrats stand firm in our conviction to continue to speak up for Singaporeans no matter what happens," the party said.

Chee Soon Juan was forced into bankruptcy in 2006 by a US$300,000 ruling against him for defaming Lee Kuan Yew and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Opposition leaders contend that defamation laws are applied selectively to silence criticism while the government says restrictions on speech and assembly are necessary to preserve economic prosperity and racial stability of this multiethnic city-state of 4.8 million people.

Singapore's leaders have sued journalists and political opponents several times in past years for alleged defamation. They have won lawsuits and damages against Bloomberg, the Economist and the International Herald Tribune.

MM, PM awarded $610,000 in damages

TODAY, October 14, 2008

THE High Court has ordered the Singapore Democratic Party, Dr Chee Soon Juan and his sister, Ms Chee Siok Chin, to pay Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew $330,000 and $280,000, respectively, for defamatory articles published in the opposition party’s newsletter in February 2006.

PM Lee and MM Lee would have been awarded $500,000 and $450,000, but the court took into account the $170,000 each leader had received in 2006 from six of the opposition party leaders and three other central executive committee members who had apologised for the articles in The New Democrat.

In a written judgment released yesterday, Justice Belinda Ang said that the “allegations ... were the gravest imaginable” and the libel was “as serious ... as any allegation which imputed dishonesty could be”.

The libel was exacerbated by SDP secretary-general Dr Chee Soon Juan and central executive committee member Chee Siok Chin’s “insulting behaviour and disgraceful conduct” during cross-examination, the judge said.

The questions the Chee siblings posed were irrelevant to the assessment hearing and were only “meant to discredit, insult, embarrass and humiliate” the two leaders in public, the judge added.

Dr Chee and his sister — who are both bankrupts — had already been jailed 12 and 10 days in June after being found guilty of contempt of court.

The two defamatory articles, in English and Chinese, were published before the 2006 General Election. In them, numerous comparisons were made between the National Kidney Foundation scandal and how the Government was run. TEO XUANWEI

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