CJ on judicial independence and judicial review

Dear Mr Chief Justice,

I refer to your speech at the New York State Bar Association Seasonal Meeting as reported by the Straits Times under the following titles:

– CJ on judicial independence and judicial review – 28th Oct 2009
– Raffles, MM Lee and the rule of law – 28th Oct 2009
– Bridging the gulf between ideal principle and practice – 29th Oct 2009

In your speech, you said that Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s precepts and values are reflected in all laws found in the Singapore statute. Since they are Mr Lee’s precepts and values, they are not necessarily the precepts and values of the people. Therefore, it may not be entirely right to say that our laws reflect the political, social and cultural values of the people. Take for example our tough defamation laws. What basis do you have to say that people want tough defamation laws? Is Ah Kow the char kuay tiao seller very concerned about being defamed? More likely than not, it is politicians who are more concerned with being defamed. So it may be more appropriate to say that tough defamation laws reflect the values of politicans rather than the values of our people.

You also said that the judge’s pay and tenure are protected and a Supreme Court judge can only be removed by no less than five of your peers. But does that mean that the judge is therefore completely and absolutely unaffected by executive interference? Are money and position the only things that can influence a person’s judgement? What about good old friendship? Let’s say I am a judge presiding over a case involving my good friend Ali. Unless I profess to be a robot completely devoid of human feelings, how can I be absolutely sure that when it boils down to matters involving subjective judgement, I will not lean towards Ali not matter how slight that leaning might be?

Finally, you say that contempt power is necessary to punish allegations that could undermine the court’s authority or public confidence in the impartiality of the court. But on what basis do judges judge public confidence? You said that the judge interprets the law. That is fine. But how does the judge judge public confidence? Without a reasonably good survey, how does the judge know what the public is thinking or is confident about?

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