Encourage active citizenry, listen to collective wisdom

While laws must always be obeyed, their application is subject to interpretation; otherwise, why are there so many legal avenues of appeal (S'pore law should not bend to public pressure, by Pang Poh Leong, April 26).

Besides, laws are man-made and, therefore, fallible, and where found deficient needing supplementation, they can always be amended.

Where constitutionally they cannot or will not be amended, laws are also surprisingly malleable and subjected to accommodating implementation.

Take, for instance, Section 377A in Singapore, which criminalises sex between mutually consenting adult men, but which the Prime Minister has said will not be enforced, if done privately without causing offence, just as with heterosexual cases.

Judgments by courts, the authorities and professional bodies have also been found quite often to be manifestly inadequate or inappropriately harsh.

Outcries from the public, for instance against the recent Singapore Medical Council's discordantly harsh rulings against doctors, can lead to a more acceptable reassessment of punishment.

We should see this less as bending the law to the will of the public, and more as lending an empathetic listening ear to public good as decently law abiding people see it.

I do not advocate trenchant social activism descending to anarchy, but actively engaged citizenry should be encouraged, and collective wisdom heard. That is the proper social covenant between governors and the governed.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2019, with the headline 'Encourage active citizenry, listen to collective wisdom'. Print Edition | Subscribe