In his own words: Absurd to suggest judges fall in line with Govt's wishes

When Parliament convened yesterday to pay homage to its longest-serving member, speaker after speaker referred to the major speeches that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had made in the House at key moments in the nation’s history. Perhaps the Parliament’s most electrifying presence ever, he pulled no punches and spoke with clarity and conviction on the challenges facing Singapore at various stages of its evolution. Here are edited excerpts from 10 significant speeches he delivered in the House over his 60 years as MP for Tanjong Pagar.

JULY 30, 1986


As Prime Minister in the 1980s, two of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's fiercest opponents were veteran opposition politicians Chiam See Tong and the late J. B. Jeyaretnam, the MPs for Potong Pasir and Anson respectively. In this speech, Mr Lee rebuts allegations of government interference in the Subordinate Courts by Mr Jeyaretnam - the subject of a Commission of Inquiry which found no evidence of it - as well as Mr Chiam's remarks that the PM "dominates the universities, the civil service, statutory boards, I think, even Members of Parliament"

"THE Subordinate Court judges are controlled by the High Court judges who can only be removed by an impeachment here in this House, by a two-thirds majority.

But in Singapore, we have an extra supervision on them. When they write their judgments, they know that it could go up to the Privy Council and judges, nothing to do with Singapore, will scrutinise whether their findings are in accordance with the law.

I cannot explain why some judgments take so long. I do not understand it. But I can only assume that the judges are extremely careful when they write their judgments, that it will stand scrutiny. And if it does not, they get sparks knocked off them. It is an eminently reasonable arrangement, has worked and will work.

Until the Member for Anson came along, nobody had any doubts as to the integrity of the Courts. But first he attacked the Subordinate Courts judiciary, exempting the High Court judges from his strictures.

Now he has condemned Mr (T. S.) Sinnathuray, the Attorney-General, the Chief Justice, and he has also ruled out all High Court Judges from hearing the Commission on the allegations he made. So he has broadened out over a wide field.

The Member for Potong Pasir has carried the logic of the extension one step further. Since there is no proof... that any member of the Executive interfered in the workings of the Courts... it has nothing to do with the Government.

(Mr Chiam) now says, because I have been here for 25 years, I have become so dominant, so dominating, such a big banyan tree with such widespreading roots, that they all do my bidding...

I have two hands, two eyes, two feet, less teeth than I started off life with. And I do my job to maintain the system so that it will last, what we have built can survive the creator generation. This is a very serious problem.

And if (younger leaders) do not know how to deal with roughnecks, like the Member for Anson, then this whole thing will go upside down. I would never allow any challenge to the integrity of the system to go past and it should never be allowed.

Therefore, we shall have this opportunity to hear the Member for Anson add the essential ingredients that will transform this picture and show that there were reasons why judges as they wrote their judgments were looking over their shoulders, fearful, transferred out, demoted, humiliated, and therefore all judgments went in accordance with the wishes of the Government or the Prime Minister. It is an absurd, ludicrous proposition.

For 23 years, from 1963 to 1986, (Wee Chong Jin) has been the Chief Justice. I have been the Prime Minister from 1959. I have never discussed any case with him. It is a way of life. We meet socially. There are certain conventions. I do not ring up the Chief Justice and say, 'Send me your judgment.' Are we out of our minds? And say, 'By the way, Mr Chiam ought to be fixed, you know. He is a strange man.'

It is not the way a government is run. If you run a government that way, you end up like the Philippines. Because at some stage, it will all come out. It will all come out, what President (Ferdinand) Marcos said to the judges and to the prosecutor, and so on and so forth."

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