Singapore politician loses bid for foreign lawyer

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore opposition politician Chee Soon Juan says he is being unfairly denied the right to have foreign lawyers defend him in a defamation suit brought by the island nations’ two most senior leaders.

Chee, head of the Singapore Democratic Party, said on Thursday the High Court had rejected his application to have Hong Kong’s top democrat Martin Lee and Australian lawyer William Henric Nicholas defend him against charges brought by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The High Court denied an application by Chee in late January to have Australian lawyer Stuart Littlemore defend him in the case, saying Littlemore had made disparaging remarks about the Singapore judiciary.

“It is clear that the courts have yet again frustrated my efforts to defend myself and get at the truth of the matter in the most effective manner,” Chee said in a press release.

Chee said the court had rejected the request because the judge decided the case was not complex enough to warrant using Queen’s Counsel. Queen’s Counsel are an elite group of lawyers with the right to work in any of the commonwealth countries.

No one was immediately available at the court to confirm this.

Lee and Goh are suing Chee, a former academic, for defamation over suggestions he made in October that the government had loaned S$17 billion ($9.3 billion) to former Indonesian president Suharto. Lee and Goh’s party, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), denies the loan was ever made.

Suing outspoken political opponents is a well-established tactic used by PAP officials and has drawn criticism from abroad. PAP leaders say they resort to the courts to defend their reputations against unfair attacks.

“The misuse of defamation suits by PAP leaders has contributed to a climate of self-censorship in Singapore,” London-based Amnesty International said in a statement in November, when Goh and Lee brought the suit against Chee.

“I do believe that my attempts to run a defence have met a brick wall,” Chee said. “This cannot be justice in any sense of the word.”