10 Dec 07
Two lawyers presented a document entitled “Human Rights Day – Our Calling” to the Law Society of Singapore (LSS), petitioning the organization to take a more active role in protecting the rule of law and human rights in Singapore.
Messrs M Ravi and Chia Ti Lik went to the LSS office in South Bridge Road to hand over the petition. Initially, LSS officials refused to receive the document outside the Society’s premises whereupon the group went in to the office.
Seeing the gaggle of cameramen and reporters present, LSS officials expressed that the matter could not be conducted inside and moved the group outside again.
Initially, the LSS wanted the receptionist to accept the petition but later called one of its directors, Mr Lim Tan Guy, to receive it.
The two human rights lawyers then read out the document (see below) to Mr Lim and hand over the petition to a visibly nervous LSS officer.
When approached, several lawyers have indicated their support for the petition but declined to sign it at the last minute because of fear. It is understood, however, that they pledged to support future endeavours. One of the signatories is lawyer, Ms Violet Netto.
Mr Ravi said that the LSS must do more than just organise its annual Dinner and Dance, and become active advocates for the rule of law in Singapore. “Even then, attendance at its D&D have been falling,” the lawyer quipped.
In the meantime, lawyers in Malaysia were actively campaigning and fighting for the rule of law in their country. Several of them were arrested yesterday when they marched to mark International Human Rights Day (see photo/video on the left).
HUMAN RIGHTS DAY – OUR CALLING
10th December 2007
The Law Society of Singapore
39 South Bridge Road
We congratulate you on your appointment as our new President.
Today we mark the Human Rights Day along with Lawyers and Bar Associations around the world that affectionately includes the Malaysian Bar Council.
We record with dismay that Human Rights Day is a non-event to our Law Society. We earnestly hope that along with the Law Society’s major events like the Dinner and Dance, and Bench Bar Games, Human Rights Day will find its way to our calendar in the coming years.
On this day, we call upon the Law Society of Singapore to stand firmly on our mission to uphold the Rule of Law in maintaining a strong and independent Bar as contained in our mission statement published on our website. It has been twenty years since the Legal Profession Act was amended by the state to muzzle the Law Society from commenting on existing and proposed legislation, unless its views were expressly solicited. This oppressive legislation not only stifles the Law Society from making an active contribution to the law making process but also takes away our vital role as a vanguard of the rights of the people. It is time that we break this 20 year silence in speaking up for our rights to speak up.
Given our close affiliation to the Malaysian Bar Council, we would like to urge the Law Society to stand in solidarity with their courageous fight for the rule of law in Malaysia and in this spirit denounce the recent arrest of the lawyers.
We therefore mark this Human Rights Day in calling upon the Law Society of Singapore to:
1. Campaign for the repeal of the section in the Legal Profession Act which prevents the Law Society from speaking on existing or proposed legislation;
2. Look into ways to strengthen the Independence of the Judiciary especially at the Subordinate Courts;
3. Set up a sub-committee on human rights under the Law Society and conduct human rights training for lawyers;
4. Submit an annual report on human rights violations in Singapore to the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association (IBA) and follow up on issues pertaining to the Rule of Law raised at the recent IBA 2007 Conference;
5. Establish a Judicial complaints mechanism in addressing complaints by lawyers and the public on any misbehaviour by Judges and Legal Officers from the Attorney-General’s Chambers;
6. Urge the government to set up a National Human Rights Commission.
Chia Ti Lik
L F Violet Netto