Activists to approach Law Society for assistance

July 15, 2008
Singapore Democrats

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The Tak Boleh Tahan! activists who have been charged with taking part in a procession and assembly without permit will visit the Law Society tomorrow, 16 Jul 08, at 11:30 am to seek assistance for their cases.
Separate pre-trial conferences have been fixed on Friday, 18 Jul 08, throughout the afternoon for those charged. The activists told the court that they want to engage lawyers to defend themselves.

As the matter involves the Constitutional rights and fundamental liberties of Singaporeans, the group has decided to approach the Law Society at its office on South Bridge Road for help.

The non-profit organisation’s mission statement, as stated on its website, is to “To serve our members and the community by sustaining a competent and independent Bar which upholds the rule of law and ensures access to justice.”

The Law Society has had a colourful history. In 1987, former solicitior-general Mr Francis Seow was elected president. In his speech during the opening of the legal year in Jan 87, Mr Seow indicated that he wanted to see a more assertive and caring bar, and that the bar should be consulted and heard on the appointment of Surpreme Court judges.

Mr Seow was chided by then chief justice the late Wee Chong Jin for his audacity. Mr Seow subsequently arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act, and later removed as president.

Mr Seow was detained when he visited some of his fellow Law Society colleagues at the Whitley Road Detention Centre to represent them. Among those  detained were lawyers Ms Teo Soh Lung, Ms Tang Fong Har, and Mr Kevin DeSouza. They were absurdly accused, with 19 others, of a “Marxist conspiracy” to overthrow the Government through violent means.

Under his leadership, the Law Society had been weighing in on proposed changes to legislation such as amendments to the Newspaper Presses and Printing Act.

Following the detentions, the Legal Professions Act was then amended to, inter alia, prohibit the Law Society from commenting on legislation unless explicitly invited by the Government to do so.

In contrast the Malaysian Bar Council (MBC), has been actively fighting for free speech and democracy. Its members conducted a civil disobedience march in Sep 07 where 3,000 lawyers took part, calling on the Malaysian Government to respect, among other things, free speech and assembly.

The MBC has a human rights committee that actively promotes and advocates the political and civil rights of Malaysians. Its chairman, Mr Edmund Bon, was recently in Singapore and gave an interview to this website (see here).

On 10 Dec 07 Singaporean lawyers, Mr M Ravi and Mr Chia Ti Lik, handed a petition to the Law Society calling on it to establish a human rights committee and to play a more active role in protecting the fundamental rights of Singaporeans (watch video here).

In 2007 the Law Society established a Committee on Public and International Law and conducted a series of lectures focusing on the subject of human rights which are, according to the Committee, based on:

a. the Constitution and other Singapore statutes;
b. principles of customary public international law which are recognized as such in Singapore; and
c. the various human rights treaties that Singapore is party to.

Given the announcement, the TBT activists feel that it is appropriate to approach the Law Society to assist in the present charges.