Costs in constitutional applications are wrong

October 15, 2012
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

The application by the Attorney General (AG) to award costs againstMdm Vellama d/o Marie Muthu in her application for a constitutionaldecision on whether the Prime Minister has unfettered discretion incalling elections is wrong.$CUT$

As the government’s lawyer, the AG isduty-bound to act on behalf of the government. Regardless of themerits of his client’s case, the AG is obliged to argue it.

The quality of a functioning democracy depends on the civic-mindedness ofthe people and the strength of civil society, both of whichare themselves largely depend on the facilitation of democraticrights by the state.

It depends on the belief that allcitizens have a right and a responsibility to ensure good governance.

And finally, it depends also on thenotion that government can get it wrong.

In Singapore, the management of ourstate and society has left many questions unanswered in the application of democratic principles. It has left the playing field between the ruling party and its opponents decidedly tilted.

For citizens like Mdm Vellama to question the Executive on constitutional grounds is good for society. No government, regardless of what thePAP might say, has a monopoly on good governance.

A constitutional application allows thenation, via a single applicant, to query the justness of a policy ina court hearing. It allows the courts, plenary in their own sphere,to consider the rightness of administrative action and whether theprinciples of the Constitution, our supreme law, have been violated. The courts, therefore, guard againstcapricious action by the state.

As a society, we should supportcitizen initiatives becausethey help to improve our administrative and judicial structures andclarify our rights. Over time, they help to level up the playingfield.

MdmVellama did not act in her own benefit alone nor she did not mount amischievous or malicious action. Her application was taken on behalf of the whole electorate; she represented us allwhen she went to our courts to ask our judges to establish whatlimits our executive should have in respect of our parliamentaryelections.

To impose costs upon a citizen – andin this case, a citizen on a low-income – is to run the risk ofdeterring citizens from taking an active interest in how we aregoverned. Or worse, that only those who can afford it to do so should beallowed to obtain redress from the courts.

Given that so many Singaporeans are emigrating because they feel this utter lack of kinship and loyalty to their country of birth, it is perhaps time that we encourage greater interest in the governance of the state. It would make little sense to denude them of one of the last remaining ties that bind us to this nation.