Reform in the UK, regression in Singapore

June 1, 2010
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

In a recent article that may have escaped the attention of many in Singapore, Mr Anthony Lester QC wrote in The Times how the antiquated English law of defamation is strangulating free speech (watch video below). Mr Lester, or Lord Lester, argues that the law is archaic and benefits only a small elite clique.

This, of course, has much to do with Singapore where Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his fellow ministers are wont to use defamation laws which we adopted lock, stock and barrel from England against the opposition despite claims that we are an Asian society that eschews confrontational politics.

Anthony Lester, QC

Lord Lester has introduced a bill that would reform the law of defamation in England. With the Liberal Democrats forming a coalition government with the Conservatives, the silk (a peer of the Lib Dems) opines that the time is ripe for reform of the law:

The Lib-Con coalition promises a review of the libel laws to protect freedom of speech. It is long overdue. English libel law is notoriously costly, complicated and stifling of free speech. Now, in the face of pressure from internet publishing and the public outcry about scientists, authors and human rights groups being sued, we have a welcome consensus on the need for reform. The time is over-ripe for Parliament to replace our archaic law with one that gives stronger protection to the freedom to share information and ideas and that is fit for the 21st century.

Back to Singapore. While touting our island-republic as an Asian country with Asian values (read as the PAP having the  mandate of heaven to do anything and everything in order to rule to infinity and beyond), the ruling party has no qualms in applying old England to modern Singapore.

Lord Lester’s intervention in the UK Parliament will bring old English laws up to date to fit modern and changing times. This, however, is one upgrade that Mr Lee and colleagues will be in no hurry to carry out in Singapore. The reason is plain: The English law, however archaic, suits them.

To be sure Lord Lester is no stranger to Singapore’s politico-legal scene. In the late 1980s, the QC was Ms Teo Soh Lung’s counsel. Ms Teo was arrested in 1987 under the Internal Security Act for being part of a Marxist plot.

The Singapore Government subsequently moved to bar the silk from entering Singapore to represent Ms Teo. 

The tragedy is that while the rest of the modern and democratic world continue to prepare their societies to embrace and compete in an environment where change is the constant, Singapore is stuck with an regime bent on holding on to power even if it means holding the country back.

While governments amend laws to empower their peoples even more, PAP introduces the Public Order Act to prohibit even one person to protest in public.

Its recent effort to criminalise activities that “demonstrate opposition to the actions of the Government” sound like a medieval decree from a paranoic monarch completely out of touch with reality. 

Such political anachronism will be another nail in the coffin that already entombs the soul and spirit of this country. It will be the wound that continues to bleed the life out of our republic. As if our political culture, and together with it our economic and social dynamism, are not moribund enough.

Lord Lester’s move to reform the law of defamation will do the UK and its people a world of good. This is where democracy is so essential for a modern society. It allows for mistakes to be rectified and obsolete laws to be changed.

The answer is clear: For our own good, Singapore needs to change. The question is: Are Singaporeans paying attention?