Straits Times: Sylvia Lim ticked off for questioning courts’ integrity

BY SUE-ANN CHIA


UNJUSTIFIED COMMENT: DPM Jayakumar rebuked Ms Lim for doing a “disservice” to the Legal Service’s reputation.

NON-CONSTITUENCY MP Sylvia Lim was ticked off yesterday for her insinuations about possible executive interference in the judiciary through appointments made to the Legal Service Commission (LSC).

Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar said the Workers’ Party chairman was resurfacing similar allegations made by one-time WP MP J. B. Jeyaretnam in 1986.

That led to a Commission of Inquiry into alleged executive interference in judiciary and a committee of privileges – a parliamentary disciplinary panel – being set up by Parliament.

Both found Mr Jeyaretnam had been wrong and unjustified in making the allegations.

“Ms Sylvia Lim through her speech is in fact resurrecting…a conspiracy theory,” he said during a debate on amendments to the Constitution to reflect changes affecting the legal service.

He said he was surprised she was raising “this spectre of possible executive interference in the judiciary”.

If she felt the changes were going to undermine the judiciary’s independence, she should spell out how this was so, said Professor Jayakumar, who is Law Minister.

“I think it does a disservice to our system; it does a disservice to our Legal Service Commission and it does a disservice to our reputation,” he said of her comments.

At issue was a provision allowing the Prime Minister to nominate up to two members of an enlarged LSC, subject to the veto of the President.

Ms Lim argued that this “carries a real risk of undermining public confidence in the neutrality of our courts”.

“To now have two members specifically nominated by the PM potentially gives the executive branch of the government even more influence over critical career decisions of our judicial officers. My concern is that this can be interpreted as a regressive step for judicial independence.”

She added that with the Prime Minister’s nominees, the public could think judicial officers would need to consider the interests of the executive branch of Government when reaching their decisions.

But Ms Lim’s assertions were rebutted by Prof Jayakumar and by Ms Indranee Rajah (Tanjong Pagar GRC), who reminded her that current LSC members were appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.

So why was it not all right to have two additional nominees by the Prime Minister, Ms Indranee asked.

Ms Lim’s charge “unjustifiably denigrates…the people who are appointed because it assumes they will not act without fear or favour”, she added.

Prof Jayakumar said the Prime Minister was not doing anything different from when he makes other appointments which are also subject to a veto by the President.

“The Prime Minister retains overall charge of the civil service, of which the legal service is a part, and it is only logical and necessary that (he) has a role. But once he has nominated two members and they’re appointed, his role ends,” he said.

He added that regardless of the structures in place for a judiciary or legal system, the test of its integrity lay in “the people operating the system, and most importantly, on the leadership in the Government and whether the Government respects the integrity and independence of the judiciary…”

Said Prof Jayakumar: “So to Ms Sylvia Lim and others who are ready to raise the spectre of lack of judicial independence, let me say that our system works. It has gained for us a very valuable reputation.

“That reputation can be maintained for so long as we get good people in the legal system, in the judiciary and I say as important, good people in Government and in Cabinet who will ensure that this system of integrity and incorruptibility is maintained.”

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