Friday, May 11, 2007

An active Law Society with its heart in the right place

Hi Friends,

It is nice to know that in materialistic Singapore, exemplified none other than by our political leaders, there are still pockets of professionals who have their hearts in the right places.

Kudos to Philip Jeyaratnam (son of JBJ) and the Law Society for speaking out for the silent majority. I am sure the political elite would not be happy with this “champs, chumps, chimps” message, even though it was supposedly meant for internal consumption only.

Just as significant was the salvo from the Law Society when they proposed the scrapping of the mandatory death penalty for such crimes as murder, drug trafficking and firearms-related offences. It proposed that judges be given the discretion in sentencing.

After all, what are our learned judges there for if not to use their God-given wisdom to decide the ultimate fate of the defendants? Why must parliament tie the hands of the judiciary ?

Hence, I totally agree with the sentiments of the report which was drafted by the Law Society committee and submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs in response to the MHA's proposed changes to the penal code. The report said that "Flexibility in sentencing humanizes the law and reflects the evolving standards of democracy in Singapore society".

In the same report the Law Society is also seeking to decriminalize homosexual acts among consenting men.

Now it just remains for other professions to take a more active stance with regards to their place in our society.


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Read and enjoy the two articles

Friday May 11, 4:17 PM

Law Society on 'champs, chumps and chimps'

SINGAPORE: The recent debate over ministerial pay has left Law Society president Philip Jeyaretnam somewhat concerned whether private sector professionals, especially lawyers, will start viewing "national service" with disdain.
He’s not talking about the military kind, but the various unpaid posts that people take on for a public cause.

“Given the materialist spirit of the times, people urged to do their part by way of such ‘national service’ will be forgiven if they sometimes wonder whether they are being taken for chumps,” he wrote in his president’s message for the May edition of his society’s publication, the Law Gazette.

The principle of benchmarking ministers’ pay to what they would otherwise have earned in the public sector may be realistic and assists transparency by disassociating political office with hidden perks.

“But, it can hardly be doubted that one effect of the emphasis on money is to undercut volunteerism and the spirit of public service,” wrote Mr Jeyaretnam, who serves on three statutory boards.

Sharp words indeed from a man who once told this newspaper that he would “speak truth to power”.

In 1986, a certain Francis Seow — Law Society president then, Opposition figure in exile now — publicly opposed the Government on laws curbing foreign publications, a move which led to legislation limiting the Law Society’s ambit to comment.

However, as Mr Jeyaretnam told TODAY, his message “was very much for lawyers to reflect on and was not intended for the general public”.

He established how the ministerial pay issue has a bearing on the profession in his message, Of Champs, Chumps and Chimps, which can be found on the society’s website.

“The public is told that top lawyers earn astronomical amounts. And that top engineers to the image and standing of the two professions?

For sure, the law faculties at (the local universities) will be even more oversubscribed than they are at present,” he wrote. “It is unfortunate that the public may be getting a rather skewed idea of the two professions - there is much less of a gap once one looks below the rung of top earners.”

Given the hype generated, clients would be left wondering “how to square lawyers’ complaints about the very real squeeze on legal fees with the apparent exuberance of top lawyers’ pay”.

He added: “Will they understand that the headline numbers don’t tell the whole story?”

The only way to redress the “misleading glimpse of what it really means to be a lawyer (or doctor or accountant or engineer)”, he said, would be for the Inland

Revenue Authority of Singapore to reveal the average income levels at different stages of a legal, medical, accounting and engineering career.

Lawyer Gopalan Raman applauded Mr Jeyaretnam for “walking the tightrope” between two groups in the profession: “The big-time lawyers who work for corporate clients that can be money machines … the group that harkens after money, and smaller firms doddering between survival and failure.

“Philip has treated the latter kindly because he’s saying money isn’t the be all and end all.”

Lawyer Peter Cuthbert Low, who was Law Society president when a salary benchmark for ministers was first established in 1994, shared Mr Jeyaretnam’s concerns.

“I don’t want the kind of lawyers who come out of law school thinking: ‘Now, I want to make money’,” said Mr Low. “We have a long, proud tradition of public spiritedness.”

In his message, Mr Jeyaretnam also shared a lesson he learnt during an overseas trip.

“When I was in India last year, I asked the daughter of a former Supreme Court Judge whether there was any difficulty posed by the gap that exists there between judicial salaries and private sector salaries.

“She looked at me as if I was mad, and patiently, as if to a small child, explained the tremendous respect in which she and her family had been held.

“As far as she knew, no one turned down a higher court appointment, as the opportunity to make and interpret law authoritatively was of incalculable reward for anyone who loved the law.” - /fa

Law Society urges end to mandatory death penalty in Singapore
dpa German Press Agency
Published: Wednesday April 4, 2007

Singapore- The Law Society has called for the scrapping of
the mandatory death penalty in Singapore for such crimes as murder,
drug trafficking and firearms-related offences, a report posted on
the organization's website said on Thursday.

Instead, it proposed that judges be given the discretion to
sentence offenders either to death or to a prison term.

The death penalty is mandatory in capital punishment cases in the
city-state. Judges have no alternative if a person is found guilty.

"Flexibility in sentencing humanizes the law and reflects the
evolving standards of democracy in Singapore society," said a 55-page
report drafted by a committee of lawyers and academics.

The Law Society is also seeking to decriminalize homosexual acts
among consenting men.

Retaining homosexuality as an offence "cannot be justified," the
report said, noting it is "out of step with legal norms in modern

The proposals were endorsed by the Law Society's council and
submitted to the ministry of home affairs in response to the MHA's
proposed changes to the penal code which left the mandatory death
penalty unchanged as well as the illegality of homosexual acts.

The city-state's widespread use of the death penalty has been
criticized by human rights groups such as Amnesty International,
which claims Singapore has the highest rate of executions per capita
in the world.

The harsh drug laws caused an outcry in January when a 21-year-old
Nigerian convicted of drug trafficking was hanged and international
pleas for clemency were ignored.

The Law Society's report said that changing the mandatory death
penalty will not reduce the deterrent element.
© 2006 - dpa German Press Agency

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