passage of J.B. Jeyaretnam?
by Francis T. Seow
Former Solicitor General of Singapore and past president of the Singapore Law Society
September 20, 2001
IT is an egregious fact that Lee Kuan Yew had never liked the brash political parvenu, J.B. Jeyaretnam, ever since he entered parliament in October 1981.
The dislike was personal as well: Lee strewed epithets with liberal prodigality on Jeyaretnam, such as "a skunk," a "mangy dog," "street hustler," among others, who "had to be destroyed."
The elimination of Jeyaretnam from parliament and the political arena became his all-consuming passion. But it took him almost two decades to accomplish this, with the help of supple judges who were -- in the words of the New York Times respected columnist, William Safire -- his "lapdogs" who knew on which side their judicial bread was buttered.
Even so, one of the greatest casualties in his relentless pursuit of Jeyaretnam was the independent Judicial Committee of the Privy Council -- Singapore's ultimate court of appeal in London, which he had once extolled as one where "undue influence could not be brought to bear -- because it was "no longer in touch with local conditions."
In brief, it had let Lee down when it had allowed Jeyaretnam's appeal against disbarment from the Singapore bar. The Privy Council could no longer be trusted with its sacred trust: he had now to rely upon his appointed judges, of whom his longtime friend and crony, Yong Pung How, the chief justice, stands pre-eminent.
This whole sordid episode does not reflect well on Lee, his judges and his courts, and will remain an ugly blot on his political escutcheon when the final chapter is written in history's book.
Note: The matter is being dealt more fully in the author's forthcoming book, Beyond Suspicion: The Singapore Courts on Trial, sometime next year.