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Former senior minister Jayakumar on Parti Liyani case: Important to maintain independence of judiciary

Former senior minister Jayakumar on Parti Liyani case: Important to maintain independence of judiciary

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 07 Nov 2020
Author: Grace Ho

Founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and other PMs were careful to ensure that ministers and officials were proper in their relations with the judiciary, said Prof Jayakumar

It is important that the judiciary remains independent, and founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and other PMs were careful to ensure that Ministers and officials were very proper in their relations with the judiciary, said Prof Jayakumar.

At the launch of his new book, Governing: A Singapore Perspective, on Friday (Nov 6) and responding to a question from Money FM 89.3 host and moderator Michelle Martin on the Parti Liyani case, he posed this question: Was there a departure from the principle of impartiality, and was there undue influence?

He said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam had made it clear that was not so.

"He pointed out that the prosecution actually had good grounds to institute the prosecution... He also brought up enough information that there was no undue influence.

"Even the opposition Members of Parliament confirmed that they were not alleging that there was undue influence."

Mr Shanmugam delivered a ministerial statement on Ms Parti's case in Parliament on Wednesday and said that while lapses in how the case was handled were found, there was no improper influence in the case.

Professor Jayakumar added that the majority of foreign domestic workers and employers are law-abiding. "So when a domestic worker or the employer is off-side of the law, the law has to take its course."

In his book , he related that in the late 1990s, he was told that some judges were upset that MPs were sending Meet-the-People letters to the courts to seek leniency on behalf of their constituents.

"(Then Chief Justice Yong Pung How) said he did not want to trouble the PM but was not sure if he should write to the Attorney-General (AG), to the Speaker of Parliament or to me," wrote Prof Jayakumar.

"I completely agreed that this was wrong and that I could understand the unhappiness of the judges."

He wrote a letter to all PAP MPs to remind them not to do this, and reinforced the message when he spoke to MPs at the party caucuses.

This incident underscores the importance of the judiciary's independence, he said.

At the same time, he understood the challenge MPs faced, which was that their residents had no patience for "esoteric arguments" about the separation of powers.

Some families had severe issues like the accused person was the sole breadwinner or caregiver; they wanted to ask whether fines could be paid in instalments; and whether their loved ones could be placed on day-release schemes.

So he asked then-Minister for Law and Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee to work out an arrangement whereby MPs would write to the Law Ministry, which could then channel deserving cases to the AG.

This was an arrangement which would not interfere with existing convention, while providing some form of hope to residents that their MPs had tried everything possible.

But occasional lapses could not be avoided, and the issue came up again in 2018 when a Supreme Court judge expressed concerns over the contents of an MP's appeal on behalf of his constituent, he said.

In a memo to all PAP MPs in February 2018, then Party Whip Chan Chun Sing reminded them not to write to the courts on behalf of their constituents to avoid any doubt or public misperception.

"It only shows the dangers of fading institutional memory and the need from time to time to remind MPs on the best practices," said Prof Jayakumar.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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