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What did Mr Lee Kuan Yew say to the legal fraternity?

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Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mr Andrew Loh alluded to Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s remarks to the legal fraternity in 1986 without providing the context. In so doing, they deliberately misled their readers by attempting to link Mr Lee’s remarks to Lucien Wong.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s remarks had nothing to do with Lucien Wong. They were remarks made at a Select Committee hearing. They were directed in particular to a group of lawyers including Teo Soh Lung and Francis Seow who had taken over the Law Society for politicking.

The case that Lee Hsien Yang referenced that concerned Lucien Wong happened when Mr Lee Kuan Yew was Prime Minister and the Attorney-General Tan Boon Teik. It was investigated. That the case was closed means no offence was disclosed by the police investigation.

One recalls that Lee Hsien Yang famously said – during the inquiry by the Law Society into the professional misconduct of his wife –  that statements made on oath need not be accurate. So take what he posts on Facebook with a dose of salt. His Facebook posts don’t need to be accurate.

Mr Lee’s remarks to the legal fraternity

There’s nothing like reading Mr Lee’s remarks in context.

The occasion was a Select Committee hearing on amendments to the Legal Profession Act and took place in 1986.

The case was about integrity and lawyers using the Law Society for politicking.

It was revealed at the hearing that lawyer Teo Soh Lung was a Workers’ Party sympathiser. She had played a key role in getting lawyers to oppose the Bill.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew said:

“Because it is my job as the Prime Minister of the Government of Singapore, to put a stop to politicking in professional bodies. If you want to politick, come out. That’s why I ask you. If you want to politick, you form your own party or join Mr Jeyaratnam.”

“But if you stay in the Law Society council and politick, and at the same time you unconsciously or sub-consciously ally those activities to those of the Workers’ Party, then, inevitably, damage must be done…

“Because I’m not taking flak from the lawyers without giving them as good as a response they would expect from me if I were a counter party in an action.”

The core issues of the day were about ensuring leadership of the highest integrity for the Law Society, and Mr Lee’s outrage at the election of Francis Seow as president’.

Mr Seow had been suspended from practice twice and he also owed money which he could not pay back. He was therefore unfit to exercise discipline over members of the Law Society, Mr Lee said. Two other council members also had blemished backgrounds. Mr J S Khosa had been dismissed from the police force before he went to England to study law. Mr Mirza M Namazie was asked to resign from the legal service because he cheated in an examination.

“At the end of these proceedings I have to decide whether the amendments will stand as they are or whether they should be further added to or lessened…

“If I am convinced that this was an aberration with Mr Seow or few others and in fact the majority of members…. are serious men and women determined to uphold integrity, the honesty, the fearlessness, the independence of the Bar and working within those professional confines, you will find this Government, including myself, a strong supporter, because I was a member of the Bar.

“But if I come to the conclusion that, in fact, as was the case of so many Chinese old boys’ associations and musical gong activities, through the indifference of the majority of members, have misled the society into wilful ways unconnected with the profession, then I will find an answer to it.

Here’s the news report on the Select Committee hearing

THE NEWS REPORT REPRODUCED:

It was a day of fast-paced exchanges, lawyer-to-lawyer, when Parliament’s Select Committee on the controversial Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill started work yesterday.

Among the main disclosures of the day: witness Teo Soh Lung, a young lawyer who played a key role in getting lawyers to oppose the Bill, said she is a Workers’ Party sympathiser.

She has helped two Workers’ Party candidates in the last election, donated money to Opposition MP J B Jeyaratnam and accepted a position on his proposed Anson Council.

Altogether six lawyers faced relentless question from Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Law Minister E W Barker and Second Law Minister S Jayakumar when they appeared before the 8-man panel, reporters and TV cameras.

The core issues of the day were the Government’s reasons for wanting to ensure leadership of the highest integrity for the Law Society, its relationship with the society, and its outrage at the election of Francis Seow as president.

Before the day was out, Mr Lee made it plain that he is prepared to introduce far tougher measures than those contained in the proposed amendments, if that is the only way to ensure the highest integrity in the Law Society.

He said it when Attorney-General Tan Boon Teik was in the witness box in the morning. He said it again when Mr Seow was there. But his strongest words came at the end of the day when Miss Teo was before the panel.

“At the end of these proceedings I have to decide whether the amendments will stand as they are or whether they should be further added to or lessened…

“If I am convinced that this was an aberration with Mr Seow or few others and in fact the majority of members…. are serious men and women determined to uphold integrity, the honesty, the fearlessness, the independence of the Bar and working within those professional confines, you will find this Government, including myself, a strong supporter, because I was a member of the Bar.

“But if I come to the conclusion that, in fact, as was the case of so many Chinese old boys’ associations and musical gong activities, through the indifference of the majority of members, have misled the society into wilful ways unconnected with the profession, then I will find an answer to it.

“Because it is my job as the Prime Minister of the Government of Singapore, to put a stop to politicking in professional bodies.

“If you want to politick, come out. That’s why I ask you. If you want to politick, you form your own party or join Mr Jeyaratnam.

“But if you stay in the Law Society council and politick, and at the same time you unconsciously or sub-consciously ally those activities to those of the Workers’ Party, then, inevitably, damage must be done…

“Because I’m not taking flak from the lawyers without giving them as good as a respond they would expect from me if I were a counter party in an action.”

The Select Committee room, in the Parliament House annexe, was filled with members of the Law Society council and the press when the hearing began at 11am.

First to testify was the Attorney-General who told the Select Committee that moves to amend the Legal Profession Act began in January, soon after Mr Seow was elected Law Society president.

Reading out his address, Mr Tan said the Prime Minister wrote to him, saying he wanted the Act tightened to give the Government more say in the disciplining of errant lawyers.

Mr Tan said he had been considering the same thing for quite some time because he was unhappy with the way in which the Law Society dealt with complaints.

Citing a long list of complaints against individual lawyers, he charged that the Law Society had been slow to act and loathe to take harsh action against errant members.

The real reasons for the society’s decisions were never know, he said, because of the ‘shroud of secrecy’ over its deliberations.

Mr Tan stressed that the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill was drawn up to safeguard public interest and protect the integrity of the legal profession. It was not drawn up to punish any individual, he said, implying Mr Seow.

UNPRECEDENTED ACTION

Nor was it meant to punish the Law Society for openly criticising the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act amendments, drawn up to limit circulations of foreign publications which are deemed to be interfering in domestic politics.

Next on the stand was the immediate past president of the Law Society, Mr Harry Elias, who confirmed that when the Law Society issued a press statement in May condemning those amendments, it was an unprecedented action.

He said his style as Law Society leader, was different from Mr Seow’s. He preferred quiet dialogue with Government and the Bench, not open confrontation.

Examining Mr Seow, the Prime Minister said he was ‘astounded and outraged’ that Mr Seow had been elected president.

Mr Lee went on to take Mr Seow through his past: his resignation as Solicitor-General, his one-year suspension from practice in 1973, his more recent six-month suspension which is now before the Privy Council.

Mr Lee charged that Mr Seow had been in debt for seven years while in Government service, and suggested that even now, Mr Seow owed more money that he had.

Mr Lee said that because Mr Seow owed money and could not pay, he was unfit to exercise discipline over members of the Law Society.

Mr Lee related how Mr Seow had used his influence as Solicitor-General and as a friend of a former CPIB director to wrongfully dismiss four police officers who had raided his girlfriend’s flat.

Mr Seow’s responses included the claim that he was once known as the Prime Minister’s ‘blue-eyed boy’ and that Mr Lee had once suggested that he had the makings of a High Court judge or even Chief Justice.

Two other council members were in the witness box for a few minutes each, but that was long enough for Mr Lee to make his point that they were men with blemished backgrounds.

Mr J S Khosa had been dismissed from the police force before he went to England to study law.

Mr Mirza M Namazie was asked to resign from the legal service because he cheated in an examination.

Reference:

  1. National Library Board – NewspaperSG
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