Disrobing the Bar: The S’pore way

In 1988, the relationship between the Singapore government and the law society turned sour, resulting in the creation of the law academy.

RK Anand, Free Malaysia Today

Ties are now strained between the Malaysian Bar and the government in the aftermath of the Bersih 3.0 protest, incidentally spearheaded by a former Bar Council president, S Ambiga.

The Bar’s criticism and condemnation of the police using excessive force against the protesters had earned the wrath of ministers, who accused it of partisan politics.

Leading the charge is Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz.

The de facto law minister, a member of the Bar himself, had proposed the formation of a law academy, which left the Bar flabbergasted.

Former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad backed the proposal, claiming that the Bar was now functioning more like a political party.

Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee pointed out that the government made a similar move twice in the past whenever it was threatened by an independent Bar.

The Singapore episode

And across the Causeway, a similar situation had unraveled more than two decades ago.

The relationship between the government and the Singapore Law Society turned sour when the latter opposed the legislation to restrict the circulation of foreign publications critical of the island state’s politics.

This episode paved the way for the formation of the Singapore Law Academy.

The Bill on the new Academy of Law was passed by the Singapore Parliament on Aug 11, 1988 and came into force on Nov 1 the same year.

When debating the Bill in Parliament, then Singapore premier Lee Kuan Yew had said that it was his duty to put an end to politicking in professional bodies.

“If you want to politicise, you form your own party… you think you can be smarter than the government and outsmart it, well, if you win, you form the government. If I win, we have a new Law Society. It is as simple as that,” he had added.