Lucien Wong’s Controversial Past Points to Need for Reform of the AG’s Office
In the wake of Ms Parti Liyani’s acquittal several stones are being overturned and not surprisingly all manner of unpleasant things being found underneath them. I wrote in my last blog that Lucien Wong recusing himself from the inquiry by the AGO into the prosecution was not sufficient. He has handed the matter over to his deputy, former MP Hri Kumar, who doxxed an elderly woman who complained about her CPF at a forum he was holding. I would not expect him to uncover anything that could be damaging to his boss or to the Government. At the very least Lucien Wong should step down from the AG’s role until the investigation is complete.
There were revelations last week about Lucien Wong’s past misdemeanours. In 1986 a police report was made against both him and a female lawyer (Christina Ong, now Senior Partner at Allen and Gledhill) for alleged wrongful removal of files (a euphemism for theft?) from their employers’ offices after they were caught with the files in the boots of their cars. There was also a complaint made around the same time to the Law Society but it was apparently dismissed as “unmeritorious”. This raises questions as to why he was not prosecuted when for instance the AG pursued other “unmeritorious” cases such as the one against JBJ who was found guilty of a non-existent offence and sentenced to jail, deprived of his seat in Parliament and then struck off by the Law Society. He was only able to appeal to the Privy Council in the UK over his disbarment but they did not mince their words, recording their “deep disquiet that by a series of misjudgments”, JBJ had suffered “a grievous injustice”. Despite the Privy Council asking the Government to take the necessary steps to exonerate JBJ, the Government, headed by LKY, refused to do so.
Under Article 35(8) of the Constitution, the Attorney General “shall have power, exercisable at his discretion, to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for any offence.” This is problematic because the AG is a political appointee who serves as the Government’s chief legal adviser. He is appointed by the President on the advice of the PM who under the Constitution is also supposed to consult the Chief Justice. Most of the past AGs have been only too willing to initiate politically motivated prosecutions, e.g. of JBJ (the AG at the time was Tan Boon Teik who was best man at my parents’ wedding).
They have also used their power not to prosecute, as in the notorious case from the 1997 GE, when DPM Lee Hsien Loong (as he then was), DPM Tony Tan and PM Goh Chok Tong entered polling stations in Cheng San GRC in a clear breach of Sections 82(d) and (e) of the Parliamentary Elections Act:
82.—(1) No person shall —
|(d)||wait outside any polling station on polling day, except for the purpose of gaining entry to the polling station to cast his vote;|
|(e)||loiter in any street or public place within a radius of 200 metres of any polling station on polling day;|
The then AG Chan Sek Keong, decided that being inside a polling station was not the same as being within 200m of the polling station. Surely the AG’s extensive legal experience would have made him familiar with a similar case in the UK where a defendant to a charge under the Official Secrets Act 1920 tried to argue that being inside a prohibited place (in this case a military base) was not the same as being “in the vicinity” of that place. In that case the judge gave short shrift to the sophistry of the defendant’s argument holding quite rightly that it would be absurd to suggest that being inside the prohibited place would not be an offence whereas being outside it but within the vicinity would not.
Chan Sek Keong may have earned his promotion to Chief Justice by his rightly ridiculous reasoning, since a prosecution may have disqualified PM Goh, LHL and Tony Tan from office and at the very least forced a re-run of the Cheng San vote.
The selection of Lucien Wong as AG demonstrates how little has changed since then. With his questionable past and his conflict of interest as the PM’s former personal lawyer he is unsuitable to hold the role. In his case the fact that he is over 60 (the statutory retirement age for the AG under the Constitution) makes him even more susceptible to pressure from the PM as his appointment is for a fixed term which the PM can extend at his discretion (with the rubber stamp of the President). In a similar way the Government has the power to allow High Court Judges, including the Chief Justice, to serve beyond the statutory retirement age raising questions about judicial independence.
We need to remove the power to initiate or stop prosecutions from the Attorney General and establish an independent Prosecution Service modelled on the UK Crown Prosecution Service. It would be great if that was a result of the Parti Liyani case, since it failed to happen as a result of the JBJ case (where the Government still refuses to acknowledge the Privy Council ruling and our Judiciary is notoriously silent on the subject) or the Cheng San polling station case. However instead we are seeing a big damage control exercise by the Government, from Minister of Law Shanmugam downwards to state media employees (and likely ISD operatives) like Chua Mui Hoong who are trying to turn it around and say that Ms Liyani’s acquittal on appeal shows that our system works. This needs to be resisted. The fact that the dogged persistence of an unpaid probono lawyer who gave up hundreds of hours of his time and the indomitable courage of Ms Liyani who refused to stop insisting on her innocence were after four years vindicated by a honourable High Court judge’s decision does not show that the system is working. We need to reform a system where powerful people connected to the Government like Mr Liew Mun Leong seem able to use our police and courts to silence and punish individuals who threaten them, particularly if they are poor and vulnerable, even to the extent of the district judge accepting the perjured testimony of Karl Liew, who had been found guilty of deceit in his bankruptcy case. As importantly we need an end to a system in which the PM can use the police, the AG and the judiciary to pursue politically motivated prosecutions of his opponents while using that same control to give himself and his Government a free pass to break the law.
I said that the woman arrested by the police together with Lucien Wong later became his wife. Apparently this is not true as they never married. Also the files were found in the boot of her car not his. Neither amendment alters the central facts in the article.