Judicial review keeps govt action within law: CJ

A FEW weeks after the Court of Appeal freed alleged match-fixing kingpin Dan Tan from detention, the Ministry of Home Affairs reviewed its legal position in the light of the apex court's judgment and released three others who had also been detained without trial.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon cited this in a speech he recently gave in the United States, to make the point that it is critical to have the commitment of the government in complying with the law pronounced by the judiciary for the rule of law and good governance.

He was speaking at the American Law Institute's 93rd annual meeting in Washington, DC last week.

CJ Menon is the only Singaporean to be elected a member of the institute, an independent organisation established in 1923 which produces scholarly work to clarify, modernise and improve the law.

In his speech, he said that despite the vast differences in the legal systems, history and culture of the US and Singapore, both nations shared a commitment to the rule of law, even if the practical application may differ.

CJ Menon noted that Singapore's fidelity to the rule of law has "coexisted comfortably" with an emphasis on communitarian over individualist values.

He cited a Court of Appeal decision which involved a judicial review of a Commissioner of Labour decision on the grounds of a controversial doctrine.

The court did not have to decide whether to recognise the doctrine, it provided guidance to the Government on the possible issues to be looked at.

"What underlies this approach is the belief that a court which is respected by the other branches of government can effectively shape the debate and ensure the legality of government actions by setting out its concerns openly and potentially obviating a binary clash between the judiciary and the executive," said CJ Menon.

"Having said that, confrontation may be inevitable and then, the judiciary must stand firm as the last line of defence," he went on to add.

"Judicial review is the sharp edge that keeps government action within the form and substance of the law."

He highlighted that the apex court had released Tan from detention without trial after ruling that the grounds for his detention failed to show how his activities were harmful in Singapore. Tan was later re-arrested and detained on fresh grounds that set out the relevant threat.

CJ Menon noted that the Home Affairs Minister took steps to review the detention of three other detainees and revoked them in the light of the court's ruling.

"The robustness of a nation's rule-of-law framework depends greatly on how the other branches view the judiciary and whether it, in turn, is able and willing to act honestly, competently and independently," he said.


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