Reflections on Ms Sylvia Lim’s Adjournment Motion
PUBLISHED ON 11 Oct 2017
Last week, Ms Sylvia Lim had the chance to speak on her adjournment motion in Parliament about the reserved Presidential Election. 
 
Her chief complaint was that government had somehow misled the public by suggesting that it relied on the Attorney-General’s advice to decide when to count the 5 presidential terms for purposes of triggering the reserved election. 
 
But this issue had been extensively debated in Parliament in Nov 2016 and it would have been clear to anyone who read the Constitutional Amendment Bill and took part in that debate that Parliament would be setting out when to start counting the 5 Presidential terms in subsequent legislation.  So I was taken aback by some of the points made in her speech, which were clearly misleading.  
 
First, Ms Lim claimed that what PM said in Parliament about taking AGC’s advice for the legislative changes was at odds with the comment made by the Deputy Attorney-General in Court (arising from the legal challenge mounted by Dr Tan Cheng Bock) that the AGC’s advice was “irrelevant”.   
 
Ms Lim clearly knows the truth.
 
PM did tell Parliament that the Government had taken legal advice - that’s simply a statement of fact.    
 
But the Court action was a different matter.  Dr Tan Cheng Bock had asked the Court to decide on a matter pertaining to whether an Act of Parliament had breached the Constitution.   
                                                                                                          
What advice AGC had given to the Government on this matter is not relevant to how the Constitution should be interpreted, which was the Deputy Attorney-General’s point.     
 
Even Dr Tan’s own lawyer agreed that in that context AGC’s advice was irrelevant.  However, Ms Lim made no mention of this in her speech.
 
Second, Ms Lim said that, during the Court hearing, a Judge showed “scepticism” about how AGC interpreted the PM’s speech. She said this to bolster her argument that the Government was wrong, and even the Court thought so.
 
Again, this is disingenuous.
 
Anyone who has been to court will know that Judges ask questions to test and clarify each party’s case. In this hearing, the Judges asked questions of both sides.
 
What matters is how the Court finally decides. 
 
And what did the Court’s Judgment say?
 
It said, unanimously, that the PM had been clear in what he had said, and that Parliament has the right to decide when to start the count. 
 
Third, Ms Lim referred to the advice of a “prominent” Queens Counsel (QC), which had been filed in Court.
 
She said that he was “an expert on Westminster-model Constitutional law”, and that in his opinion the Act was unconstitutional. 
 
Ms Lim did not disclose that Dr Tan withdrew the QC’s opinion.  Surely, Ms Lim should have disclosed this, so that people can judge properly what weight to place on the QC’s opinion?
 
And what is Ms Lim implying? That the Court was wrong, because of the QC’s opinion? That the QC’s opinion, which was withdrawn, carries more weight than the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision after hearing counsel from both sides?
 
Surely she knows that Courts often disagree with QCs, and other Counsel?
 
The Court decisions are published and in the public domain.  I would strongly encourage anyone with an interest in the matter to read them for yourselves. 
 
In 2015, the High Court described one of Ms Lim’s Parliamentary speeches as an exercise of  “suppresio veri, suggestio falsi”– suppress the truth to suggest a falsehood. 
 
Sadly, we seem to be seeing a repeat of such behaviour. 


Written by Vikram Nair, MP for Sembawang GRC


Image from Parliament


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