Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Walter Woon - Attorney General

I'm rather late in posting this. But, the appointment of Walter Woon as the Attorney General warrants some comment. This is a legal mind within the Singapore landscape that I admire deeply. I view him as a man of tremendous intellectual honesty from what little I have read about him over the years and the comments that have emanated from him.

Definitely, congratulations are in order. My only hope is that his intellectual honesty would engender the introduction of some fresh air into Singapore's legal climate.

Of course, I can't help but note some irony in all of this. If I remember correctly (and I may be wrong as I am working purely from memory, which is not too efficient these days), there was long time ago that Professor Walter Woon made a remark about the then Attorney General's statement regarding an alleged offence under the Parliamentary Elections Act.

Chan Sek Kiong was then the Attorney General. During the 1997 elections, the Workers' Party had alleged that Mr Goh Chok Tong, Dr Tony Tan and BG Lee Hsien Loong had been inside a polling station on polling day and had thereby committed an offence. Surprisingly, the PAP leaders did not deny their presence there (realising, I presume, the futility of attempting to deny the undeniable). It was then left to the Attorney General to diligently lay down an interpretation of the offence of loitering under the Parliamentary Elections Act that is perhaps the furthest that the elasticity of logic be pushed to without losing its pedigree as logic.

The AG stated as follows:
7. Section 82 (1)(d) provides that - "No person shall wait outside any polling station on polling day, except for the purpose of gaining entry to the polling station to cast his vote".

8. Plainly, persons found waiting inside the polling stations do not come within the ambit of this section. Similarly, those who enter or have entered the polling station cannot be said to be waiting outside it. Only those who wait outside the polling station commit an offence under this section unless they are waiting to enter the polling station to cast their votes.

9. Section 82 (1)(e) provides that -

"No person shall loiter in any street or public place within a radius of 200 metres of any polling station on polling day."

10. The relevant question is whether any person who is inside a polling station can be sad to be "within a radius of 200 metres of any polling station". The answer to this question will also answer any question on loitering inside a polling station.

11. Plainly, a person inside a polling station cannot be said to be within a radius of 200 metres of a polling station. A polling station must have adequate space for the voting to be carried out. Any space has a perimeter. The words "within a radius of 200 metres" ' therefore mean "200 metres from the perimeter of" any polling station. This point is illustrated in the diagrams in the Appendix. (Editor's note: Diagrams not available).

12. The above interpretation is fortified by the context of the provision. The polling station, as a place, is distinguished from a street or public place. It is not a street or a public place. Hence, being inside a polling station cannot amount to being in a street or in a public place. By parity of reasoning, loitering in a street or public place cannot possibly include loitering in the polling station itself and vice versa.

The full text is available here:

I must say that the argument of the AG is not without logic. I'm merely saying that I am reminded of Professor Kingsfield from Paper Chase: "Man has an infinite capacity for rationalization".

Now, for the reason why brought this up (and here I may actually be mistaken and might add my own quotable quote: man has an infinite capacity to be mistaken): If memory serves me right, Professor Walter Woon made a remark about the AG's argument... as being either intellectually dishonest or unintelligent.... something to that effect... the 'intellectually dishonest' bit has stuck in my head... i do remember that he said 'either ______ or intellectually dishonest' or 'either intellectually dishonest or ________.'

maybe the comment has been immortalised by being grafted onto the net somewhere... I must google it to find out.

Anyway, the point of this exercise is this... What an irony. Walter Woon is now the AG. Chan Sek Keong is the Chief Justice. How would the intellectually honest perform? We shall watch as it unfolds.


Gerald said...


I like the title of your blog. I understand Article 14 of the Singapore Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, assembly and association. Is this what you are referring to?

Looks like you have lots of good insights to share. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

Subra said...

thanks gerald.
I've obviously been blogging without an audience for a while now. But, as you can see I don't often update stuff here. It is pretty much in stops and starts.

Yes, Article 14 is meant to be reflective of that rather lacklusture provision within our Constitution which needs some polishing.

Freedom of speech and expression.
Right to Peaceful assembly.
Right to form associations.

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Anonymous said...

It is simply ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Should you tell it — a lie.

Anonymous said...

Rather amusing opinion

Anonymous said...

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. (Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81)).

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So, I don't actually suppose it will have effect.

JC said...

Prof Walter Woon is my criminal law professor this semester! I really really enjoy his seminars and admire him a lot :')

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