Strong and trusted judiciary worth defending vigorously: Shanmugam

A strong and trusted judiciary is the bedrock of rule of law and is worth defending vigorously, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

"When the quality of the judiciary suffers, the rule of law suffers. When the rule of law suffers, the country suffers," he added.

He was responding to a parliamentary question by Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who referred to a news article about Britain's crisis in recruiting judges and asked about the situation here.

The March 5 article in The Times attributed the problem to "a perception that judges are not valued" and also cited a disagreement between the judiciary and the government over judges' pension arrangements.

While the same could easily happen here, said Mr Shanmugam, it has not because Singapore had chosen a different path from Britain in some ways.

One is to ensure that its judges are not unfairly attacked by the public and the media, he said.

Stressing the importance of having a government that is strong enough to protect the standing of the judiciary, Mr Shanmugam held up the City Harvest case as an example.

He said the Government was of the view that the sentences of the church leaders, who misused millions in church funds, were inadequate.

It was clear this dovetailed with public sentiment and it would therefore have been politically expedient for the Government to join in the criticism of the judiciary, but it did not do so, he said.

Instead, he had made a statement in Parliament to defend the judges' freedom to decide on the case, asking the public to refrain from attacking the judges.

The Government also takes a strict view of the offence of scandalising the judiciary and had taken steps to tighten the law on contempt of court when the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act was passed in 2016, he added.

Another way in which Singapore differs from Britain is that judges here are compensated fairly, said the minister.

While Singapore's judges experience a pay cut when they move from the private sector to the Bench - ranging between 10 and 80 per cent - this is not as steep as in Britain, where the pay cut can be as high as 90 per cent.