Human rights lawyer and activist M. Ravi (right) with Chee Siok Chin, Chee Soon Juan, his wife and children crossing the road towards the Supreme Court outside Parliament House.
Two months after the historic courtroom clash, reverberations are still being felt. It began with this editorial from The Wall Street Journal, then this rebuttal from Lee Kuan Yew's office, prompting another round of responses, first from Chee Soon Juan, and then the MMO again, and a final rejoinder from Chee, who also pointed out that the Lee, while under oath, had cited a non-existant letter from the International Bar Association. Then, almost on cue, the IBA releases a scathing 72-page report, accompanied by a press release, slamming the Singapore Government for its record on human rights and its lack of judicial independence. Within 24 hours, the Ministry of Law responded. But the international press seized on IBA's statement, with articles that highlighted the Minister Mentor's error in court.
Singapore Has an Independent Judiciary
Judging Singapore's Judiciary
Raising the bar
Uniqueness of perfection that sits to our north
Singapore’s Minister Mentor Slips Up Under Oath
International Bar Association gives Singapore dismal grade in free expression, human rights, independence of courts
Request to reconvene is frivolous: Davinder
Davinder Singh: Lee's IBA-letter reference only an “inaccuracy”
From left : John Tan of the Singapore Democratic Party, activists Mohd Shafi'ee and Isrizal oustside the Supreme Court on the 27th of May 2008.
An update: According to SDP's website, all three men are now placed under police investigation for wearing those T-shirts.
By request, this is the complete transcript of SDP's counsel M. Ravi's cross-examination of Lee Kuan Yew which began around 12.40 pm on the 27th of May 2008 in the Supreme Court. Judge Belinda Ang had earlier allowed an application by Lee's counsel Davinder Singh to impose a guillotine time of 2 hours for the cross-examination of both Lee Hsien Loong and Lee Kuan Yew.
This transcript is significant for it contains the some key remarks by LKY, especially the ones pertaining to pursuing defamatory remarks on cyberspace as well as the "near-psychopath" utterance.
Also of note :
* At about noon, Lee Kuan Yew made a surprised early appearance just as the cross-examination of Lee Hsien Loong was wrapping up. This prompted his counsel Davindar Singh to make a sudden application to postpone lunch so that LKY's cross-examination can proceed immediately. Despite objections raised by the Chees and M. Ravi, Judge Belinda Ang acceded to Singh's application to skip lunch, but ordered a 10 minute break.
* Ravi's cross-examination of LKY was conducted before the Chees.
* Lee Hsien Loong observed the entire the cross-examination of his father from a seat near the back of the court, just in front of the public gallery.
* Lee Kuan Yew drank from a flask which was placed on his table by his personal assistant, who possibly doubles up as a bodyguard. Earlier, his son drank from a ordinary plastic bottle of mineral water, possibly provided by the courts.
* During CSJ's cross-examination of LKY, a middle-aged woman in the public gallery suddenly yawned aloud, attracting stares from others. Visibly embarrassed, she quietly
apologised. She is one of about a dozen elderlies, possibly members of PAP's grassroots organisation, who had been transported by coach to the court in the morning to stake their places in the queue.
Judge : Yes, Mr Singh, call your witness.
Singh : My next witness, your honour, is Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
LKY : I solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give in this court shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Singh : Please sit down, Mr Lee.
LKY : Yup.
Singh : You are Lee Kuan Yew, NRIC number 0000003E, of 38, Oxley Road, Singapore?
LKY : Yes.
Singh : Mr Lee, in front of you, is volumes 1 and 2 of your affidavit. Could you turn to page 67 please? It's marked out.
LKY : Yes.
Singh : Is that your signature?
LKY : Yes.
Singh : Mr Lee, do you confirm that the contents of this affidavit are true and accurate?
LKY : Yah.
Singh : And that they represent your evidence in this court.
LKY : They do.
Ravi : May (inaudible) this courtroom?
Judge : Yes
Ravi : Good afternoon, Mr Lee.
LKY : Good afternoon.
Ravi : I won't hold you long, Mr Lee, and I hope your counsel won't object to that. Mr Lee, when did you come to know about the SDP's defamatory article?
LKY : I cannot remember. All I knew was I had an email or some fax message to say that this article has appeared. Lawyers have been consulted and the lawyers have advised that this is defamatory. So I said go ahead. I don't read the New Democrat or all the other papers. I got too much on my plate. These things are brought to my attention.
Ravi : Mr Lee, when it was brought to your attention, did you then read the article?
LKY : Did I what?
Ravi : When the defamatory context was brought to your attention by your lawyers, did you choose to read the SDP's article?
LKY : No, with the message came the SDP article.
Ravi : And going by your memory, would you agree that it was during the elections that or after the elections was announced that you commenced proceedings?
LKY : Once I saw that article, I knew that the PAP was considering early elections at that time. I was quite convinced that this would be made an election issue. In fact, I read - I can't remember is Dr Chee or his sister - said this was going to be an election issue and they were going to bring this up so we have to have the matter thrashed out in court because otherwise it goes into the hustings - I said this, they said this - and endless arguments. But you say what you like during the election campaign. In the end, you have to come to court and prove that they are true. If they are, then the government is demolished. If you don't, then you've lost (end of audio clip) again you diminished yourself and embarrassed yourself.
Ravi : Mr Lee, do you agree with the description which your counsel has given that this case is perhaps the gravest defamation that has ever been considered by Singapore court?
LKY : Your honour, I don't keep track of all the cases that happened in these courts and since Mr Ravi is a qualified counsel, he knows the client leaves the description of the offence to what he thinks is proper legal language. Is not - I'm not interested in whether it's the right formulation or not. I've always believed never to be my own lawyer.
Ravi : Mr Lee, I do understand the detachment to this matter and equally you are also a trained lawyer and of course taking up one's case and arguing is not something that it's not even recommended by the Law Society rules. But Mr Lee, I'm sure that if your counsel says that this is the gravest defamation that has ever been considered, you must consider that to be a gravest defamation for your counsel to make a condition that -
LKY : Your honour, I have been a lawyer acting in defamation cases and I pitched my client's case in the most graphic, the most vivid and the most telling terms. That's what a good lawyer supposed to do. I once in one case against Mr Jeyaretnam. I had an eminent Q.C. representing me and another eminent Q.C. representing Mr Jeyaretnam and he waxed eloquent and quoted Shakespeare. I didn't object to it. That is the way in which a good counsel would present his client's case.
Ravi : Mr Lee, I would like to give you a quote, "Never chase a lie, let it alone and it will run itself to death." Do you agree with that? That quote is from Lyman Beecher. Have you heard of that, Mr Lee?
LKY : I've heard many similar such phrases and I get endless advice from Western correspondents that if I just ignore the opposition, it will just become completely meaningless. I take a contrary view. I know the mentality and the attitudes of the people in Singapore, and they know me by now that if anybody impugns the integrity of the government of which I was a Prime Minister, I am (inaudible) sued and I must demand that either the court finds that those defamatory words true in which case I'm demolished or there's a penalty.
Ravi : So it is part of your political credo that very lie has to be nailed?
LKY : Every lie that relates to the integrity, honour and the rectitude of the government. This government has lasted through 11 general elections from 1959 to 2006. Nobody has said that the elections was rigged, not even the SDP.
Ravi : Mr Lee -
LKY : I put myself before the public. My government - 7 of those general elections, I personally led the government and I know that that was only possible because we run a clean, efficient, effective, competent government that works to the benefit of people.
Ravi : So any statements that is defamatory of the government - that particular lie has to be nailed?
LKY : Yes, of course. No, not any particular - I said integrity, rectitude, propriety.
Ravi : Do you surf the internet, Mr Lee?
LKY : I do.
Ravi : Have you seen any allegations of impropriety, integrity, circulating around the internet?
LKY : That's cyberspace and the laws on cyberspace has not been able to capture in a appropriate way how a person should protect himself. New rules are being formed in cyberspace but everybody who reads what's on the internet knows you got to check who said it or risk his credibility. You know, you've read Malaysiakini or Malaysia Now. They say many things not said in the Malaysian press. But, is everything said there true? Some are true, some are not true.
Ravi : So, if defamatory remarks that goes to the governance integrity of Singapore had been circulating on the internet, you are prepared to tolerate that?
LKY : I have no choice but if anybody puts his name in print or verbally identifies himself out of court with those remarks, he's challenging my integrity, he's prepared to stand on his credibility and we will need to have it resolved.
Ravi : There are quite a number of postings where people in their own names quite clearly actually challenge that, giving their particulars at that, and you have not taken any action.
Singh : Your honour, we are going over old ground. When Mr Ravi was cross-examining Mr Lee Hsien Loong, we referred to his authority and his bundle of documents Gladlee (spelling) on libel which made it plain that whether or not the plaintiff had sued others who had published defamatory remarks is irrelevant.
Ravi : Your honour, I'm not going into that. I'm going into the effect of the defamation. Please allow me to raise a few questions. I won't take long. I do understand the guillotine and with due respect, Mr Lee, so you would consider that Singapore can still be governed and despite the challenge to your integrity on the internet?
Singh : I have said that in cyberspace, the law cannot capture the culprit.
Ravi : Okay, so I take it that if the law captures, you would pursue?
LKY : Yes, I would.
Ravi : Okay, I'll leave it at that, Mr Lee. I won't go further than that.
Ravi : Mr Lee, do you hold Dr Chee in any esteem?
LKY : Sorry, do I hold?
Ravi : Okay, I'll rephrase that question.
Ravi : Do you consider Dr Chee as a man to be believed?
LKY : I've been asked to testify as to his character. Well, let me tell you what I've said publicly and I'm prepared to say it again. Publicly - without the privilege of saying it in court that he's a liar, a cheat and altogether an unscrupulous man. And I could also add that I had several of our - my own doctors who are familiar with such conduct, people, tell me that he is near-psychopath.
Ravi : Mr Lee, do you take his comments seriously?
LKY : I have to because he takes it very seriously enough to tell the public to believe him. If I did not take him seriously, and he keeps on repeating this and others repeat this, at the end of the day, I and the party that I used to lead will be totally destroyed. Am I being asked to say that your client's credibility is so low that I should ignore whatever he says? Is that what you are putting to me?
Chee Siok Chin : Your honour, I like to make an application for our Assistant Secretary-General John Tan. He was sitting here this morning and I don't know all of a sudden the people won't let him in to witness the rest of the proceedings. He was sitting right here this morning. Could you allow John Tan - tell them to let John Tan in?
Singh : Your honour, I know nothing of this, if Mr John Tan wants to come into open court like any other member of the public and behave himself -
Judge : He can sit in the public gallery.
Singh : Yes, he can.
Judge : We have space for him there.
CSC : No, he was sitting right behind here this morning and there was no objection, nothing, and now he's supposed to sit in the public gallery knowing full well that there is no more space in the public gallery so could you just instruct -
Judge : There is no announcement of Mr John Tan -
CSC : I'm sorry?
Judge : There is no notice to the court of Mr John Tan -
CSC : Well, there was no notice to the court about who these people right behind, yesterday, when you allowed them in? So could you please allow the Assistant Secretary-General -
Judge : They are secretaries of Law Club (garbled, check spelling), Miss Chee, if you must know.
CSC : Now, it's an afterthought. Now after 24 hours, you tell me.
Judge : Please continue, Mr Ravi.
CSC : Can you allow our Assistant Secretary-General John Tan to come in?
Judge : Mr Ravi, carry on.
Chee Soon Juan : Even though we are asking you right now, telling who he is because we need him to help us take notes, will you allow that?
CSJ : We are telling you who he is, his name is John Tan. He is the Assistant Secretary-General of SDP -
Judge : Mr Joseph here taking notes for you?
CSJ : We are having a few people trying to assist us in our note-taking. So please, you've already allowed people in unannounced yesterday -
Judge : Provided he is here just for note-taking and nothing else, alright?
CSJ : I'm sorry?
Judge : Provided he is here just for note-taking. Alright, carry on Mr Ravi, please.
Ravi : Mr Lee -
Singh : I think we (inaudible) where we (inaudible) off, your honour, where Mr Lee is asking Mr Ravi whether it is Mr Ravi's suggestion that Dr Chee Soon Juan has absolutely no credibility?
Judge : Yes, Mr Ravi?
Ravi : Your honour, I am here to put my question and the plaintiff's counsel is putting questions to his counsel, through my mouth. I find that very strange but nevertheless, with due respect, I will conduct my case the way I deem it fit.
Ravi : Mr Lee, in your opinion, do you think the majority of people believe what Dr Chee says?
LKY : We have not done a public poll and it's not possible for us to say with certainty what percentage of the population believes him but if you go by the election results, he scored 20% of the votes in Sembawang, so obviously 20% of the people in Sembawang decided what Mr Chee and his supporters were saying in the campaign - repeatedly - that the Singapore Government is run like the NKF, that was put to the test so there's 20% in Sembawang. And that's with vigorous campaigning on the PAP side. So you cannot dismiss the effect of such repeated attempts to discredit the reputation of the leaders of the PAP.
Ravi : So therefore your conclusion would be the fact that the SDP scored 20 odd per cent in the last election that the public do not attached importance to what SDP had said?
LKY : Even if only 5% voted for them, we would still consider very important that the rest of the population knows what was uttered was a pack of lies.
Ravi : Mr Lee, would you agree with me that a government which is so insensitive, sorry, sensitive to unfair criticisms, confrontation, slight innuendos that it feels that it must nail every lie in court, is one that lacks confidence in the intelligence of its electorate?
LKY : Counsel must understand that when you spread this message across the population, unless it is challenged, that message will begin to sink home. Repeatedly, it will sink home. And we have repeatedly disprove it. That's why the PAP is up and standing. That's why I'm here and may I point out to counsel that there's a guillotine of 2 hours and the interjections by him and his two other defendants means that there are no questions of relevance to ask me and put me on the spot but are playing for time to let the time run out. My counsel knows the game. He's kept me informed. I have been a counsel myself. I know exactly what the game is. If they have imporatant devastating revelations to make, they wouldn't be allowed you to put all these irrelevant questions to me because it is time-wasting.
Ravi : Mr Lee, with due respect to you, if my questions have been irrelevant, the court is there to abjudicate on those matters -
LKY : You are wasting the time of the court!
Ravi : Mr Lee, are you the judge here?
LKY : I'm not but you are asking me for my opinion and I have to give it -
Ravi : Please don't usurp the role of the judge, Mr Lee. I have been extremely respectful as you can see. I have a role to play. You must understand an unenviable one too and I don't have the privilege of a glass of water but I would definitely ask that you must answer my question. It is not up to you to make remarks about my questions and the same equality before the rule of law must apply, Mr Lee. And I will pursue my next question, Mr Lee. With due respect, Mr Lee, you must understand that you must bear with me however you disgree with me, however you feel that I may not be the counsel to be asking you the questions, if you do feel that way too, but respect that I'm also a member of the bar.
LKY : May I remind counsel that he's wasting the guillotine time.
Judge : Mr Ravi, please carry on.
Ravi : Isn't it part of our legal system that as opposed to litigation, mediation is an option?
Singh : What is the relevance of that?
Judge : Disallowed. Carry on, Mr Ravi. Next question please.
Ravi : Mr Lee, could you consider mediation?
Singh : Sir -
LKY : May I - your honour, it is so bizarre a question I will need Soloman to be revived and I don't believe Soloman can mediate between a psychopath and sane, rational people.
Ravi : I see. Then all mediations must fail?
LKY : No, I'm saying in this specific case, you're suggesting an absurdity.
Ravi : Mr Lee, have you suffered any damage or is your integrity still intact after the defamatory statements have been uttered?
LKY : I haven't carried a poll but I'm quite sure at least 80% would consider my reputation intact but I cannot say it's a 100%.
Ravi : Even God can't say, Mr Lee.
Ravi : Mr Lee, is it the case that you are bringing this action in your personal capacity as an individual?
LKY : That's what the law requires me to do. You know that.
Ravi : Are you here to defend your personal reputation or your government's reputation?
LKY : As a matter of form, I'm here in my personal capacity to defend my reputation but in fact it is the reputation of the leaders of the PAP and I do not successfully pursue this action, we will suffer terrible damage. The damage is not in this court. The damage is with the standing of this government with its own people. And that is what this is all about and therefore when I appear as a plaintiff, I'm really representing the whole leadership of the PAP.
Ravi : I see. So you have come to represent, to protect the reputation of the PAP and the government in this court?
LKY : I have said that the law requires us to sue in our individual capacity but in actual fact, the impact of any adverse outcome is on the whole government and the PAP.
Ravi : So you have come to the court to defend the entire government and the PAP, am I correct?
LKY : I thought counsel understand English?
Ravi : No, Mr Lee, I don't understand Greek. Mr Lee, I'm here -
Singh : Your honour, that is an insulting question that's gone on the record. Mr Ravi should know that. He should also know that counsel is not permitted to insult a witness but he's chosen to do that and let it be.
CSJ : Your honour, I think this objection is out of line. I think Davinder Singh is trying to -
Singh : The second point -
Judge : Mr Chee, you will have your turn -
CSJ : Intimidate the SDP's counsel -
Judge : Dr Chee, you will have your turn. Mr Singh.
Singh : Your honour, the second point is that the witness has already explained twice that whilst he sues in his personal capacity, if he fails, then the entire government and leadership is affected but he is here in his personal capacity.
Ravi : Mr Lee, I apologise if you have been offended by anything that I said earlier because I thought we had the latitude. Not mean to insult you when I said, you know, I won't go into that - what I said earlier - but I will pursue this question -
LKY : May I suggest, your honour, that -
Ravi : Your honour, I'm here to ask questions. There is no suggestion for the witness how this course or conduct of proceedings should be made and I with due respect urge the bench to have some control over this matter and the witness.
Judge : Yes, please carry on, Mr Ravi.
Ravi : Thank you, your honour. So you have come to the court to bring a representative action under the cover of a personal action?
Singh : I object, your honour, the same question was asked -
Ravi : Your honour, I won't pursue that question.
Judge : Mr Ravi, that's not what the witness said. Please carry on. Next question.
Ravi : I put it to you, Mr Lee, this defamation suit is a cynical abuse of the legal system to commence personal proceedings built upon a desire to protect the institutions of government. Yes or no?
LKY : No!
Ravi : Thank you, Mr Lee. Mr Lee, would you refer to page 42 of your affidavit?
LKY : Yes.
Ravi : And page 42, para 101. You say that CSJ's hatred of me and you say that 101 para A, CSC is CSJ's sister - do you follow, Mr Lee?
LKY : Yes.
Ravi : And is politically allied with CSJ and his cause against the government. What is Dr Chee's cause against the government?
LKY : I think you should ask the person next to you.
Ravi : Mr Lee, I can't be asking Mr Davindar Singh for that. Oh, I'm sorry. But I am saying that I'm asking you, that it's your affidavit, you and "his cause against the government and PAP and me". I'm asking you what is that cause against the government that you think he (inaudible)?
LKY : His cause against the government is that we have been able to demolish him at every turn that he takes which was wrong and offside.
Ravi : I understand my guillotine is running.
LKY : Yah, helping it to run out and to save -
Ravi : And thank you for accelerating it, Mr Lee. Mr Lee, you said that - are you aware that the Democrat was published February 2006?
LKY : I've already answered those questions and we're covering old ground. I thought there were a great urgency to ask me powerful questions which are relevant to the reputation and would justify what they have said - that this government is run like the NKF and that we have people like either me, or the Prime Minister, or Mr Goh Chok Tong, is like a T.T. Dorai. That's the implication.
Ravi : Mr Lee, you know that this is assessment of damages. I wish to ask you so many questions against the backdrop of this time, all the constraints, but I can't but since the second and the third defendents have been subject to this time, with due respect, I end my cross-examination.
LKY : You've run out of questions then.
Ravi : Mr Lee, please don't challenge me. It is not necessary.
CSJ : Mr Lee, we get to meet at last.
Continues here at Transcript part ll : CSJ vs LKY