The lawsuit filed by the family of the late Dominique Sarron Lee has brought many issues to the surface. The verdict and the hot debate that ensued thereafter have forced us as a nation to confront the fact that we may not have safeguards should our sons or daughters come to harm as a result of serving National Service (NS).
It has also been brought glaringly to our attention that we are wholly unaware of what rights we actually have if, God forbid, we find ourselves in similar situations.
Some have pointed out that emotional reactions to the court’s initial verdict served no purpose as the court’s hands were tied in the face of the Government Proceedings Act (GPA) which basically confers the government a virtual blanket immunity from liability. (https://theindependent.sg.sg/a-reader-counters-tan-wah-piow-agcs-words-in-pte-lees-case-hard-to-stomach-but-true/)
While I have to grudgingly concede that the court’s findings are legally correct, it still doesn’t sit right. Doesn’t the law exist to ensure that society functions in a fair and equitable way?
While the intentions behind Section 14 of the GPA may have been to ensure that the government can get on with the business of governing a state in a time of strife, has it now outlived its usefulness? Has it also led to unwitting consequences that were wholly unintended at the outset? Is it now open to abuse and misuse? Shouldn’t there be some concrete limits to Section 14 of the GPA to ensure accountability?
Tan Wah Piow’s article (https://theindependent.sg.sg/wheres-the-law/) on this raises many valid points that bear relevance to the issues cited above. It is not beyond the pale to compare the positions between Singapore and the United Kingdom. Our court systems are largely similar and indeed, we inherited many of our laws from England! Surely it is perfectly logical to compare the positions of both these jurisdictions in similar cases to see how we measure up and what changes can and should be made?
Developments and improvements on almost anything come about precisely because of comparisons! Perhaps changes to our laws can only come about when people are made forcefully aware of how other countries deal with similar situations which is essentially what Tan has done.
Arguing on the legal rightness of the court’s decisions will not get us to a position that will afford the protection required to our National Servicemen (or women). Rather, it is the morality behind the verdict that will lead people to realise that change is indeed required and for steps to be taken to bring about such change.
Had the verdict on costs not caused such outrage, would it have come to Minister Ng Eng Hen’s attention? The legal fees were only waived precisely because of the moral outrage that exploded! In the end, it wasn’t the legal nitty gritties that brought about action and some relief (financially at least) for the Lee family.
Would Minister Ng have waived the legal costs if a media hoo hah had not occurred?
Change can occur even if the composition of government stays the same. Laws are after all influenced by public policies and public policies are in turn affected by the will of people. For people to make an informed choice about their will, they need to be fully apprised of how other countries handle similar cases.
I think we are past the point of justifying the legal decisions that have been made on this. Plain and simple, it doesn’t feel right and flies in the face of accountability. While I respect the privacy of the Lee family, I think they can only find some semblance of closure when accountability for Dominique is achieved. Had they simply wanted to fade into their grief, they would not have taken out the suit in the first place.
They wanted justice for Dominique and that can only come about if the ambit of Section 14 of the GPA is repealed or limited at the very least. Striving for transparency must be maintained and we have to keep the issues brought up by this unfortunate incident alive in order for Dominique’s family to get the justice they so deserve.
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