Constitutional Review: Singapore and Hong Kong Compared 2010

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3

Introduction Preludes to Constitutional Review Counter-majoritarian difficulty, Passive Virtues and New Judicial Minimalism Legal Foundation of Judicial Review Purposive Interpretation Use of Foreign Jurisprudence Principles on Restriction of Entrenched Rights Implications of Constitutional Review for Substantive Rights Passive Virtues and Minimalism in Singapore and Hong Kong? Constitutional Review Justified in Singapore and Hong Kong? Rights Culture and Legitimacy Conclusion

Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12

In the Bangkok Declaration, 1 the Asian countries have accepted, though grudgingly, that the rights provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are universal. On the other hand, it is well established law in the western countries that the recognised rights, except for those which are non-derogable,2 may be restricted to the extent necessary to achieve legitimate objectives. The principle of margin of appreciation adopted by the European Court of Human Rights clearly recognises the need for different human rights standards to be adopted in the light of the social conditions prevailing in individual jurisdictions. On the face of it, the question of whether human rights are universal or relative to culture is settled: human rights, as values, are universal but the actual standards may vary according to social conditions. Not so. The standards may vary so widely between two jurisdictions as to cast doubt on whether they share the same values at all. As Joseph Chan observes:

“The governments of the countries that signed the [Bangkok] Declaration argue that Asian states, because of uniquely Asian values and special historical circumstances, are justified in adopting an understanding of human rights and democracy that is fundamentally


Report of the Regional Meeting for Asia of the World Conference on Human Rights, UN

document A/CONF.157/PC/59, 7 April 1993.

For example, the right not to be tortured, not to be held in slavery or servitude and right to

freedom of thought, conscience and religion: see article 4.2 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


different from that prevailing in the West. According to these states, Western diplomacy centering on the issue of human rights is simply part of an attempt by Western countries to assert political and economic hegemony over Asia.”3

The argument based on Asian values seems to be misplaced when comparing Singapore with Hong Kong. The two Asian jurisdictions have a lot in common: both, being formerly British colonies, have common law systems of British heritage; both populations are predominantly Chinese; both have no natural resources and rely on international trade and investments for their economies; both have grown from rags to riches in the last fifty years and are among the affluent societies in the world. Yet, they differ widely in the human rights standards – notably the freedom of expression – enjoyed by the people. Just what account for the divergence?

An entrenched bill of rights, a democratic political structure, the rule of law and an independent judiciary are regarded as pillars in the national protection of human rights. Fundamental rights are entrenched in Part IV of the Constitution of Singapore and in the case of Hong Kong, in the Letters Patent amended on 8 June 1991 and then, in the Basic Law from 1 July 1997 onwards. A survey conducted by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in 2008 has put the judicial systems in the two places as the best ones in Asia.4 On the other hand, Singapore has a Westminster type of government elected by universal suffrage while in Hong Kong, the prospect of a government elected by universal suffrage is still uncertain. Hence, all four pillars exist in Singapore but democracy, which is supposed to be conducive to the protection of human rights, is lacking in Hong Kong. One would expect, therefore, that
3 4

Joseph Chan, “An Alternative View” (1997) 8.2 Journal of Democracy 35, p 35. “Hong Kong has best judicial system in Asian: business survey”, Singapore (AFP), 14 2008, last accessed vide


YnNQ1HVb2n_HUUMhncDLA on 17 May 2009.


higher human rights standards should prevail in Singapore. Yet, the reverse is true in practice.

In the United States, the Supreme Court’s decision in Marbury v Madison 5 has established the judicial power to strike down legislative and executive acts on ground of unconstitutionality. Judiciaries in several other common law jurisdictions, including Singapore and Hong Kong, also claim such power, which may be exercised to protect against undue interference with the individuals’ rights. The law is a repository of social values and at the same time, influences such values. A comparison of the approaches and reasoning adopted by the two judiciaries in constitutional review may put the “Asian values” in the right perspective and enable a glimpse into the social, political or economic factors which make up the “culture” in cultural relativism.

Though “strong” judicial review – as distinct from the “weak” version in which the courts, such as those in the United Kingdom under the Human Rights Act 1998, may advise on unconstitutionality but are not entitled to invalidate a legislative act – 6 has been firmly established in several common law jurisdictions with entrenched bills of rights, its political morality remains a contested issue, especially in the United States. In his classical work on the subject, The Least Dangerous Branch, 7 Alexander Bickel regards judicial
5 6

(1803) 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137. See C. Neal Tate, “Comparative Judicial Review and Public Policy”, Ch 1 in Donald W.

Jackson and C. Neal Tate, Comparative Judicial Review and Public Policy (Westport, Connecticut; London: Greenwood Press, 1992) for different types of judicial reviews.

Alexander M. Bickel, The Least Dangerous Branch: The Supreme Court at the Bar of

Politics (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2nd edn, 1986).


review as a deviant institution in a democratic society on account of the counter-majoritarian difficulty but argues for its being a necessary evil for the sake of good governance. To ameliorate the difficulty, he advocates that the courts should adopt the “passive virtues”, ie avoid a decision on constitutionality or otherwise of legislation until the principles involved are “ripe for adjudication”. Bickel inspires the New Minimalists, including Cass R. Sunstein, who holds that on account of the counter-majoritarian difficulty and their limited resources compared with the legislature’s, judges should adopt analogical reasoning and make “narrow and shallow” decisions in constitutional review.8

Jeremy Waldron elaborates on the counter-majoritarian difficulty. Contradicting Ronald Dworkin’s outcome-based argument for judicial review,

Waldron advances his process-based argument and regards judicial review as

an illegitimate institution because it breaches the principle of fairness. In a society where a democratic political structure, rule of law administered by an independent judiciary, rights commitment among officials and the people and reasonable disagreements about the conceptions of rights exist, such reasonable disagreements should be resolved by the democratic process and not by appointed judges.10

Moral legitimacy, argues Richard F. Fallon, Jr, is not determined solely by fairness. Justice, or the consequence of the fair decision-making


Cass R. Sunstein, One Case at A Time (Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: Harvard

University Press, 1999).

For example, Ronald Dworkin, “Equality, Democracy and Constitution”, (1989) 28 Alberta

Law Review 324 and Ronald Dworkin, “Constitutionalism and Democracy” (1995) 3 European Journal of Philosophy 2.

Jeremy Waldron, “The Core of the Case Against Judicial Review” (2006) 115 Yale Law

Journal 1346.


process, matters too. Borrowing Frank B. Cross’s multiple-veto theory, 11 Fallon argues that in a society which meets Waldron’s conditions, judicial review contributes to justice because it errs on the side of over-protection rather than under-protection of rights.12

Since Singapore has a democratic political structure which does not exist in Hong Kong, the counter-majoritarian difficulty suggests that the Singapore judiciary should and would exercise much greater self-restraint, than does the Hong Kong judiciary, in conducting judicial review. “Judicial restraint” and “judicial activism” represent two ends of a continuum. Their meanings vary according to the context.13 In this thesis, the terms are used to describe the two judiciaries’ relative tendency to uphold the constitutionality of a legislative act (“restraint”) or to declare it unconstitutional (“activism”).

To test the hypothesis, the leading and other prominent constitutional cases in Singapore and Hong Kong since 1991, ie after the enactment of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, will be analysed. The legal foundations for judiciary review will be identified. Using judicial practices and influential academic opinions in the major common law jurisdictions as the benchmarks, the legal reasoning and approaches adopted by the two judiciaries will be compared.


Frank B. Cross, “Institutions and Enforcement of the Bill of Rights” (2000) 85 Cornell

Law Review 1529.

Fallon, Richard H, Jr, “The Core of an Uneasy Case for Judicial Review” (2008) 121

Harview Law Review 1693.

See Abaron Barak, The Judge in a Democracy (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University

Press, 2006), Ch 15: “Activism and Self-restraint”.


The results of the comparison provide the empirical data for an assessment as to whether the Singapore judiciary does exercise greater selfrestraint and if so, whether or not the judicial restraint / activism in the two places is justified. A brief attempt will then be made to identify the economic, social and political factors leading to the judicial attitudes and human rights standards in the two places, with a view to floating ideas on what changes should or could take place in the interests of the moral legitimacy of the two governments.

As a prelude to the theories of judicial review mentioned above, Chapter 2 begins with a brief discussion of constitutionalism as developed by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke in their social contract theories. It is followed by a brief account of Marbury v Madison. Chapter 3 elaborates on and critiques the theories mentioned in section 1.2 above. It will also discuss the concept of legitimacy and whether judicial review is, as alleged by Waldron, an illegitimate institution.

Part II of the thesis compares the constitutional review cases decided in Singapore and Hong Kong in the last twenty years or so. Nearly all of them relate to fundamental rights. They therefore portray the human rights standards in the two places.

Like the United States, both Singapore and Hong Kong are governed by written constitutions. Chapter 4 examines (a) whether the respective constitutions authorise the courts in the two Asian jurisdictions to conduct constitutional review; (b) whether the courts have assumed the power to strike


down unconstitutional legislation based on reasoning similar to Chief Justice Marshall’s in Marbury; and (c) what are the limits to the courts’ power.

When comparing the constitutional review in Singapore and Hong Kong, the most significant difference coming to notice is the number of instances in which the courts strike down statutory provisions. In Singapore, as Li-ann Thio observes, the courts have done so on only one occasion.14 The decision was reversed on appeal. The courts are less deferential to the executive. Even so, there are only three cases in which citizens succeeded in challenging the constitutionality of the executive’s acts.15 In two of them, the

Li-ann Thio, “Protecting Rights”, Ch 6 in Li-ann Thio and Kevin Y. L. Tan (eds), Evolution

of A Revolution: Forty Years of the Singapore Constitution (Milton Park, Abingdon and New York, N.Y.: Routledge-Cavendish, 2009), at p 195, note 15. See also Jaclyn Ling-Chien Neo and Yvonne C. C. Lee, “Constitutional Supremacy: Still a Little Dicey”, Ch 5 in the same book, at pp 155-6 and 174. In Taw Cheng Kong v Public Prosecutor [1998] 1 SLR 943, the High Court ruled section 37(1) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (which provides for extraterritoriality of corruption offences) to be outside the Singapore Parliament’s legislative power in view of section 6 of the Republic of Singapore Independence Act. The decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal on the ground that “(a) Parliament did not have to depend on any express conferment of extraterritorial powers to begin with, since plenary powers of the Malaysian Legislature had already been transferred to it under s 5 [of the RSIA]; and (b) s 6 was not concerned with the transfer and vesting of legislative powers like in s 5” - Public Prosecutor v Taw Cheng Kong [1998] 2 SLR 410, para 42.

In Public Prosecutor v Manogaran S/O Ramu [1997] 1 SLR 22, the Court of Appeal held

that its new ruling on the interpretation of “cannabis mixture” in section 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act (which had the effect of criminalising acts not caught by the Court’s old, presently reversed ruling) did not have retrospective effect in the light of Art 11(1) (which protects against retrospective criminal laws and according to the Court, “embodies the basic principle of criminal jurisprudence of nullum crimen nulla poena sine lege: ‘conduct cannot be punished as criminal and punishable as such” (p 40) and the definition of “law” in Art 2 of the Constitution. Based on the same basic principle, the Court of Appeal held in Abdul Nasir bin Amer Hamasah v Public Prosecutor [1997] 3 SLR 643, that the court’s pronouncement that “life imprisonment” meant imprisonment of a person’s natural life, instead of 20 years’ imprisonment as has been the practice since 1954, should not have retrospective effect. In the


courts could have reached the same decisions, even without a written constitution, through fundamental common law principles. The three cases are rare exceptions given a commentator’s observation that “the judiciary exercises significant self-restraint and has demonstrated great reluctance to interfere with executive decisions”.16 The Hong Kong judiciary rules against legislative and administrative acts much more frequently.17

The difference suggests that the two judiciaries, though their legal systems are both developed from the English common law, probably adopt different approaches in interpreting the rights provisions in the respective constitutional documents. Chapters 5 to 7 examine whether such differences do exist. The conclusions in all three chapters are in the affirmative. The differences result in significantly lower standards of human rights in Singapore than in Hong Kong. The different standards are set out in Chapter 8.

third case – Public Prosecutor v Knight Glenn Jeyasingnam [1999] 2 SLR 499 – the court exercised its constitutional power in the administration of justice to extend the policy of consensual settlement in civil cases to cover criminal cases. The High Court held that the plea bargaining statement made by a defendant in criminal proceedings was not admissible evidence. In response to the Public Prosecutor’s argument that the Parliament had not seen fit to exercise its legislative power under Art 58 of the Constitution to prescribe the conditions applicable to plea bargaining, the Court held that “the judiciary has the decision making power to affect whatever concerns the administration of justice” (para 70).

Jolene Lin, “The Judicialization of Governance: The Case of Singapore”, Ch 13 in Tom

Ginsburg and Albert H. Y. Chen (eds), Administrative Law and Governance in Asia (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), at p 288.

For example, Ng Ka Ling & Others v Director of Immigration [1999] 1 HKLRD 315, Chan

Kam Nga & Others v Director of Immigration [1999] 1 HKLRD 304, Secretary for Justice & Others v Chan Wah & Others [2000] 3 HKLRD 641, Ng Siu Tung & Others v Director of Immigration [2002] 1 HKLRD 561 and Gurung Kesh Bahadur v Director of Immigration [2002] 2 HKLRD 775, to mention just some of those which reached the Court of Final Appeal. For administrative law cases, see Johannes Chan, “Administrative Law, Politics and Governance: The Hong Kong Experience” Ch 8 in Tom Ginsburg and Albert H.Y. Chen (eds), Administrative Law and Governance in Asia (London and New York: Routledge, 2009).


Part III seeks to apply the theories discussed in Chapter 3 to explain the findings in Part II. Given the more democratic political structure in Singapore, a possible explanation for the difference is the counter-majoritarian difficulty, with the courts there exercising the passive virtues and other avoidance canons much more frequently than do the Hong Kong courts. Chapter 9 will compare the incidence of any avoidance canons being used by the two judiciaries in order to ascertain whether the use has anything to do with the counter-majoritarian difficulty.

Even though a globalisation of human rights standards has been taking place, it will be seen, in Part II, that Singapore differs significantly from – but Hong Kong follows – the major common law jurisdictions in terms of the approaches to constitutional interpretation as well as the substantive standards of constitutional rights. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the constitutional review of legislation, in fact, does not exist in Singapore. As a matter of political morality, is the judicial restraint in Singapore justified on ground of the counter-majoritarian difficulty? Or, more generally, is the judicial review of legislation justified in the two places having regard to Waldron’s process-based objection on the one hand and on the other hand, Cross’s and Fallon’s Cross’s multiple-veto argument? Those questions are the subject of Chapter 10.

It will be concluded in Chapter 10 that for different reasons, constitutional review is justified in both Singapore and Hong Kong. That it is practised in Hong Kong but not actually in Singapore can be explained by the rights culture – the strong rights commitment in Hong Kong as compared with the political apathy among the people of Singapore. Chapter 11 contains a brief survey of the historical, political, economic and social conditions leading to the two cultures. Bickel sees judicial review as contributing to the

Anthony Mason, “The Place of Comparative Law in Developing the Jurisprudence on the

Rule of Law and Human Rights in Hong Kong” (2007) 37 HKLJ 299, pp 301 – 302.


legitimacy of the government. Chapter 11 will also discuss what, if anything, the two judiciaries have been contributing or can contribute further to the legitimacy of their respective governments, given the level of rights commitment in the two societies.

In the light of the discussions from Chapters 9 to 11, the existence or otherwise of a rights-committed culture appears to explain the divergence in approaches to and standard of constitutional review between Singapore and Hong Kong. Chapter 12 concludes the thesis by suggesting how the culture impacts on the counter-majoritarian difficulty, passive virtues and judicial independence.


Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, both social contract theorists, postulate that men gave up their right to self-defence in the state of nature and formed themselves into a political society for the sake of self-preservation,19 namely to avoid the state of war or what is characterised by Hobbes as a “war of every man against every man”.20 The two thinkers differ sharply on the citizens’ rights and the government’s powers in the society. To Hobbes, the citizens have no right other than those conferred on them by laws enacted by the sovereign (initially elected but may be hereditary after formation of the state), who has absolute sovereignty and unlimited powers. In contrast, Locke – “the man usually seen as the founder and perhaps greatest representative of the liberal tradition altogether”21 – sees men to be born free and equal. They retain such rights after joining the society. The powers of the elected government are limited to those which are necessary to protect the citizens’ natural rights to liberty and equality. While espousing the legislature’s supervision of the executive’s powers to implement legislation,

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, edited with an Introduction by J.C.A. Gaskin (Oxford: Oxford

University Press, 1996) and John Locke, “The Second Treatise of Government: An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government” in Two Treatises of Government, edited with an introduction and notes by Peter Leslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Student Edition, 1988).
20 21

Hobbes (n 19 above), Ch XIII, para 8. Michael P. Zuckett, Launching Liberalism: On Lockean Political Philosophy (Lawrence:

University Press of Kansas, 2002), p 311.


Locke leaves the policing of the legislature’s exercise of powers to “the people”, who may apply sanctions through elections held at regular intervals or, in the desperate and extreme cases, through revolution. The “Second Treatise” is silent on whether and if so, how, “the people” are to play such a policing role in the intervening period between elections.








The French political writer Montesquieu is often credited as the exponent of the modern formula of checks and balance through the separation of powers – legislature, executive and judiciary. In his ambitious work De L’esprit Des Lois, he regards England as a nation which protects the individuals’ liberty by putting the three powers in different hands. 22 The English judiciary interprets legislation and invalidates the executive’s acts when they exceed the statutory limit. Yet, England does not have a written constitution and pursuant to the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty or legislative supremacy, the judiciary does not have the power to strike down any statute enacted by the Parliament,23 even though occasionally, apparently

Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, translated by Thomas Nugent with an

introduction by Franz Neumann (New York: Hafner Publishing Company, reprinted 1962), Book XI: “Of the Laws Which Establish Political Liberty with Regard to the Constitution”.

In the English legal concept of “parliamentary sovereignty”, the word “Parliament” refers to

the Monarch, the House of Lords and the House of Commons acting jointly and can more appropriately be described as “the Queen in Parliament” or “the King in Parliament”. “The principle of Parliamentary sovereignty means neither more nor less than this, namely, that Parliament thus defined has, under the English constitution, the right to make or unmake any law whatever; and, further, that no person or body is recognised by the law of England as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament.”: A.V. Dicey, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (London: Macmillan, 10 edn, 1959), pp 39 – 40. The concept took root “(i)n the second half of the [18th] century, [when] almost all politicians, lawyers, and political theorists agreed that Parliament possessed a legally unlimited legislative


to protect its independent judicial power in the interests of the separation of powers, judges have employed interpretative techniques to give statutory provisions, in the name of identifying the “legislative intention”, meanings different from those signified literally by the words and actually intended by the Parliament.

From both the legal and political morality’s points of view,

the extent to which English judges can use their interpretative powers to restrain the Parliament are limited. The English judiciary does not, therefore,

authority within Britain”: Jeffrey Goldsworthy, The Sovereignty of Parliament: History and Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p 233.

The courts may adopt what McWhinney refers to as “indirect judicial review” or “judicial

braking”, ie a court “says, in effect, in the process of interpretation of a statute, that the legislature may or may not have the claimed legislative power, but it has not, in the language it has used in the enactment now in question, employed that power”: see Edward McWhinney, Judicial Review (Canada: University of Toronto Press, 4th edn, 1969), p 13. Tate adds that “(w)hen courts are exercising indirect judicial review they conclude typically that ‘Parliament could not have intended’ the result being rejected because that result would be inconsistent with some other clear intention of Parliament, common law principles, or the provisions of well-accepted legal principles”: see C. Neale Tate, “Comparative Judicial Review and Public Policy: Concepts and Overview”, Ch 1 in Donald W. Jackson and C. Neale Tate (eds), Comparative Judicial Review and Public Policy (Westport, Connecticut; London: Greenwood Press, 1992), p 5. Such principles would include the rules of presumption in statutory interpretation, such as presumption against ouster of the court’s jurisdiction, presumption against interference with vested rights and presumption in favour of the protection of individual liberty – see John Bell and George Engle, Cross: Statutory Interpretation (London; Dublin; Edinburg: Butterworths, 1995), pp 170-183. See, for example, Liversidge v Anderson [1942] AC 206, HL, Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensation Commission [1969] 2 AC 147, HL and R v Inland Revenue Commissioners, Ex parte Rossminster [1980] AC 952, at 967 – 990 CA. The three cases are discussed in Ian Loveland, Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, and Human Rights: A Critical Introduction (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 4th edn, 2006), Ch 3: “The Rule of Law and the Separation of Powers” and Ch 4: “The Royal Prerogative”. For a defence of the interpretative concept of “legislative intention”, see section 164 “Is legislative intention fictitious?” in Bennion on Statutory Interpretation: A Code (London: LexisNexis, 5th edn, 2008).


fill the gap left by Locke about policing the boundary of the legislature’s powers.

Allan seems to suggest that the broad concept of “the rule of law” itself, even in the absence of a written constitution, would justify the courts’ taking a more robust stand in placing limits on the legislature. In a book which “draws heavily on the constitutional law of several common law jurisdictions” and seeks to “identify and illustrate the basic principles of liberal constitutionalism”,25 he writes:

“When the courts are confronted by the starkest violations of equality and due process, an interpretative approach may be too weak (or implausible) to provide adequate protection against arbitrary power. It may therefore be necessary (and most straightforward) to repudiate the offending legislative provision altogether.”26

Allan is stating what, in his view, could or should happen. The actual situation is different. Courts in the United Kingdom do not have the power to repudiate any rights-violating legislation even after the Human Rights Act 1998.27


T.R.S. Allan, Constitutional Justice: A Liberal Theory of the Rule of Law (Oxford; New

York: Oxford University Press, 2001), “Preface”.
26 27

Ibid, p 233. Under section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998, a court may declare that a statutory

provision is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights but the declaration “(a) does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of the provision in respect of which it is given; and (b) is not binding on the parties to the proceedings in which it is made” (section 4(6)). The common law principle that the court has no power to invalidate a statutory provision is reaffirmed by the House of Lords in R (Jackson) v Attorney General [2006] 1 AC 262: “The authority of Pickin v British Railway Board [1974] AC 765 is unquestioned, and it was there very clearly decided that ‘the courts in this country have no power to declare enacted law to be invalid’ (per Lord Simon of Glaisdale, at p 798).” (Para 27, per Lord Bingham of Cornhill).


In other parts of the common law world, “(a)lthough judicial review on federalism grounds has been a feature of the Canadian constitution since the early days of the Confederation, the tradition of parliamentary supremacy remained strong until the advent of the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms in 1982].” 28 The Constitution Act 1982, which entrenches the Charter, also entrenches the principle that any law inconsistent with the Constitution is “of no force or effect” (section 52(1)). Parliamentary supremacy is preserved, however, to the extent that under section 33 of the Charter, the Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare a legislative provision to continue operation, for five years under each renewable declaration, notwithstanding inconsistency with some of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter. In New Zealand, one of the three major

democracies which “can still be said (more or less) to have unwritten constitutions and sovereign parliaments”,29 section 4 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990 expressly provides that the court shall not invalidate or render ineffective any legislation, including pre-existing one, on the sole ground of inconsistency with the Act. Nevertheless, NZ judges, like their UK counterparts, are inclined to use the interpretative provision in section 6,30 to make creative interpretation of legislation in order to protect rights.31

Robert J. Sharpe and Katherine E. Swinton, The Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Toronto:

Irwin Law, 1998), p 18. For an account of the history leading to the Charter, see Frederick Vaughan, “Judicial Politics in Canada: Patters and Trends”, pp 3 – 26 in Paul Howe and Peter H. Russell (eds), Judicial Power and Canadian Democracy (Montreal & Kingston; London; Ithaca: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001).

James Allan, “The Effect of a Statutory Bill of Rights Where Parliament Is Sovereign: the

Lessons from New Zealand”, Ch 20 in Tom Campbell et al (eds), Sceptical Essays on Human Rights (New York: Oxford University Press 2003), p 375.

Section 6 of the Act provides that when interpreting an enactment, a meaning which is

consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in the Act “shall be preferred to any other meaning”.

Allan (n 29 above), pp 377 – 388 and Grant Huscroft, “Protecting Rights and Parliamentary

Sovereignty: New Zealand’s Experience with a Charter-inspired Statutory Bill of Rights” (2002) 21 Windsor Year Book of Access to Justice 111, pp 118 – 120.


The term “weak judicial review” or “weak-form judicial review” – as distinct from “strong” or “strong-form” one whereby the judicial may invalidate a statutory provision on ground of unconstitutionality – has been used to describe the situations in the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand. 32 The NZ system, in which the court can do no more than using interpretative techniques to ameliorate or even depart from the legislature’s intention, is the weakest and “may perhaps not deserve the name of constitutional review at all”.33 The system in each of the three jurisdictions culminates from intense debates and can be taken as the political judgment, exercised by the country as a whole, as regards the relative trust to place between the elected politicians and the unelected judges in the protection of the individuals’ rights.34

2.3.1 The case
The US Supreme Court case of Marbury v Madison is the most famous – though not the first – case in the common law world establishing the judiciary’s power to pronounce as unconstitutional, and therefore invalid, an


Jeremy Waldron, “The Core of the Case Against Judicial Review” (2006) 115 Yale Law

Journal 1346, pp 1353 – 1357 and Mark Tushnet, “The Rise of Weak-form Judicial Review”, paper delivered at Australian National University College of Law on 20 May 2010, available on on 5 August 2010, pp 6 – 11.
33 34

Tushnet (n 32 above), p 6. See Po Jen Yap, “Rethinking Constitutional Review in America and the Commonwealth:

Judicial Protection of Human Rights in the Common Law World” (2006) 35 The Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 99 for a comparison of the models of constitutional review in common law countries.

5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 177 (1803).


act passed by the legislature.36 “Marbury thus passed instantly into legend as the icon of judicial review by an independent judiciary, balance-of-powers, check-and-balances, and the rule of law. It has been cited as shorthand for these principles ever since.”37 Yet, the legitimacy of constitutional review of legislation is still contested in the academic circle and will be discussed in Chapter 3.

Marbury v Madison resulted from a struggle between two political parties to gain control over the federal judiciary.38 The issue in the case was

For judicial review of legislation in the United States prior to Marbury, see Louis Fisher

and David Gray Adler, American Constitutional Law (Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press, 2007), pp 36-38 (“The Pre-Marbury Precedents”) and pp 41-43 (“C. The Road to Marbury”); Larry D. Kramer, “Foreword: We the Court” (2001) 115 Harvard Law Rev 4; and James Bradley Thayer, “The Origin and Scope of the American Doctrine of Constitutional Law” in Legal Essays (Boston: Boston Book Co., 1908) – accessed via on 14 June 2008 – pp 1-40, at pp 1-7; Daniel J. Hulsebosch, “A Discrete and Cosmopolitan Minority: The Loyalists, the Atlantic World, and the Origins of Judicial Review” (2006) 81 Chicago-Kent Law Review 825 – accessed via on 16 June 2008.

Robert J. Morris, A Comparative Study of the Meaning and Importance of Several

Constitutional Cases in the Highest Courts of the PRC, Hong Kong, & Taiwan, Ph. D Thesis, The University of Hong Kong, 2007. For a comparison of judicial review in the United States with that in other common law jurisdiction in terms of structure, theory and form, see Mark Tushnet, “Marbury v Madison Around the World” (2004) 71 Tennessee Law Review 251.

Incumbent Federalist President John Adams was defeated in election by a Republican

candidate Thomas Jefferson. During the half year or so which intervened between the election and the new presidency, Adams sought to pack the judiciary with his allies by passing the Judiciary Act of 1801 to create new judicial offices and then nominating Federalists to be federal judges and justices of peace of the District of Columbia. The appointments were confirmed by the Federalist-controlled Senate. On the last day of the Adams administration, the President signed the commissions, on which John Marshall, still serving as Secretary of State though having already taken oath to be Chief Justice, affixed the seal. When Jefferson took office, he ordered his Secretary of State, James Madison, not to deliver the commissions. William Marbury and others, whose commissions for appointment as justices had been withheld, applied to the Supreme Court for a mandamus to be issued, under section 13 of the


whether the court had the power, under section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, to issue a mandamus directing James Madison, Secretary of State, to deliver the relevant commissions, already signed and sealed by the outgoing Administration on the last day of office, for appointments to the federal judiciary. Chief Justice Marshall should have recused himself in view of his previous involvement in the matter as Secretary for State. 39 He did not. Delivering the Court’s opinion, he held that the constitutional procedure required for the appointments had been completed and therefore, the applicants did have legal right to receive the commissions. The question remained, however, whether the Court had the power to issue the mandamus. He held it did not. Under the Constitution, “the supreme court shall have original jurisdiction in all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be a party. In all other cases, the supreme court shall have appellate jurisdiction”. 40 According to the Chief Justice, to issue mandamus for the delivery of a paper amounted to the exercise of original jurisdiction. Section 13 of the Judiciary Act, which purported to empower the Court to issue mandamus to public officers in all cases, was inconsistent with the constitutional provision that the Court had original jurisdiction in some cases only, ie those “affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and counsuls …”.

For the purpose of this thesis, the most important question arising from the case is: Where did the Court derive the power to invalidate a statutory provision on ground of inconsistency with the Constitution? Marshall
Judiciary Act of 1789, to direct Madison to deliver the commission. (This brief background is based on the judgment in Marbury; Fisher and Adler (n 36 above), pp 43-4; and Geoffrey R. Stone et als, Constitutional Law (New York: Aspen Law & Business, 5th edn, 2005), pp 29 and 36-37.

William W. Van Alstyne, “A Critical Guide to Marbury v Madison”, (1969)1969 Duke L. J.

1. Reproduced in Fisher and Adler (n 36 above), pp 50-52, at p 51.

Marbury (n 35 above), at 174. The constitutional provision in question is Article III,

Section 2(2).


considered that the power came from the text of the Constitution. Article VI of the Constitution stated: “The Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof … shall be the supreme law of the land”. “The Constitution” came first, so Marshall reasoned, and the “laws of the United States” were “the supreme law of the land” only if they were made “in pursuance” of the Constitution. 41 Hence, the article provided for the supremacy of the Constitution and any legislation repugnant to it was void.42 Since Article III vested in the Court the judicial power in respect of all cases, “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the law to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret the rule”.43 Summing up the judgment, Marshall stated:

“Thus, the particular phraseology of the constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the constitution is void; and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument.”44

2.3.2 The Politics
The modern approach in a case like this would be to interpret the statute in such a manner as would render it, as far as possible, consistent with the constitution.45 By adopting the approach, the Court could have held that section 13 was constitutional but only to the extent that it authorised the Court
41 42 43 44 45

Ibid, at 180. Ibid, at 177. Ibid, at 177. Ibid, at 180. An example of such an approach is section 3(1) of the United Kingdom’s Human Rights

Act 1998, which provides that “So far as it is possible to do so, primary legislation and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights”.


to issue mandamus in “cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and counsuls …”. Marbury was such a case as the defendant was a public minister. Such an approach would enable Marshall to grant the mandamus sought. However, party politics was such that the Jefferson administration might simply ignore the order. Then, Marbury would not have become the precedent for the Court to strike down legislation.

Or, the word “affecting” in Article III could be interpreted to mean that the cases must affect the rights or interests of plaintiffs who were “ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls”. In that case, Marshall could have declined the mandamus application on the ground that it was beyond the Court’s power under Article III to exercise original jurisdiction in a case “affecting” judges and not “ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls”. The reasoning would have been much more direct. The Court

would have no need to go into the big question of whether it had the power to invalidate a legislative act.

Marbury contains no clue as to which of the two interpretations of “affecting” Marshall had in mind. Commentators believe that Marshall was politically motivated when he chose to go down the route of invalidating section 13 of the Judiciary Act in its entirety. Bork, for example, considers the case could have been disposed of by adopting the second interpretation of the word “affecting” above. In a scathing attack labelling the opinion in Marbury as “lengthy, skilful, and intellectually dishonest”, he alleged Marshall to “articulate a basis for a broad power of judicial review” while “saving himself and the Court from the embarrassment of being defied by the defendant, James Madison”.46


Robert H. Bork, Coercing Virtue: The Worldwide Rule of Judges (Washington D.C.: The

AIE Press, 2003), p 54.


Marbury is commonly seen as a case representing judicial independence and the separation of law from politics. Yet, when viewed against the partisan disputes mentioned above, some of the Court’s arguments were apparently politically motivated and revealed “the federal judiciary’s felt lack of independence from politics”.47 Marshall formulated his reasoning and conclusion in such a way as would establish the Court’s power of judicial review while avoiding defiance by the political branches. Ginsburg postulates that politicians drafting a new constitution, if they foresee themselves to lose in the post-constitution election, would “seek to entrench judicial review as a form of political insurance … to challenge the legislature”48 and that courts would restrain themselves to exercise such power within the tolerance zones of the political branches.49 In Marbury, a judge of a party which had lost the election simply read into Constitution a wide judicial power which might or might not have been intended by the Framers. Ginsburg’s theory, intended for new democracies in Asia, appears to apply in the United States when it was still a relatively new democracy.

2.3.3 Possible theories to support the reasoning in Marbury
Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law can conceivably be summoned to support the reasoning in Marbury. This is not surprising considering that Kelsen was one of the drafters of the constitution of 1920 for the first republic of Austria, which contained the prototype of the abstract constitutional review of legislation (ie review before or after enactment without applying the


Sanford Levinson and Jack M. Balkin, “What Are the Facts of Marbury v Madison?” (2000)

20 Constitutional Commentary 255, at 262.

Tom Ginsburg, Judicial Review in New Democracies: Constitutional Courts in Asian Cases

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 2003).

Ibid, pp 68-9.


legislation in a concrete case) now practised by constitutional courts in Europe.50 To Kelsen, the state is a “relatively centralised legal order” 51 consisting of a “hierarchy of different levels of legal norms”52 A norm derives its validity from a higher norm. In a state with a written constitution, the written constitution provides validity to all statutes. Dynamically, it

“determines the organs authorised to create general legal norms – statutes and ordinance”.53 It may also, statically, “determine the content of future statutes: positive constitutions do this frequently by prescribing and excluding certain contents”.54 The role of a judge is to apply a legal norm to a particular case. Surely the most important decision to be made by a judge is whether the norm concerned is valid. Marshall was saying as much in his statement “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is”. The consideration of the validity of the norm requires a judge to interpret not only the norm itself, but also the higher norm concerned – in the case of Marbury, the Constitution – to ascertain whether the static and dynamic principles are complied with. Section 13 of the Judiciary Act, as interpreted by Marshall, breached Article III, section 2(2) of the Constitution statically and hence, was invalid. This is just another way of expressing Marshall’s view that a law which is repugnant to the Constitution is void.55

Alec Stone, “Abstract Constitutional Review and Policy Making in Western Europe”, Ch 4

in Donald W. Jackson and C. Neal Tate (eds), Comparative Judicial Review and Public Policy (Westport, Connecticut; London: Greenwood Press, 1992), at p 43.

Hans Kelsen, Pure Theory of Law, Translated from the Second (Revised and Enlarged)

German Edition by Max Knight (Berkeley; Los Angels; London: University of California Press, 1970), pp 286-290.
52 53 54 55

Ibid, p 221. Ibid, p 222-3. Ibid, p 223. Kelsen’s theory of the state as a “relatively centralised legal order” contrasts with Carl

Schmitt’s theory of the state as, in Hans Lindahl’s words, “the assemblage of two different and ultimately antagonistic components, namely a system of political activity, and a series of


The above analysis based on Kelsen’s pure theory can be defeated if the Constitution “is not law in the ordinary sense, but is merely a set of suggestions or exhortations or directions”. 56 However, Article VI does establish the Constitution to be part of the “supreme Law of the Land”. The article provides the single strongest support for Marshall’s claim that the court’s power to conduct judicial review is derived from the text of the Constitution. Though “judicial power” in Article III does not expressly confer on the courts the power to strike down legislation on ground of unconstitutionality, Kelsen’s pure theory would have it that the dutiful exercise of “judicial power” does require a judge to interpret both the higher and lower norms and declare the latter to be invalid if it is inconsistent, under either the dynamic or the static principle, with the higher norm.

Tremblay’s “General Legitimacy of Judicial Review” also provides a similar strategy, as does Kelsen’s theory, to support Marshall’s argument that the Court’s power of judicial review is derived from the Constitution. Under the General Legitimacy Thesis, the question to ask is not whether there is any specific authorization for judicial review. Rather, the legitimacy of judicial review “depends on the fact that there is no moral principle entailing that this

legal restrictions imposed on that activity with a view to the protection of individuals” – see Hans Lindahl, “Constituent Power and Reflexive Identity: Towards an Ontology of Collective Selfhood” in Martin Loughlin and Neil Walker (eds), The Paradox of Constitutionalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp 9-24, at p 9. Schmitt was a German jurist. For two translations of his works, see Carl Schmitt, Legality and Legitimacy, translated by Jeffrey Seitzer (Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2004) and Carl Schmitt, Political Theoology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, translated and with an Introduction by George Schwab (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2005). For a philosophical exposition of Kelsen’s theory of constitutional review, see Lars Vinx, Legality and Legitimacy in Hans Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law, Ph. D. thesis, University of Toronto, 2006, accessed vide on 5 June 2008.

Charles L. Black, Jr, The People and the Court (New York: The Macmillan Co, 1960), p 9.


action or decision is ‘impermissible’ ”.57 For the judiciary’s act or decision to be legitimate, it must not recognise or uphold “norms that are not legal or laws that (sic) not legitimate”. 58 This means that judges, when called upon to enforce a legislative act, is duty bound to verify whether the act complies with “a set of antecedent norms specifying the features particular constitutional interpretations must possess in order to be recognised by the courts as binding”.59 Such norms are to be found in the written constitution where one exists. The fact that the Constitution confers judicial powers on the Court and that nothing in the Constitution or elsewhere precludes judicial review would, therefore, entitle Marshall to claim that the Court should refuse to enforce legislation it considers to be inconsistent with the antecedent norms existing, implicitly or explicitly, in the Constitution.

In similar vein, Robert J. Reinstein and Mark C. Rahdert consider that Marbury was based not so much on the separation of powers as often thought, but instead on the principles in the rule of law, “including legal positivism; the right of individuals to claim the protection of the laws; the ideal that government is constrained by and subject to the laws; and the role of courts in constitutional government”. 60 This finding, at first sight, is not much of a discovery since such fundamental principles are necessarily behind all judicial decisions. That Chief Justice Marshall did have the separation of powers in mind is evident from his rhetorical question: “To what purpose are powers limited, and to what purpose is that limitation committed in writing, if these limits may, at any time, be passed by those intended to be restrained?”61 A close look at the judgment, however, confirms the two commentators’ view

Luc B. Tremblay, “General Legitimacy of Judicial Review and the Fundamental Basis of

Constitutional Law” (2003) 23 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 525, 538.
58 59 60

Ibid, p 540. Ibid, p 553. Robert J. Reinstein and Mark C. Rahdert, “Reconstructing Marbury” (2005) 56 Arkansas

Law Review 729, at p 736.

Marbury (n 35 above), p 176.


that the decision in Marbury to strike down – or more correctly, not to enforce – any unconstitutional legislation was primarily based, and can be justified, on the rule of law alone. The significance, as they point out, is that Marbury provides the reasoning for judicial review in any jurisdiction which honours the rule of law, even if the separation of powers does not exist (as in China) and the constitution does not expressly provide for judicial review.

Bickel disputes Marshall’s claim that the text of the Constitution authorises judicial review. 62 Indeed, even to this day, scholars differ on whether the Framers did intend to give the Court such power.63 I shall not go into the question here. Even if the Framers had harboured such intention and embedded it in the Constitution, the question would remain whether, as a matter of political morality, the judiciary – in the United States or elsewhere – should be vested with such power.


Alexander M. Bickel, The Least Dangerous Branch: The Supreme Court at the Bar of

Politics (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2nd edn, 1986), pp 1-13.

Kramer, accepting the benefits of judicial review to be “functional and instrumental”,

opines that “history makes … clear that judicial review is not required by the structure of our Constitution, much less implicit in the very notion of a written constitution” – Kramer (n 36 above), p 166. Prakash and Yoo opined, however, that both the structure of the Constitution and the relevant historical records suggest the Founders did intend that courts would conduct judicial review of federal legislation – Saikrishna B. Prakash and John C. Yoo, “The Origins of Judicial Review” (2003) 70 University of Chicago Law Review 887, accessed via on 16 June 2008. This led to further articles: Larry D. Kramer, “The Constitutional Origins of Judicial Review: When Lawyers Do History” (2003) 72 George Washington Law Review 387, accessed via on 16 June 2008; and Saikrishna B. Prakash and John C. Yoo, “The Constitutional Origins of Judicial Review: Questions for the Critics of Judicial Review” (2003) 72 George Washington Law Review 354 – accessed via on 16 June 2008.



In his book The Least Dangerous Branch, 64 which has become a classic on the constitutional review of legislation, Alexander M. Bickel challenges the opinion in Marbury that the text of the US Constitution confers on the Supreme Court the power to invalidate legislation on ground of unconstitutionality. He coins the expression “countermajoritarian difficulty” to describe the objection to appointed judges’ over-ruling decisions made by a democratically elected legislature. He seeks to ameliorate the difficulty by arguing that judges are better equipped and more prepared, than elected politicians, to identify and implement the long-term needs of the society and also, judicial review enhances the legitimacy of the government as a whole. Balancing the long-term and immediate needs of the society, he opines that judges should, until the long-term principles involved are “ripe for adjudication”, exercise what he calls the “passive virtues”, ie to decide neither to validate nor invalidate legislation which is inconsistent with such principles. Bickel has inspired the New Minimalists, among whom Cass R. Sunstein is probably the most prolific writer. The theories of Bickel and Sunstein will be presented in Section 3.2.


Alexander M. Bickel, The Least Dangerous Branch: The Supreme Court at the Bar of

Politics (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2nd edn, 1986).


The counter-majoritarian difficulty leads to a debate on the legitimacy or otherwise of judicial review. A fervent critic of judicial review is Jeremy Waldron, said to have presented “a compelling criticism of the theoretical basis of the American faith in ‘judicial review’ ” and made “a complete success” to “knock down bad philosophical arguments”.65 While most theories on judicial review are formulated in the context of the US Constitution, Waldron intends his argument against the institution to be “independent of both its historical manifestations and questions about its particular effects”.66 Those two reasons explain why his theory has been singled out for discussion in this thesis. In Section 3.4, his argument that judicial review is undemocratic and illegitimate will be pitched against the opposing views of his teacher and “favourite whipping boy” Ronald Dworkin,67 Frank B. Cross and Richard H. Fallon, Jr.







3.2.1 Counter-majoritarian difficulty
Bickel accepts that a statute is void when it is repugnant to the Constitution. The question is who to decide on the repugnancy or otherwise.68 Marshall argued that the legislature should not police the limit of its own


Richard A. Posner, “Review of Jeremy Waldron, Law and Disagreement” (2000) 100

Columbia Law Review 582, at pp 582 and 592.

Jeremy Waldron, “The Core of the Case Against Judicial Review”, (2006) 115 Yale Law

Journal 1346, 1351.
67 68

Posner (n 65) above, p 589. Bickel (n 64 above), p 3.


power.69 Why, Bickel asks, can it not be done by the President or the people themselves? Explaining the “counter-majoritarian difficulty”, he concedes that under the complex electoral process in the United States, government decisions may represent the interests of minority groups and not those of the majority. “(I)t remains true nevertheless that only those minorities rule which can command the votes of a majority of individuals in the legislature who can command the votes of a majority of individuals in the electorate.” 70 It is, therefore, “a deviant institution in the American democracy” for the Court to strike down statutes which “are the products of the legislature and the executive acting in concert”.71

Judicial review may be one of the means other than the electoral process to make the government responsive to the needs and wishes of the people. However, it “expresses … a form of distrust of the legislature”. 72 Therefore, “(b)esides being a counter-majoritarian check on the legislature and the executive, judicial review may, in a large sense, have a tendency over time seriously to weaken the democratic process”.73 Where democracy is gone from the society, the courts can do nothing to protect the principles of equity and fair play. Hence, “judicial review runs so fundamentally counter to democratic theory that in a society which in all other respects rests on that theory, judicial review cannot ultimately be effective”.74

69 70 71 72 73 74

See n 61 above and accompanying text. Bickel (n 64 above), p 19. Bickel (n 64 above), p 18. Ibid, p 21. Ibid. Ibid, p 23.


3.2.2 Countervailing judgments

Bickel considers that no argument can meet the counter-majoritarian difficulty in full. It can only be alleviated by countervailing judgments based on the real needs of the society. Those countervailing judgments must satisfy the following requirements:

“The search must be for a function which might (indeed, must) involve the making of policy, yet which differs from the legislative and executive functions; which is peculiarly suited to the capabilities of the courts; which will not likely be performed elsewhere if the courts do not assume it; which can be so exercised as to be acceptable in a society that generally shares Judge Hand’s satisfaction in a ‘sense of common venture’; which will be effective when needed; and whose discharge the courts will not lower the quality of the other departments’ performance by denuding them of the dignity and burden of their own responsibility.”75

According to Bickel, public decisions should be based on “enduring values” (“acting on principle”) as well as “immediate needs” (“acting on expediency”).76 Legislators, when coming under pressure for immediate needs, “ordinarily prefer to act on expediency rather than take the long view”.77 To meet the deficiency, the judiciary’s constitutional function is to act as “the pronouncer and guardian” of “enduring values” 78 and “to define values and proclaim principles”. 79 In terms of institutional competence, “courts have certain capacities for dealing with matters of principle that legislatures and
75 76 77 78 79

Ibid, p 24. Ibid, p 25. Ibid, p 25. Ibid, p 24. Ibid, p 68.


executives do not possess. Judges have, or should have, the leisure, the training, and the insulation to follow the ways of the scholar in pursuing the ends of government”, which is “crucial in sorting out the enduring values of a society”. 80 The judiciary’s other advantage relates to the judicial process. “Statutes, after all, deal typically with abstract or dimly foreseen problems. The courts are concerned with the flesh and blood of a case.”81 Adjudication of actual cases is conducive “to the evolution of principle by a process that tests as it creates”.82

As an additional justification, Bickel develops Black’s idea of judicial review performing a legitimating as well as a checking function. To Black, a government cannot attain legitimacy if its actions “are not, by and large, received as authorised” by the people.83 The US government is one of limited powers. A corollary to the courts’ checking the government’s powers is that where the courts declare certain government’s decisions as not

unconstitutional, they place “the affirmative stamp of legitimacy” on the actions, thus mollifying those whose interests are adversely affected by the actions.84 Through judicial review, Bickel says, “the Court can bring about acquiescence by assuring those who have lost a political fight that merely momentary interest, not fundamental principle, was in play”.85

3.2.3 Principle versus expediency
Having found the countervailing judgments and since judicial review is too well established to be reversible, Bickel looks for a standard of review

80 81 82 83 84 85

Ibid, pp 25-26. Ibid, p 26. Ibid. Charles L. Black, Jr, The People and the Court (New York: The Macmillan Co, 1960), p 37. Ibid, Chs II and III. Bickel (n 64 above), p 30.


which would strike the right balance between the counter-majoritarian difficulty and the judiciary’s constitutional competence or in other words, between judicial restraint and judicial activism. He intends the standard to be both descriptive and prescriptive.

The theories of James Bradley Thayer and Judge Learned Hand, in his view, lean too much to the side of restraint. Under James Bradley Thayer’s “rule of clear mistake”, the Court could strike down a statute as unconstitutional only “when those who have the right to make laws have not merely made a mistake, but have made a very clear one, – so clear that it is not open to rational question". 86 Bickel considers the rule to be a distrust of judicial review and narrow unduly the scope of the Court’s power to police the constitutional limits of the political branches’ power. The Court should see to it that the legislative or executive action in question represents a good, and not just a rational, choice. He amends Thayer’s rule to read: “What is rational, and rests on an unquestioned, shared choice of values, is constitutional”.87

Judge Learned Hand, while regarding the judiciary as best suited to “keep the states, Congress, and the President within their prescribed powers”,88 holds that so long as the political branches are acting within their functions, it is not for the Court to duplicate their work and challenge the propriety of their choices of action. Bickel points out that Hand’s judicial restraint amounts to “nearly total abstinence” and does not accord with the

Ibid, p 35. Bickel was quoting from Thayer’s “The Origin and Scope of the American

Doctrine of Constitutional Law” (n 36 above), at p 21. At pp 25-30 of his article, Thayer says the reasons for his rule of clear mistake are the same as for the test adopted by the court in dismissing the juries’ verdicts in criminal cases and libel cases, namely, “virtue, sense, and competent knowledge are always to be attributed” to the body which has the duty and the power to make a decision.
87 88

Bickel (n 64 above), p 43. Ibid, p 46. Bickel was quoting from L. Hand, The Bill of Rights (Cambridge: Harvard

University Press, 1958).


existing practice. The existing practice, for which “roomier justification … supportable in principle” is available, does not, as Hand fears, result in the Court duplicating the work of the legislature.89

Herbert Wechsler’s rule of neutral principles, which is at the other end of the restraint-activism spectrum, appears to have inspired the “principle versus expediency” dichotomy in Bickel’s theory. Wechsler opines that the text of the Constitution does confer on the judiciary the power to conduct judicial review. Therefore the only occasion on which the Court can properly abstain from making a decision is when “the Constitution has committed the determination of the issue to another agency of government than the courts”.90 The duty of a court of law requires it to make principled decisions. “A principled decision … is one that rests on reasons with respect to all the issues in the case, reasons that in their generality and their neutrality transcend any immediate result that is involved. When no sufficient reasons of this kind can be assigned for overturning value choices of the other branches of the Government or of a state, those choices must, of course, survive.” 91 The approach, according to Wechsler, represents “a middle ground between a judicial House of Lords and the abandonment of any limitation on the other branches – a middle ground consisting of judicial action that embodies what are purely the main qualities of law, its generality and its neutrality”.92

Principles – or enduring values by another name – are indeed the central feature in Bickel’s theory. However, Wechsler’s middle ground does not appear to him to be middle enough. While agreeing that judicial review should be based on principles, Bickel holds that principles should not trump

89 90

Bickel (n 64 above), p 48. Herbert Wechsler, “Toward Neutral Principles of Constitutional Law” (1959) 73 Harvard

Law Review 1, at 9.
91 92

Ibid, at 19. Ibid, at 16.



No principle should or can be rigidly applied without

consideration of the immediate result. There is no neat dividing line between principle and expediency. “No society, certainly not a large and heterogeneous one, can fail in time to explode if it is deprived of the arts of compromise, if it knows no way of muddling through.”93

To Bickel, principle and expediency can and should co-exist. “By ‘principle’ is meant general propositions, as Holmes called them, deeming their formation the chief end of man …; organizing ideas of universal validity in the given universe of a culture and a place, ideas that are often grounded in ethical and moral presuppositions.”94 “The function of the Justices … is to immerse themselves in the tradition of our society and of kindred societies that have gone before, in history and in the sediment of history which is law, and, as Judge Hand once suggested, in the thought and the vision of the philosophers and the poets. The Justices will then be fit to extract ‘fundamental presuppositions’ from their deepest selves, but in fact from the evolving morality of our tradition.”95

3.2.4 Passive virtues
In a constitutional review case, Bickel says, three options are open to the court: it may strike down the legislative policy, validate the policy or do neither. For the first two options, the court must act rigorously on principle – to strike down or to declare valid depending on whether the policy breaches any principle. As a matter of logic, a policy either does or does not breach any principle. Why, when and how to “do neither”?

93 94 95

Bickel (n 64 above), p 64. Ibid, p 199. Ibid, p 236.


On the “why”, Bickel’s answer is that a democratic society operates on a wide range of principles with new ones for ever evolving over time. It would be inconsistent with self government – and would render it unwilling or even impossible for the executive to enforce – if the Court were to strike down each and every legislative policy breaching any principle, unless one were to limit “with extreme severity, the kind and thus the number of principles the Court is permitted to evolve and apply”.96 If the Court were to confine itself to the first two options only, ie striking down or validating, such limitation “with severe severity” would entail the Court declaring as valid, or at least as not unconstitutional, a preponderance of controversial policies. Two undesirable consequences would result. First, the Court’s image of independence – and hence the legitimating function of judicial review – would be undermined. Secondly, the Court’s decision would remove the impetus for the political branches to review a controversial policy with a view to aligning it with what may be a new, evolving principle.

The third option of “doing neither” enables the Court to balance principle against expediency or in other words, to balance its function to uphold principle against respect for the democratic will. It does not mean forsaking principle. While doing nothing, the Court may use obiter dicta in its judgments to perform an “educational function” and engages itself in a “Socratic colloquy” with the political branches. “All the while, the issue of principle remains in abeyance and ripens.”97

To do neither is merely to temporize. The Court should validate or strike down a legislative act when the principle involved is “ripe for adjudication.” “Yet, though quite significant, the concept of ripeness of the case does not operate independently and is not alone decisive. … (I)t is in substantial part a function of a judge’s estimate of the merit of the
96 97

Ibid, p 200. Ibid, p 71.


constitutional issue. A case may be ripe for one judge but not for another, depending not on their understanding of the fixed concept of ripeness but on the contours of the ultimate constitutional principle each would evolve and apply.”98 It would be an overgeneralization to say that the Court should refrain from adjudicating on a constitutional issue in the first case coming before it. “And yet it is not far wrong. A sound judicial instinct will generally favour deflecting the problem in one or more initial cases … so that a cumulative effect on the judicial mind as well as on public and professional opinion”99 will result. Ripeness means that the principle must have gained “widespread acceptance”. This is not to be equated with national consensus or otherwise, the political branches would be in a better position to decide whether such a consensus has been reached. The Court, while a leader of opinion, is not to impose its own principles on the community. It “should declare as law only such principles as will – in time, but in a rather immediate foreseeable future – gain general assent”.100

Bickel illustrates, with reference to decided cases, a host of the techniques and devices which can be – and actually have been – adopted by the Court to do nothing. Consistent with its function to develop a principle in the light of concrete cases and not in abstract, it should refuse to take on any case in which the applicant has no “standing” or which does not give rise to any “case” or “controversy” under Article III of the Constitution. The grounds for the Court not to intervene may be that the case does not touch “the legal relations of parties having adverse legal interests”, the interest is not “real and substantial” or the purported injury does not admit of “specific relief through a decree of conclusive character”. Even if a “case” or “controversy” does exist, the Court may, where the political process is in a deadlock, hold the case “lack of justiciable controversy” and wait until the political institutions have at least
98 99

Ibid, pp 169-170. Ibid, p 176. Ibid, p 239.



come to an initial decision before it passes any judgment. 101 That the legislative act in question is “vague”, amounts to “political questions” or is otherwise “not justiciable” are further grounds for the Court to hold its hand. Or, finally, when the Court has to pass judgment on a legislative policy in an unripe case, it may base its decision on a narrow or factual ground which avoids the constitutional issue. “The various devices, methods, concepts, doctrines, and techniques … all techniques of ‘not doing’, devices for disposing a case while avoiding judgment on the constitutional issue it raises”102 Bickel calls “the passive virtues”.103

3.2.5 New Judicial Minimalism

Bickel’s ideas of the judiciary avoiding a definitive decision until the principle is ripe and the judiciary engaging in colloquy with the political branches have become the common themes of what Peters and Devins call the “New Judicial Minimalism”.104 The New Minimalists depart from Bickel in two aspects. First, in contrast to his juricentrism (the judiciary being independent, co-equal with the political branches and in a better position than they to apply principles because of the judges’ training and insulation from political pressure), “the New Minimalism is motivated primarily by polycentrism – by a desire to preserve the supposed prerogative of the political branches to make most constitutional decisions, unimpeded by interference from the judiciary”. 105 Secondly – and that appears to be a

101 102 103

Ibid, p 146. Ibid, p 169. Ibid, Ch 4: “The Passive Virtues”. Some writers refer to these as the “avoidance


Christopher J. Peters and Neal Devins, “Alexander Bickel and the New Judicial

Minimalism”, Ch 3 in Kenneth D. Ward and Cecilia R. Castillo, The Judiciary and American Democracy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005).

Ibid, p 58.


corollary to polycentrism – the New Minimalists’ minimalism is not just procedural, but also, substantive.106

Cass R. Sunstein, for one, may dispute this second claim. He asserts that his minimalism is procedural.107 As he is probably the most prolific writer among the New Minimalists, a discussion of his works would be in order.

3.2.6 Incompletely theorised agreements and minimalism

In Political Liberalism, John Rawls presents “overlapping consensus” as the unifying and stabilizing force in a constitutional democracy consisting of “free and equal citizens … deeply divided by conflicting and even incommensurable religious, philosophical and moral doctrines”. 108 For a political conception of justice to become an “overlapping consensus”, it would have to be pitched at an abstract level.109 In legal reasoning, Sunstein sees social agreement and stability to be reached in the opposite direction. “The distinctly legal solution to the problem of pluralism is to produce agreement on particulars, with the thought that most people who are puzzled by general principles, or who disagree on them, can agree on individual cases.” 110 Disputes are to be resolved by “incompletely theorised agreement” – “incompletely theorised in the sense that it is incompletely specified” 111 – which has “the large advantage of allowing convergence on particular
106 107

Ibid, p 59-61. Cass R. Sunstein, “Testing Minimalism: A Reply”, (2005) 104 Michigan Law Review 123,

pp 124-125.
108 109 110

John Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p 134. Ibid, pp 43-45. Cass R. Sunstein, Legal Reasoning and Political Conflict (New York; Oxford: Oxford

University Press, 1996), p 47.

Ibid, p 35.


outcomes by people unable to reach an accord on general principles”.112 ITAs make it easier for losers to accept disagreement as they will feel that “they lose a decision, but not the world”.113 They would avoid the risk of delivering judgment which may not accommodate changes in facts and values.114 At the practical level, they “may be the best approach that is available for people of limited time and capacities”, who cannot afford the resources to conduct full theorisation.115 ITAs are well adapted to the reasoning by analogies practised in the common law system116 and avoid judges without democratic pedigree embarking on large-scale social reforms or high-level principles which should best be left to the process of deliberative democracy.117








incompletely theorised agreement, was embraced by the US Supreme Court in the 1990s, when his book One Case at a Time was published.118 His account of the phenomenon is both descriptive and prescriptive. As a matter of political morality, the development of high constitutional principles should be the subject of deliberative democracy and not the function of appointed judges.119 In terms of institutional competence, the judiciary does not possess the same resources, available to the legislature, which are required to ascertain and examine the complex facts and values involved in formulating broad

112 113 114 115 116 117 118

Ibid, p 39. Ibid, p 41. Ibid. Ibid, p 42. Ibid. Ibid, p 45. Cass R. Sunstein, One Case at A Time (Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: Harvard

University Press, 1999), pp xi – xii.

Cass R. Sunstein, Partial Constitution (Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: 1993, Harvard

University Press), pp 145-146.


principles and eventually, to implement the principles formulated. 120 The adversarial process of adjudication is also not suited for such a purpose. Hence, instead of the deductive process (ie determine the relevant principle or theory and apply it to the concrete facts in a particular case in order to produce the conclusion), judges should proceed by analogical reasoning with reference to precedents, which after all is how the common law comes about. In order to “reduce the burden of judicial decision” and “more fundamentally, … to make judicial errors less frequent (and above all) less damaging”, judges should say no more than necessary to justify their decision in a case. 121 To that end, Sunstein argues that judicial decisions should be narrow and shallow. Narrowness relates to the scope: judges should decide on the instant case only and not other cases too, “except to the extent that one decision necessarily bears on other cases, and unless they are pretty much forced to do so”.122 By shallowness, Sunstein means that “(t)he concrete outcomes are backed not by abstract theories but by unambitious reasoning on which people can converge from diverse foundations, or with uncertainty about appropriate foundations". 123 “Like narrowness, shallowness is a matter of degree; it is relative rather than absolute.”124

Minimalism, Sunstein explains, does not mean judicial restraint. Nor should it be characterised as liberal or conservative. They simply “prefer to leave fundamental issues undecided … [which is] their most distinct characteristics”. 125 Sunstein’s “basic claim is not about substance”. 126 The

Partial Constitution (n 119 above), pp 147-148 and Legal Reasoning and Political

Conflict (n 110 above), pp 44-46.
121 122 123 124 125 126

One Case at A Time (n 118 above), p 4. Ibid, p 10. Ibid, p 13. Ibid, p 16. Ibid, p x. Ibid, p 76.


word “minimalism” is used to mean “procedural minimalism [which] entails an effort to limit the scope and ambition of judicial rulings”.127 It “should be distinguished from … minimalism’s substance, which entails an identifiable set of substantive commitments (to, for example, fair procedure and the rule of law)”.128

True to his faith in incompletely theorised agreement, Sunstein does not claim his minimalism to be applicable to all cases. Indeed, he takes pain to qualify it. There are, as he sees it, four problems. 129 First, while resource constraint is one reason for minimalism, the cost reduction in one case may be more than offset by the additional costs to be incurred in subsequent cases as a result of the uncertainty created by the narrow and shallow decision. Secondly, the decision gives little guidance to lower courts, which therefore may make mistakes in future cases. Thirdly, one of the purposes of law is to enable people to plan their activities with reasonable confidence that they will not be vulnerable to legal challenge. Minimalism does not facilitate forward planning. Fourthly, maximalism – in the form of judicial refusal to invalidate any legislation – may well put pressure on the political branches to sort out issues and hence, maximalism may turn out to be closer to deliberative democracy than is minimalism.

In the light of the four problems, Sunstein describes the circumstances in which minimalism is preferred to maximalism and vice versa: “(I)t is worthwile to attempt a broad and deep solution (1) when judges have considerable confidence in the merits of that solution, (2) when the solution can reduce costly uncertainty for future courts and litigants, (3) when advance planning is important, and (4) when a
127 128 129

“Testing Minimalism” (n 107 above), p 124. Ibid. One Case at A Time (n 118 above), pp 54-57.


maximalism approach will promote democratic goals either by creating the preconditions for democracy or by imposing good incentives on elected officials, incentives to which they are likely to be responsive. Minimalism becomes more attractive (1) when judges are proceeding in the midst of (constitutionally relevant) factual or moral uncertainty and rapidly changing circumstances, (2) when any solution seems likely to be confounded by future cases, (3) when the need for advance planning does not seem insistent, and (4) when the preconditions for democratic self-government are not at stake and democratic goals are not likely to be promoted by a rule-bound judgment. It follows that the case for minimalism is not separable from an assessment of the underlying substantive controversies.”130

At the end, Sunstein “venture(s) a general hypothesis. The case for minimalism is especially strong when the area involves a highly contentious question now receiving sustained democratic attention. In such areas, courts should be aware that even if they rely on their own deepest convictions, they may make mistakes”.131 Furthermore, a maximalist judicial decision in such areas, even if it is just and right, may have adverse consequences. “The Court’s decision may activate opposing forces and demobilise the political actors that it favours. It may produce an intense social backlash, in the process of delegitimating itself as well as the goal it seeks to promote. More modestly, it may prevent social deliberation, give and take, learning, compromise, and moral evolution over time. A cautious course – refusal to hear cases, invalidation on narrow grounds, democracy-spurring rulings – will not impair this process and should improve it.”132

130 131 132

Ibid, p 57. Ibid, p 59. Ibid, p 59.



3.3.1 Implications of passive virtues for judicial decisionmaking

Critiques of the passive virtues abound in the literature. I have sampled three commentators because they, while all praising Bickel for the comprehensiveness and originality of his theory, hold conflicting views on the morality of the passive virtues as a theory on judicial decision-making. Gerald Gunther faults him for advocating judicial restraint. Purcell sees ambivalence in The Least Dangerous Branch. Bork regards Bickel’s theory to be one of judicial activism.

Referring to Bickel’s advice about tempering principle with expediency, Gunther jibes it as “the 100% insistence on principle, 20% of the time”133 and expresses concern that “if his beguiling prescriptions are unsound, his subtle, effective advocacy will endorse and accelerate harmful tendencies”. 134 According to Gunther, cases involving Wechsler’s neutral principles are few. Hence, Bickel’s admonition not to strike down legislation except on ground of such principles would leave many “bad” laws intact. What catches public attention is the outcome of a case. When the Court refuses to invalidate a piece of legislation, “the Court can” – Gunther quotes Bickel – “generate consent and may impart permanence” 135 despite any deprecatory comments in the judgment. Bickel’s account of “passive virtues”

Gerald Gunther, “The Subtle Vices of the ‘Passive Virtues’ – A Comment on Principle and

Expediency in Judicial Review ” (1964) 64 Columbia Law Review 1, p 3.
134 135

Ibid, p 1. Ibid, p 6 quoting from Bickel (n 64 above), p 129.


is “essentially unpersuasive, profoundly disturbing, and ultimately subversive of the very values it professes to serve”.136 Bickel’s analyses of the avoidance techniques adopted in various cases discussed in his book could have been influenced by his own preconceptions. The Court’s discretion “to do nothing” – which Bickel purportedly derives from Brandeis’s statement in Ashwander v TVA – is actually much wider than intended by Brandeis. 137 Some of the Court’s decisions interpreted by Bickel to be avoidance can, Gunther opines, actually be explained by legal principles. In ascribing “prudential considerations” to such decisions, Bickel has gone overboard into preaching, inadvertently, legal expediency, contrary to the principled adjudication he is advocating for constitutional review. The most disturbing consequence is that “his fear of legitimation drives him to counsel avoidance although principles are ripe and available”.138

In an article reviewing Bickel’s major works in his twenty-five years’ career, Purcell sees internal tensions in Bickel’s mind. 139 In The Least Dangerous Branch, Bickel says that neutral principles are but few (implying judicial restraint) but when they are ripe, the court should uphold them vigorously (implying judicial activism). “In other words, a theory originally intended to distinguish those issues on which the Court could properly invalidate the acts of representative political institutions came to rest in large part on the question of the practical wisdom of so acting.” 140 Bickel’s explanation of the “passive virtues”, Purcell continues, creates three problems. “The first related to the fact that they were often ‘passive’ only in name, for Bickel’s ‘virtues’ served as aggressive instruments for his chosen values. …
136 137 138 139

Ibid, p 9. Ibid, pp 9-10. Ibid, p, 22. Edward A. Purcell, Jr “Alexander M. Bickel and the Post-realist Constitution” (1976) 11

Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Law Review 521, p 522.

Ibid, p 540.


The second problem, the opposite of the first, was that the ‘passive virtues’ could occasionally be so amoral as to allow the abandonment of principle, and of Bickel’s own values, in the service of a judgment of expedience.” 141 Thirdly, the first two problems give rise to a series of paradoxes: between “immutable” ethical principles and instrumentalist ethical relativism; between judicial restraint and moral activism; between principled government and expedience; and between limiting judicial decision and purposeful judicial discretion.142

Bork, an originalist in constitutional interpretation, sees an entirely different possible effect which Bickel’s advocacy may have on judicial behaviour. He blames him for assigning to the Court a policymaking role, though one to “be modest and played with caution”. 143 Bickel regards the Court to be particularly suited to inject into the policymaking process “fundamental presuppositions” and “enduring values” which are not given due weight by the political branches. Bork, however, opines that “(f)ew [judges] have the training to do what Bickel asked, and none have the leisure for philosophic reflection or for immersion in tradition, history, and the thought and vision of philosophers and poets”.144 “There seems to be no reason why citizens rather than Justices should not extract fundamental presuppositions from their deepest selves.”145 Bork accepts that policymaking requires striking a balance between principles and expediency. “There is no objectively correct balance between principle and expediency, so it is meaningless to say that legislatures inherently fall short of the right balance.” 146 While Bickel
141 142 143

Ibid, p 541-542. Ibid, p 542. Robert H. Bork, The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law (New York:

Touchstone Book, 1991), p 189.
144 145 146

Ibid, p 191. Ibid. Ibid.


advocates that the “Court should declare as law only such principles as will – in time, but in a rather immediate foreseeable future – gain general assent”,147 Bork queries the rationale for the Court to “get ahead of the evolution” of the people’s tradition.148 The Court is likely to be wrong in identifying what are the evolving traditions, not to mention that it will probably not so confine itself. When the Court does go wrong, it may take decades for its decisions to be overturned.149 The Least Dangerous Dragon, Bork remarks, “was merely an early and provocative attempt to justify a Court that invalidates the acts of elected representatives without appealing to the historic Constitution” and Bickel later in his career “came to doubt the capacity of the Supreme Court to manage principles of the sort his early work envisioned”.150 He concludes that at the end Bickel “could not clear the hurdle he set himself: accommodating a value-choosing Court to the theory and practice of democracy”.151

3.3.2 Reconciliation of conflicting critiques of passive virtues
The above comments, put together, may suggest Bickel to be wavering in his intellectual works. Rejecting the possible impression that Bickel is inconsistent or even incoherent in his political philosophy, Kronman asserts that a theme which runs from The Least Dangerous Branch to The Morality of Consent, the last work in Bickel’s short life, is prudence.152 Prudence is the intellectual and temperamental ability to recognise the complexities of judicial and institutional setting and to steer through such complexities to achieve one’s goal.153 Bickel holds that constitutional adjudication must be principled
147 148 149 150 151 152

The Least Dangerous Branch (n 64 above), p 239. Bork (n 143 above), p 192. Ibid, p 193. Ibid. Ibid. Anthony T. Kronman, “Alexander Bickel’s Philosophy of Prudence” (1985) 94 Yale Law

Journal 1567, p 1568.

Ibid, pp 1569-1570.


but principle must be tempered with expediency. He does not clearly delineate the line of demarcation between principle and expediency except to suggest that while principle represents a society’s permanent interests, expediency denotes the immediate ones.

Burt, like Kronman, believes that “(t)he internal, logical coherence of [Bickel’s] ideas has not changed”. 154 What has changed is “the underlying conception of the very nature of judicial authority”155 which in turn reflects the moods and sentiments of different generations as to how to address social conflicts. Bickel, being a Jew emigrating from Romania to America in 1939 when fourteen years old and having lived through the Great Depression and Second World War, was fearful about the apocalyptic effect of social conflicts. Hence, he advocates accommodation on the part of the judiciary, rather than relying on principles which could aggravate the conflict. For Burt’s own generation – he was Bickel’s student in the mid-1960s – the social disruptions in the 1960’s gave rise to distrust in the accommodationist approach. Instead, the people looked to the court as the Hobbesian absolute sovereignty to impose “definitive, authoritative conclusions at even the earliest stages of ideological disputes”.156 In comparison, the generation of Burt’s students “is more inclined to view apparently irreconcilable social conflict as an essentially irremediable, and even an unremarkable, state of affairs”.157

It is true that, as Burt implies, the perception of an object depends on the object as well as the perceiver’s propensity. A wide variation in perception suggests, however, that the object itself is unclear, like a Rorschach card. What are principles? What is the level of specificity of the “fundamental


Robert A. Burt, “Alex Bickel’s Law School and Ours” (1995) 104 Yale Law Journal 1853,

p 1856.
155 156 157

Ibid. Ibid, p 1868. Ibid, p 1869.


presuppositions” which amount to “principles” to be enforced by the court? Which is the point beyond which a “principle” “will – in time, but in a rather immediate foreseeable future – gain consent” 158 and therefore, is ripe for adjudication? Bickel addresses these questions mostly in abstract terms. His subtlety and poetic style of writing add to the difficulty in pinning him down. While Burt’s description of the change in paradigmatic exercise of judicial authority from one generation to another may explain certain conflicting commentaries on the “passive virtues”, the internal tension in Bickel’s mind as described by Purcell – and of course, also the commentators’ own ideologies – are probably more significant reasons why for example, Gunther and Bork charge him for judicial restraint and judicial activism respectively.

Whatever the defects of the passive virtues, the one contribution which Bickel definitely makes is the highlighting of the court’s educational function. Even in a case in which the court decides to “do neither”, its judgment may reveal principles which have not been considered or given sufficient attention by the political branches. The media coverage of a high-profile case, which a constitutional case usually is, would trigger public discussions. Coming from politically impartial and authoritative figures, the court’s views would command respect in the community such that the elected politicians would have to give them very serious consideration. Policy or legislative changes for better governance may result. Even if not, the public deliberation would clarify or crystallise certain values, facilitating the development of overlapping consensus in a pluralistic society.


The Least Dangerous Branch (n 64 above), p 239.


3.3.3 Critiques of Sunstein’s theory Critique of “incompletely theorised agreement”

When Sunstein pitches his “incompletely theorised agreement” against Rawls’s “overlapping consensus” as an alternative strategy to harmonise the differences in values and beliefs in a pluralistic society, 159 he appears to have escalated the idea to a philosophical level well beyond its place, bearing in mind that the idea is apparently intended merely as a strategy to “seek agreement on what to do rather than exactly how to think”. 160 In the legal world, the “incompletely theorised agreement” is inevitable for the courts to dispose of the many minor, factually similar cases before them. We should not forget, however, that it is merely a strategy of expedience. As Alexander points out:

“We do not need theory for what we agree about but for what we disagree about; and, indeed, it is to resolve disagreement authoritatively that we have law and legal institutions. If law and legal decisions are to be justified to those who disagree and who lose, it must be through theory. Because real agreement cannot be coerced, law without theory appears to the losers as brute force, not reason.”161 Critiques of minimalism
Sunstein intends minimalism to be both descriptive and prescriptive. Based on an empirical analysis, Neil S. Siegel concludes that Sunstein’s

159 160 161

Legal Reasoning and Political Conflict (n 110 above), p 48. Ibid. Larry Alexander, “Incomplete Theorizing: A Review Essay of Case R. Sunstein’s Legal

Reasoning and Political Conflict” (1997) 72 Notre Dame Law Review 531, p 534.


“suggestion that judicial minimalism triumphed at the Supreme Court during the October 2003 Term is, with few exceptions, descriptively false” and that the judges “did not consciously choose to resolve most of the cases discussed … as narrowly and shallowly as reasonably possible, even though broader and deeper rationales were reasonably available to them”.

Normatively, he opines that minimalism would not serve the supposed substantive values of “cost minimization, democracy promotion, and achieving overlapping






In response, Sunstein clarifies that “minimalism and

maximalism should be seen as relative rather than absolute”, 164 that it is procedural (ie the court “proceeds by building cautiously on precedent”165 and that “only … in the most difficult and controversial domains, the Court tends to choose relatively narrow and unambitigious grounds”.166 He concedes that “(w)hen planning is important, minimalism is hazardous”167 and agrees with Siegel that “the argument for minimalism is strongest in an identifiable class of cases: those in which America society is morally divided, those in which the Court is not confident that it knows the right answer, and those in which the citizenry is likely to profit from more sustained debate and reflection”.168

Similar internal tension in Bickel’s theory exists in Sunstein’s too. Bickel assigns to the judges the function of proclaiming and enforcing principles but only when the principles are ripe for adjudication. Starting from the other end, Sunstein prevails on the court to avoid formulating principles and make shallow and narrow decisions instead. At the same time, he imposes

Neil S. Siegel, “A Theory in Search of a Court, and Itself: Judicial Minimalism at the

Supreme Court Bar (2005) 103 Michigan Law Review 1951, at p 2001
163 164 165 166 167 168

Ibid, p 2004. “Testing Minimalism” (n 107 above), p 123. Ibid, p 125 Ibid. Ibid, p 128. Ibid.


fairly extensive limits on the areas in which minimalism is preferred to maximalism. 169 Given procedural minimalism’s characteristic of analogical reasoning, it necessarily operates in the context of a wealth of precedents which create “a distinctive set of underlying commitments … [that] are widely shared and judicially enforceable”. 170 Such commitments form a “shared background, one that is along certain dimensions wide and possibly deep”.171 Indeed, one may go a step further and say that the relevant values, principles and doctrines have become such substantive, long-lasting commitments exactly because of their width or depth. At least, the ten core commitments listed by Sunstein are all, relatively speaking, wide and deep.172 Minus those areas in which minimalism would cause problems and those areas covered by the ten core commitments, probably little normative room is left for the court to render narrow and shallow decisions.

Another way to look at Sunstein’s advice not to decide more than necessary to dispose of a case is that it represents what judges have been doing not only in constitutional cases but also, in other areas of the law. “Reasoning by analogy, following precedent, and deciding on narrow grounds are all familiar tools of the common law judges.”173 Dworkin suggests that a judge should go to and fro between the precedents and his judgment of justice until he arrives at a principle which fits and justifies the past precedents and

169 170 171 172

See notes 129 and 130 above and accompanying texts. One Case at A Time (n 118 above), p 63. Ibid, p 61. Ibid, pp 64-67. The ten core commitments are: “1. Protection against unauthorised

imprisonment … 2. Protection of political dissent … 3. The right to vote … 4. Religious liberty … 5. Protection against physical invasion of property … 6. Protection against police abuse of person or property … 7. The rule of law … 8. No torture, murder, or physical abuse by the government … 9. Protection against slavery or subordination on the basis of race or sex … 10. Substantive protection of the human body against government invasion.”

Jeff A. King, “Institutional Approaches to Judicial Constraint” (2008) 28 Oxford Journal

of Legal Studies 409, at p 429.


provides the ratio for the case at hand. There is no suggestion that Hercules would search for a higher principle than necessary. Since narrowness and shallowness are matters of degree and not absolute,174 Hercules would indeed be making shallow and narrow decisions in constitutional as well as criminal and civil cases.

3.4.1 Introduction
While Bickel regards judicial review as “a deviant institution in the American democracy”,175 Waldron considers the institution to be “politically illegitimate, as far as democratic values are concerned”.176 Richard H. Fallon, Jr regards Waldron to have made “the most profound challenge to judicial review that has achieved prominence in the law reviews”. 177 Waldron’s argument against judicial review contrasts sharply with that of his teacher and “favourite whipping boy”,178 Ronald Dworkin. This section will present the views of Dworkin and Waldron respectively, to be followed by the multi-veto theory developed by Frank B. Cross and borrowed by Fallon to argue against Waldron. Before that, I shall deal with the concept of legitimacy.

174 175 176

One Case at A Time (n 118 above), p 16. Bickel (n 64 above), p 18. Jeremy Waldron, “The Core of the Case Against Judicial Review” (2006) 115 Yale Law

Journal 1346, at p 1353.

Richard H. Fallon, Jr, “The Core of an Uneasy Case for Judicial Review” (2008) 121

Harvard Law Review 1693, at p 1696.

Posner (n 65 above), p 589.


3.4.2 The concept of legitimacy
Fallon distinguishes three types of legitimacy – legal, sociological and moral:179 “Legal legitimacy and illegitimacy depend on legal norms. That which is lawful is also legitimate – … legal decisions can sometimes be erroneous without thereby becoming illegitimate. A charge of illegitimacy typically implies a strong condemnation not warranted by all legal errors.”180 On the other hand, “(w)hen legitimacy is measured in sociological terms, a constitutional regime, government

institution, or official decision possesses legitimacy in a strong sense insofar as the relevant public regards it as justified, appropriate, or otherwise deserving of support for reasons beyond fear of sanctions or mere hope for personal reward.”181 Then, “(w)hen the term is used in a moral sense, legitimacy is a function of moral justifiability or respect-worthiness. Even if a regime or decision enjoys broad support, or if a decision is legally correct, it may be illegitimate under a moral concept if morally unjustified.”182 .

Marbury was decided by a court which, under the Constitution, was clearly authorised to exercise “judicial power” which “shall extend to all cases …” (Article III, Sections 1 and 2). True, there are disputes – even to this day – on whether a proper interpretation of the Constitution would confer on the courts the power to strike down legislative acts. Nevertheless, during the

Richard H. Fallon, Jr, “Legitimacy and the Constitution” (2005) 118 Harvard Law Review

180 181 182

Ibid, p 1794. Ibid, p 1795. Ibid, p 1796.


over 200 years since Marbury, there has not been any serious attempt to amend the Constitution in order to remove the power from the judiciary. Perry remarks that “judicial review seems to enjoy virtually consensual support in contemporary American society”. 183 Presumably, even Waldron would not dispute that the practice has gained legitimacy in the legal and sociological senses, at least in the US. It would be safe to take it that when he criticises judicial review to be “politically illegitimate”, he is using the epithet in the moral sense.

The moral legitimacy of a regime or an institution may be founded on either the consent of the governed or on the ultimate standard of justice. “(P)eople who have consented to be governed by specified principles cannot reasonably object when the government applies them.” 184 On the other hand, “a perfectly just constitutional regime would be legitimate even without consent”.185 Waldron’s objection to judicial review is based on the countermajoritarian difficulty or in other words, it lacks the people’s consent. For his claim about the illegitimacy of judicial review to be valid, it has to be shown that the institution, in addition to the lack of consent, produces unjust outcome or that, at least, the institution cannot produce an outcome which is more just than that without it.

3.4.3 General approaches to defend judicial review
Like the British concept of parliamentary sovereignty, Bickel’s counter-majoritarian difficulty is predicated on the assumption that despite the imperfection of modern democracy, the elected government’s decisions do represent the people’s wills. Defenders of judicial review seek to justify the

Michael J. Perry, The Constitution in the Courts: Law or Politics (New York; Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 1994), p 15 and note 40 on p 211.
184 185

“Legitimacy and the Constitution” (n 179 above), p 1797. Ibid.


institution by redefining democracy or popular sovereignty or, as Bickel does, by appealing to the judges’ greater professional competence over the legislators’ and executive’s.

An example of the latter justification is Ely’s “participation-oriented, representation-reinforcing” theory. To him, the US Constitution protects liberty not by listing substantive values, but by providing for a decision process which ensures that the decision-makers will take account of the interests of the people. Judges, “as experts on process and (more important) as political outsiders, can sensibly claim to be better qualified and situated to perform [the task of identifying such process] than political officials".186

Against Bickel’s monist assumption, Ackermann advances the theory of dualist democracy, ie the elected government’s decisions as distinct from those of the people. He holds that in “normal politics” in the United States, the people behave as “private citizens” and do not have any considered judgment on the central issues tackled by their elected representatives. Therefore, “nobody represents the People in an unproblematic way”.187 It is only during rare moments of “mobilised deliberation” or “higher law making” that the whole or a clear majority of the people coalesce around novel principles, which are then codified into “cogent doctrinal principles that will guide normal politics for many years to come”. 188 “Rather than threatening democracy by frustrating the statutory demands of the political elite in Washington, the courts serve democracy by protecting the hard-won


John Hart Ely, Democracy and Distrust (Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: Harvard

University Press, 1980) p 88.

Bruce Ackermann, We the People: Foundations (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1991), p


Ibid, p 267.


principles of a mobilised citizenry against erosion by political elites who have failed to gain broad and deep popular support of their innovations”.189

3.4.4 Ronald Dworkin’s outcome-based argument
Dworkin has not advanced any theory for judicial review.190 He sees the question to have been settled by Marbury.191 His aim is merely to reject the argument that judicial review is undemocratic.192 Though he has stopped short of saying that judges can do better than legislators in promoting justice, the claim is implicit in his belief that “(t)he United States is a more just society than it would have been had its constitutional rights been left to the conscience of majoritarian institutions” 193 – a claim which is vehemently contested.194 It is also implicit in his theory of constitutional interpretation, which is original but can be regarded as complementing Bickel’s countervailing arguments against the counter-majoritarian difficulty.


Ibid, p 10. See David M. Golove, “Democratic Constitutionalism: The Bickel-Ackermann

Dialectic”, Ch 4 in Kenneth D. Ward and Cecilia R. Castillo (eds), The Judiciary and American Democracy (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005) for a dialectic of Ackermann’s higher lawmaking against Bickel’s counter-majoritarian difficulty.

Ronald Dworkin, Freedom’s Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution Ronald Dworkin, Law’s Empire (London: Fontana Press, 3rd Impression, 1991), pp 356

(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996), p 33.

and 370.
192 193 194

Freedom’s Law (n 190 above), p 33. Law’s Empire (n 191 above), p 356. See, for example, Stephen P. Powers and Stanley Rothman, The Least Dangerous Branch?

Consequences of Judicial Activism (Westport, Connecticut; London: Praeger, 2002); William Eaton, Who Killed the Constitution?: The Judges v the Law (Washington DC: Regnery Gateway, 1988); and William J. Quirk and R. Randall Bridwell, Judicial Dictatorship (New Brunswick; London: Transaction Publishers, 1995).

56 Three principles of democracy: participation, stake and independence
Dworkin defends judicial review against the counter-majoritarian difficulty by holding that democracy does not mean just majority rule. Rather, certain conditions have to be satisfied before such rule is legitimate and counts as genuine democracy. In articulating what those conditions are, he distinguishes two types of collective decision: statistical collective decision (in which “the individual members of the group do on their own … with no sense of doing something as a group”) and communal collective decision (which “does require individuals to assume the existence of the group as a separate entity or phenomenon”).195 “In a genuine democracy, the people govern not statistically but communally. They treat their nation as a collective unit of responsibility, which means that they, as citizens, share derivative responsibility for whatever their government, acting officially, does.”196 This is, however, not to say that the citizens relinquish their own judgment. “In a communal democracy, each citizen insists that … it is his independent responsibility to decide what is required of the nation to do well, and whether or how far it has succeeded.” 197 In order to elicit and nourish collective responsibility and individual judgment, political institutions are required which “give individual citizens a part in the collective, a stake in it, and independence from it”.198

The principle of participation requires that each citizen should have equal influence over the making of political decisions. He must be allowed not

Ronald Dworkin, “Equality, Democracy and Constitution” (1989) 28 Alberta Law Review

324, 329. The same point is repeated in his “Constitutionalism and Democracy”, (1995) 3 European Journal of Philosophy 2, at 3 and 4.
196 197 198

“Equality, Democracy and Constitution” (n 195 above), p 337. Ibid. Ibid.


just to vote, but to voice his view before voting. That “also explains why the political liberties, like freedom of speech and protest, are part of the idea of democracy”.199 Democracy means government by the people for the people. Under the principle of stake, collective actions should reflect equal concern for the interests of all members of the community. “A political system with equal suffrage, in which the majority distributes everything to itself with no concern whatever for the fate of some racial or other minority, will not count as an unjust democracy on the communal conception, but as no democracy at all.”

A genuine democracy should encourage citizens to exercise

independent judgment on moral and political issues and may use persuasion to shape their convictions. A community which “adopts coercive or hidden or indirect means to shape the convictions of its citizens”201 would be totalitarian, rather than liberal, and monolithic tyranny, rather than integrated democracy.202

Dworkin does not intend “the absurd claim that every constraint on majoritarian power improves democracy”. 203 He gives a few examples of substantive rights which, flowing from the three principles, limit the majoritarian power and promote democracy: free speech (principle of participation), freedom of religion (the principle of independence) and equality (principle of stake).204 Like Bickel who believes elected politicians to
199 200 201 202 203 204

Ibid, p 338. Ibid, pp 339-340. Ibid, pp 340-341. Ibid, pp 336 and 340-342. Ibid, p 343. Ibid. Talbott makes the robust claim that the right to autonomy and to democracy entails a

long list of basic rights which he regards to be universal. It includes not just specified civil and political rights (such a right to security and free of expression) but also, economic, social and cultural rights (such as the right to education and to physical subsistence) and ultimately, “an independent judiciary to enforce the entire package of rights”: William J. Talbott, Which Rights Should Be Universal? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), p 163. Talbott’s inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights, which requires the government to take


be more concerned about short-term expediency than about the society’s longterm needs, Dworkin opines that where minority rights are involved, elected legislators are more likely to side with the majority lest they may be replaced in the next election. “For that reason legislators seem less likely to reach sound decisions about minority rights than officials who are less vulnerable in that way.”205 It does not follow that judges are the ideal person to decide on such rights. “But there is no a priori reason to think them less competent political theorists than state legislators or attorneys general.”206 Constitutional interpretation
Bickel’s countervailing arguments have it that judges are better trained than legislators to identify the “principle”, “long-term needs” and “fundamental presuppositions” which are necessary for good governance. Similar claim is implicit in Dworkin’s theory on constitutional interpretation.

It follows, from Dworkin’s view that Marbury already settles the matter, that the Court is duty bound to interpret all provisions in the Constitution. The interpretation involves a legal question, to which, under his theory of “law as integrity”, there is one right answer, to be found by applying the “fit and justification” test.207 “Law as integrity” treats the law as a chain novel with each judge writing a new chapter which must be coherent with
positive steps for the material well-being of the citizens, aggravates the counter-majoritarian difficulty to an extent not envisaged by Bickel or Dworkin. The justiciability of such positive rights is in doubt even in jurisdictions where the judicial enforcement of the negative – ie civil and political – rights is well established. For a discussion of the justiciability of the economic, social and cultural rights, see Yash Ghai and Jill Cottrell (eds), Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Practice: the Role of Judges in Implementing Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (London: Interight, 2004).
205 206 207

Law’s Empire (n 191 above), p 375. Ibid. Ibid, Ch 7.


what have been written before.208 When applying the “fit and justification” test, a judge should first study the precedents with a view to drawing up a shortlist of principles which may decide – and justify – the case in point. The search is for a principle which fits past decisions and justifies them in terms of fairness (“a matter of finding political procedures – methods of electing officials and making their decisions responsive to the electorate – that distribute political power in the right way”), 209 justice (“distribute material resources and protect civil liberties so as to secure a morally defensible outcome”)210 and procedural due process (“ a matter of the right procedures for judging whether some citizen has violated laws laid down by the political procedures”)211. The judge “follows law as integrity and therefore wants an interpretation of what judges did in the earlier … cases that shows them acting in the way he approves, not in the way he thinks judges must decline to act”.212 That may rule out some principles in the shortlist which, if adopted, would show those judges to be acting in a way disapproved by him. The next stage is to rule out, from the remaining principles, those which are “incompatible with the bulk of legal practice more generally” or in other words, could not “form part of a coherent theory justifying the network as a whole”.213 If no justifying principle to resolve the case in point is available in a department of law (eg law of contract), the judge must extend his search into another department (eg law of tort). The process may be compared to John Rawls’s “reflective equilibrium”, whereby a person in search of a principle of justice draws up a tentative principle; examines its implications to see if it conforms to his judgment of justice; adjusts the principle or his judgment to remove any discrepancy; and repeats the comparison and

208 209 210 211 212 213

Ibid, pp 228-232. Ibid, p 164. Ibid, p 165. Ibid. Ibid, p 244. Ibid, p 245.


adjustment until he arrives at a principle which conforms to his adjusted judgment.214

A judge’s view on whether a particular principle fits and justifies past decisions is a function of his convictions, which are partly the result of his experience. He must treat any convictions as regards general principles or rules of thumb as provisional and be prepared to modify or even abandon them in the light of fresh analysis of the decided cases. “Very hard cases will force him to develop his conception of law and his political morality together in a mutually supporting way.”215 In other words, he will have to adjust either his convictions or his analyses of the past cases until he arrives at a principle which, according to his conviction, both fits and justifies the past decisions and also, resolves the case in point.

When it comes to constitutional interpretation, Dworkin believes that the Constitution expresses principles and “principles cannot be seen as stopping where some historical statesman’s time, imagination, and interest stopped”.216 According to “passivism”, such as that voiced by Judge Learned Hand, judges should defer to the interpretations adopted by the elected branches. Dworkin sees it as founded on the Archimedian skepticism that there is no objectively right or wrong answer to any moral question – in the absence of an objectively right or wrong answer, the majority decision should count. The reasoning, Dworkin says, is self-defeating. If there can be no moral right or wrong, then there can be no right answer to the question as to whose opinions should rule us.217

214 215 216 217

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), pp 17-18 and 42-45. Law’s Empire (n 191 above) p 258. Ibid, p 369. Ibid, p 373.


Dworkin believes that judges – and for that matter, also lawyers and citizens – should adopt a moral reading of the Constitution. As the first step to prepare for the application of the “fit and justification” test to constitutional interpretation, he identifies, from the bill of rights in the Constitution, “the following political and legal ideals: government must treat all those subject to its dominion as having equal moral and political status; it must attempt, in good faith, to treat them all with equal concern; and it must respect whatever individual freedoms are indispensable to those ends, including but not limited to the freedoms more specifically designated in the document, such as the freedoms of speech and religion”.218

Constitutional interpretation, therefore, is to find, through the “fit and justification” reiteration, the right answer which gives effect to the ideals embodied in the Constitution. In a hard case, ie one which cannot be disposed of by any settled rule, the task involved is difficult, if humanly possible. Dworkin admits it by giving the name Hercules to the hypothetical judge capable of the work. The Herculean task is, no doubt, comparable to that assigned by Bickel – “to immerse themselves in the tradition of our society … to extract ‘fundamental presuppositions’ from their deepest selves, but in fact from the evolving morality of our tradition”.219

To the possible accusation that the task amounts to judicial legislation, Dworkin’s reply is that a judge acts according to the adjudicative principle of integrity, "which commands him to see, so far as possible, the law as a coherent and structured whole". 220 The principle of stare decisis is part of this structure. It requires a judge to follow past decisions made by higher courts even when he disagrees. Legislative supremacy is another constraint. If a

Ronald Dworkin, “Introduction: The Moral Reading and the Majoritarian Premise” in

Freedom’s Law (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996), pp 1-38, at 7-8.
219 220

See n 95 above and accompanying text. Law’s Empire (n 191 above), p 400.


judge sees an interpretation as the only possible one of a statute, he must enforce it as law, regardless of his own value, unless the statute is in an area where constitutional limitation applies. 221 In deciding whether any statute should be struck down on ground of constitutional limitation, while Bickel advocates the exercise of the passive virtue until the principle involved is ripe for adjudication, Dworkin holds that a judge should guard against judicial activism:

“He will refuse to substitute his judgment for that of the legislature when he believes the issue in play is primarily one of policy rather than principle, when the argument is about the best strategies for achieving the overall collective interest through goals like prosperity or the eradication of poverty or the right balance between economy and conservation.”222

3.4.5 Jeremy Waldron’s process-based argument Against entrenchment of substantive rights
Waldron, a positivist, is against the entrenchment of rights in a written constitution. His reasons, in brief, are that first, a moral right does not necessarily warrant or permit legal protection; secondly, the entrenchment of a right would deprive posterity of the opportunity to participate in debate and decision as to which moral right should be legally protected and how; thirdly,

221 222

Ibid, p 401. Ibid, p 398. The distinction between “policy” and “principle” is this. “Arguments of policy

justify a political decision by showing that the decision advances or protects some collective goal of the community as a whole. … Arguments of principle justify a political decision by showing that the decision respects or secures some individual or group right.”: Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1977), p 82.


it is against the people’s democratic rights for decisions on the conception and revision of basic rights to be shifted from the elected legislators to the appointed judges.223

To say that P has a legal right to X may mean either of two legal situations: (a) “X is P’s and she may peremptorily demand it and the law is such that her demand must be met unless there are extraordinary circumstances”; or (b) “some official has been vested with discretion to determine on a case by case basis how best to distribute a limited stock of resources like X to applicants like P”.224 To Waldron, a moral claim that P has a right to something means merely that it is important to him. Apparently with the economic and social rights in mind – as he uses the example of right to shelter – he believes that not all moral rights are so important that they have to be assigned through legal or bureaucratic procedure.225

Even assuming that a moral right always warrants legal protection, it does not follow that it must be made a constitutional right. From the practical point of view, the creation of a constitutional right may require the overcoming of hurdles not faced by the enactment of an ordinary statute. A problem with guaranteeing the right in a constitution is that it has to be phrased in general terms, thus providing a hook for rights advocates to hang all sorts of claims. Most important of all, entrenching a right makes it difficult to change and disables “the legislature from its normal functions of revision, reform and innovation in the law”.226 There will be reasonable disagreements as to which interests should be regarded as rights and how to strike the right balance between the individual’s interests and countervailing social


Jeremy Waldron, “A Right-based Critique of Constitutional Rights”, (1993) 13 Oxford

Journal of Legal Studies 18, at 19-20.
224 225 226

Ibid, p 24. Ibid, p 25. Ibid, p 27.


considerations. A philosopher should keep an open mind and if necessary, abandon his past conviction in the light of counter-arguments in the future.227

Given the inevitability of reasonable disagreements, there is a need “to complement our theory of rights with a theory of authority, not to replace the former with the latter. … It is no good saying, for example, that … the person who prevails is the person who offers the best conception of rights.” 228 In assigning the authority to adjudicate among such reasonable disagreements, one has to accept that “there will sometimes be a dissonance between what one takes to be the just choice and what one takes to be the authoritative choice in political decision-making”.229

A philosopher’s thought is not different from that of a citizen participating in politics. “Political philosophy is simply conscientious civic discussion without a deadline.”

“The modern theory of democracy

represents individuals … as having the capacity to engage in thought and principled dialogue about the conditions under which everyone’s interest may be served.” 231 In a claim which appears to converge with Dworkin’s about what democracy entails, Waldron says that “(m)any of the values we affirm in our opinions about democratic procedures are also values which inform our views about substantive outcomes. For example, if we favour democratic participation on grounds of respect for individual autonomy – recognizing an element of self-authorship in one’s participation in collective selfgovernance – we may well find it the basis of many substantive outcome evaluations also”.232 He disagrees, though, with Dworkin’s argument that the
227 228 229 230 231 232

Ibid, pp 30-31. Ibid, p 32. Ibid, p 33. Ibid, p 35. Ibid, p 38. Ibid, p 40. Compare with Dworkin’s three principles (of participation, stake and

independence) in section above and also, Talbott (n 204 above).


outcome is the ultimate consideration in assessing a particular political process. People have the right to participate in political decision-making because “there is a certain dignity in participation, and an element of insult and dishonour in exclusion, that transcends issues of outcome”.233 So, a bill of right does not have to entrench substantive rights. Rather, it can specify the procedures for amendment and “give a politically empowered people the chance to think afresh about their understanding of individual rights”.234 Against judicial review
Waldron seeks to defeat various arguments put up by the defenders of judicial review against the counter-majoitarian difficulty. On the argument that judicial review is inevitable since the courts are duty bound to apply the law, Waldron finds it “difficult to see why the ordinary people and their representatives should be excluded from this process [of interpreting the Bill of Rights]”.235 While it is sometimes argued that US Supreme Court judges have democratic credentials because they are nominated by the President and their appointments ratified by the Senate, Waldron counters that this does not give the judges a greater mandate than the elected legislators. 236 The imperfection of the democratic process, he holds, by no means justifies judicial review. “The imperfection of one institution, by democratic standards, goes no way towards justifying the imperfection of another. … Even if we agree that Parliament is not the epitome of democratic decision-making, the question is whether allowing parliamentary decisions to be overridden by the courts makes matters better or worse from a democratic point of view.”237

233 234 235 236 237

Waldron, ibid, p 40. Ibid, p 41. Ibid, p 43. Ibid, pp 43-44. Ibid, p 45.


Dworkin makes it clear that he seeks merely to show that judicial review is not undemocratic and not to advance a positive theory for the institution. 238 Waldron insists, however, that “there is indeed a loss to democracy when the elected legislature of a society is subjected to judicial power”. 239 He then sets out to refute several statements made by Dworkin which can be regarded as positive arguments for judicial review.

First, with reference to Dworkin’s unsubstantiated and controversial claim that the US society is more just as a result of the existence of judicial review,240 Waldron counters with the injustice caused during the Lochner era from 1885 to 1930, when some 150 pieces of legislation concerning labour relations and conditions of work, aimed at protecting workers, were struck down by federal and state courts.241 “The claim about justice may in the end be impossible to verify. And even were it true, it would still involve a problematic trade-off between justice and democratic ideals, unless the more ambitious claim of Freedom’s Law [sic] could be sustained.”242

Secondly, Dworkin sees judicial review as improving the quality of public debates on controversial issues. The debates which precede referendum or legislative decisions are, in his view, “dominated by political alliances that are formed around a single issue and use the familiar tactics of pressure

238 239 240 241

See notes 190 and 192 above. Jeremy Waldron, Law and Disagreement (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), p 287. See n 193 above. Law and Disagreement (n 239 above), p 288. In Lochner v New York, 198 US 45, 49 Led

937, 1905 US Lexis 1153, the US Supreme Court ruled, by votes of five to four, that the legislation which set maximum hours of work was inconsistent with the right to contract under the due process clause of the Constitution and was not a legitimate exercise of police power. This marked the beginning of the Lochner era.

Law and Disagreement (n 239 above), p 288. Dworkin makes the “more ambitious claim”

in Law’s Empire (n 191 above), p 356 and not in Freedom’s Law.


groups to bribe or blackmail legislators into voting as they wish”. 243 In comparison, “(w)hen an issue is seen as constitutional, however, and as one that will ultimately be resolved by courts applying general constitutional principles, the quality of public argument is often improved, because the argument concentrates from the start on questions of political morality”.244 Waldron thinks it more beneficial if the public can discuss directly the policy implications of a contested issue, without having to put their arguments in terms of interpretation of a constitutional document. Or, even assuming that the quality of debate can be improved by the citizens’ awareness that the issue will be decided by the court, this is not a gain. “Civil republicans and participatory democrats are interested in practical political deliberation, which is not just any old debating exercise, but a form of discussion among those who are about to participate in a binding collective decision.”245

Thirdly, Waldron understands Dworkin to be saying that so long as a judge makes the right decision, whether the decision is made democratically does not matter if the case is about democracy; but that, if the case is about social justice, it does matter whether the decision is made in a democratic manner. Waldron disagrees. “(C)oncerns about the democratic or nondemocratic character of a political procedure do not evaporate when the procedure in question is being used to address an issue about the nature of democracy.”246 “There is something lost, from a democratic point of view, when an unelected and unaccountable individual or institution makes a binding decision about what democracy requires. If it makes the right decision, then – sure – there is something democratic to set against that loss; but that is not the same as there being no loss in the first place. On the other hand, if an institution which is elected and accountable makes the wrong decision about
243 244 245 246

Freedom’s Law (n 190 above), p 344. Ibid, p 345. Law and Disagreement ( n 239 above), p 291. Ibid, p 293.


what democracy requires, then although there is a loss to democracy in the substance of the decision, it is not silly for citizens to comfort themselves with the thought that at least they made their own mistake about democracy rather than having some else’s mistake foisted upon them.”247

This last statement by Waldron would no doubt be refuted by Dworkin and that takes us to the fourth point. The Nazi government, Dworkin would retort, was democratically elected but there is no way in which the German Jews in the Holocaust would regard themselves as being members of the community and be bound by the government’s decisions. In Freedom’s Law, Dworkin says that a moral reading of the Constitution does not reach the question of which institution to interpret the Constitution. 248 “I see no alternative but to use a result-driven rather than a procedure-driven standard for deciding them. The best institutional structure is the one best calculated to produce the best answers to the essentially moral question of what the democratic conditions actually are, and to secure stable compliance with those conditions.”249 There are disagreements, he acknowledges, as to whether or not the best institutional structure is the one leaving the decision to the elected legislature. He does not actually say that the court is the one calculated to produce the best answer. Instead, since he has denied in other parts of the book “that it is a defining goal of democracy that collective decisions always or normally be those that a majority or plurality of citizens would favour if fully informed and rational”, 250 we should leave it to history, which has already given the authority of interpretation to the judges. “(W)e have no reason of principle to force our practices into some majoritarian mold.”251

247 248 249 250 251

Ibid, pp 293-294. Freedom’s Law (n 190 above), p 23. Ibid, p 34. Ibid, p 17. Ibid, p 35.


Waldron, somehow, has taken the result-driven standard above as Dworkin’s argument in favour of judicial review. How can citizens use the standard to design the best institutional structure when there are reasonable disagreements in the community as to what are the right results? “The only way they can do that is if they have managed already to adopt a view that can stand in the name of them all about the results they should be aiming at. But if they have managed that, from a baseline of disagreement, they must have been in possession of decision-procedures that enable them to get to that result.”252

Fifthly, Waldron says the suggestion, implicit in Dworkin’s argument, is that allowing the majority to decide on the conditions upon which majority decisions are to be accepted amounts to making them judges in their own cause. Waldron retorts that “almost any conceivable decision-rule will eventually involve someone deciding in his own case, in one or maybe two different ways.” 253 Unless we envisage a literally endless chain of appeal, someone has to make the final decision and that someone will also decide on the acceptability of their own views.254

Finally, yet another reason – this time advanced by other jurists and not attributed to Dworkin – in favour of judicial review is that the legislature enacts statutes in general terms whereas the court examines the statutes to see how they actually apply in concrete cases, thus focusing the mind on how the individuals’ rights are affected by the statutes. Waldron sees this “mostly a myth. By the time cases reach the high appellate levels … almost all trace of the original flesh-and-blood right-holders has vanished, and argument such as it is revolves around the abstract issue of the right in dispute”.255 In contrast,

252 253 254 255

Law and Disagreement (n 239 above), p 295. Ibid, p 297. Ibid. Jeremy Waldron, “The Core of the Case Against Judicial Review”, (2006) 115 Yale Law

Journal 1346, at 1379-1380.


individual cases are in fact presented through lobbying, in hearings and in debate during the legislative process, which may indeed be initiated by some notorious cases. “To the extent that this is true, it seems … that legislatures are much better positioned to mount an assessment of the significance of an individual case in relation to a general issue of rights that affects millions and affects them in different ways.”256

To round it off, Waldron clarifies that he is objecting to the “strong” judicial review as practised in US and not the “weak” one, as available in the United Kingdom under the Human Rights Act 1998, which enables the court to issue a “declaration of incompatibility” with the European Convention of Human Rights but not to strike it down on that ground.257 Also, the objection, which does not take account of how judicial review has actually fared in history, assumes four conditions which make up a free and democratic society. First, the democratic institutions elected through universal suffrage are in reasonably good working order. Second, the judicial institutions, also in reasonably good working order, are set up on a non-representative basis. Thirdly, officials as well as general members of the society are committed to the idea of individual and minority rights. Fourthly, despite such commitment, “persisting, substantial, and good faith disagreement” exists among members of the society.258

The assumptions suggest that Waldron has in mind a society in which the people have equal rights to elect their representatives into the legislature. On any rights issues on which there are reasonable disagreements, the rightscommitted people will formulate their views having regard to minority rights. These views will be communicated to the equally rights-committed elected representatives who, after debates, will resolve the disagreements and translate
256 257 258

Ibid, at 1380. Ibid, p 1355. Ibid, p 1360.


into law the conception of rights thus resolved. Such a resolution, which results from the people’s equal participation in the decision-making process, will then be dutifully interpreted and enforced by an independent judiciary, be it elected or appointed.

Waldron concedes that if his four assumptions fail – and I think it would be correct to take that to mean “if any of the assumptions fails” – his argument against judicial review does not go through. “However, it does not follow that judicial review of legislation is defensible whenever the assumptions fail. There may be good arguments against judicial review that are not conditioned on assumptions like mine.”259 On the other hand, he is not contending that judicial review of legislation is inappropriate in all circumstances. Rather, he tries to show that the rights-based judicial review is inappropriate in a democratic society where there are reasonable disagreements about rights.

3.4.6 Frank B. Cross’s multiple-veto justification
In an article surveying the relevant theoretical, historical and empirical researches, Cross concludes that the conventional claims that the judiciary is better suited to interpret and enforce the Bill of Rights (ie the rights provisions in the US Constitution) “rest upon certain assumptions that are demonstrably false”. 260 Such “demonstrably false” assumptions relate to the quality of judges and the judicial process and the purportedly non-majoritarian nature of the process.261 The truer and strong case for judicial review, Cross argues, lies in the “multiple vetoes justification” and “motive and opportunity analysis”.262
259 260

Ibid, p 1402. Frank B. Cross, “Institutions and Enforcement of the Bill of Rights”, (2000) 85 Cornell

Law Review 1529, p 1535.
261 262

Ibid, pp 1536-1576. Ibid, p 1576.


“The logic of the multiple vetoes defence is straightforward.”263 The more veto points a piece of legislation has to pass, the less likely that any unconstitutional legislation will be enforced. If the Congress passes an act in the belief that it is constitutional, the President can veto it if he believes otherwise. The inclusion of the judiciary as another veto point provides further guard against the possible enforcement of unconstitutional legislation.264

As regards Cross’s motive and opportunity analysis, it runs similar to that made by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 78, which “remains the most popular justification of judicial review, at least outside of academia”. 265 Hamilton regards the judiciary to be “the least dangerous to the political rights of the constitution” because, unlike the legislature and the executive, it “has no influence over the sword or the purse”; “may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgment”.266 In the same vein, Cross considers that the judiciary has no motive or political objective to infringe constitutional rights. Nor does it have the opportunity to do so since the court merely reacts to the cases put before it.267 When the court declares a legislative policy to be constitutional, it “adds no harm to that created by the legislature”.268 “The Court would only be an actual detriment if

263 264 265

Ibid, p 1577. Ibid. Alex Tuckness, Locke and the Legislative Point of View (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton

University Press, 2002), p 151.

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 78: A View of the Constitution of the Judicial Department,

in Relation to the Tenure of Good Behaviour, 28 May 1788 reproduced in Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, The Federalist, edited with introduction and historical commentary, by J. R. Pole (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co. Inc., 2005), pp 411-8, at p 412.
267 268

Cross (n 260 above), pp 1579-1585. Ibid, p 1580.


it struck down a legislative policy that increased rights protection. Although these episodes are not common, they do occur and represent a disadvantage to judicial supremacy in constitutional interpretation.”269

Despite this uncommon disadvantage to judicial supremacy (ie the court’s constitutional interpretation to bind the other branches), Cross does not favour departmentalism (ie the court’s interpretation to bind only the parties in the instant case and each branch to interpret and enforce the Constitution in its own realm). “Departmentalism provides an unattractive prescription for institutional enforcement of the Bill of Rights” because it reduces the impact of a judicial ruling to the minimal and introduces uncertainty and instability in constitutional law.270

The individuals’ rights are not absolute. An ideal institutional structure is one which would enable an optimal balance to be struck in each case. There is, however, no neutral test for optimality. As a practicable second best, Cross argues that “the best test is the absolute level of protection for Bill of Rights freedoms”.

The implication of this test is that “whichever national

institution provides the greatest protection of rights prevails”.272 Thus, in an approach Cross refers to as “one-way ratchet preference for freedoms”, the executive and the legislature are to abide by a judicial decision that a particular act or policy is unconstitutional. Under the one-way ratchet preference, the President may ignore legislative commands but only when the commands undermine individual freedoms, not when they increase freedoms. Furthermore, the approach would not preclude the other branches from adopting greater rights protection than the standard set by the court.273

269 270 271 272 273

Ibid, pp 1580-1581. Ibid, pp 1586-1587. Ibid, p 1588. Ibid, p 1589. Ibid, pp 1590-1592.


The President, Congress and Court may all make mistakes, either in under-enforcement or over-enforcement of constitutional freedoms. The oneway ratchet approach inclines towards over-enforcement. Cross addresses the fear about over-enforcement by referring to the “structural political and economic reasons that cause an inevitable bias against individual rights protection”.274 The one-way ratchet preference for rights, he argues, “might simply produce a lesser degree of underprotection than otherwise”.275

At the end, Cross refuses to go firmly for judicial supremacy or departmentalism. He concludes with what appears to be a bland statement: “We can simply adopt a structural preference for the individual freedoms of the Bill of Rights and adopt as binding whatever interpretation offers the greatest protection for those rights.”276

3.4.7 Richard H. Fallon Jr’s “uneasy case” for judicial review
Fallon disagrees with Waldron that only procedural-based reasons should be considered in appraising the legitimacy of judicial review. The outcome-based reasons are also relevant. He believes legislation may have unforeseen implications and hence, some unexpected cases which violate rights may come to light after enactment. At least for such cases, the judiciary has an advantage over the legislature.277 However, he sees no need to rely on such comparative advantage argument. Instead, he takes Cross’s point about multiple vetoes. “If judicial review reduces the likelihood that important rights will be infringed, then it may actually enhance, rather than undermine, a
274 275 276 277

Ibid, p 1593. Ibid. Ibid, p 1608. Richard H. Fallon, Jr, “The Core of an Uneasy Case for Judicial Review” (2008) 121

Harvard Law Review 1693, p 1697 and n 45 on p 1704.


governmental regime’s overall political legitimacy.”278 While Cross justifies his one-way ratchet preference for rights on the ground that it would merely reduce the risk of under-enforcement of rights and not result in overenforcement, Fallon’s justification for judicial review is that morally, overenforcement is better than under-enforcement. Hence, “if either a court or the legislature believes that an action would infringe individual rights, the government should be barred from taking it”.279

While Cross sees his multiple-veto defence of judicial review to be straightforward,280 Fallon explains his “uneasy case for judicial review” to be based on the assumption that Waldron’s four conditions are satisfied. 281 In addition, he puts forth four other assumptions which are open to challenge. First, he assumes that the judiciary, even if it may or may not be better than the legislature in resolving rights issues, is “likely to have a distinctive perspective, involving both a focus on particular facts and a sensitivity to historical understandings of the scope of certain rights, that would heighten their sensitivity to some actual or reasonable arguable violations that legislatures would fail to apprehend”.

Secondly, he assumes that

“legislative action is more likely to violate fundamental rights than is legislative inaction”. 283 The assumption, he concedes, does not apply in respect of legislation which promotes the rights of one class of citizens without threatening the rights of another class or which pitches rights against each other in a zero-sum controversy.284 His third assumption is that the right to self-government, on which Waldron founds the case against judicial review, is not a more important moral right than the other constitutional rights, such
278 279 280 281 282 283 284

Ibid, p 1699. Ibid, p 1706. See n 263 above. “Uneasy case for Judicial Review” (n 277 above), p 1734. Ibid, p 1710. Ibid. Ibid, pp 1711-1712.


that there is no sound reason against erring on the side of overprotecting the latter rights.285 Fourthly, he assumes that a system of judicial review can be so designed that the likely moral cost of over-enforcement of rights is lower than the moral cost of under-enforcement of rights in the absence of judicial review.286

In relation to the fourth assumption, the system of judicial review Fallon has in mind is one of judicial restraint. The three types of issues which he considers should be non-reviewable bears much resemblance to those under Cross’s preference for rights. First, while Cross confines his preference to the constitutional rights,287 Fallon’s “core case extends only to the kinds of fundamental rights characteristically protected in bills of rights and does not necessarily apply directly to ‘ordinary’ liberty rights to freedom from governmental regulation” (emphases added).288 His more careful wording of the exclusion has to do with the fact that like Waldron’s “core case” against judicial review, his “uneasy case” for the institution is to apply not just to the United States, but to any society where certain assumptions concerning the democratic structure, judicial independence and rights culture are satisfied. Secondly, Fallon excludes “cases in which the legislature enacts its interpretation of fundamental rights into law and the resulting legislation does not threaten the fundamental rights of others” and also “structural constitutional norms not directly safeguarding fundamental rights”. 289 The exclusion is justified since the case for judicial review, made by both Fallon and Cross, is founded on the likely salutary effect on rights protection. The third type of Fallon’s non-reviewable cases is where “the legislature has striven conscientiously to determine which of two competing fundamental
285 286 287

Ibid, p 1713. Ibid, pp 1713-1714. Cross (n 260 above), p 1606: “The rights preference proposal’s reference to rights means

those found in the Constitution, not those discovered through some theory of natural law.”
288 289

“Uneasy Case for Judicial Review” (n 282 above), p 1728. . Ibid, p 1729.


rights claims deserves to prevail”.290 In such rights conflict situation, Cross considers “difficult tradeoffs are best made by more majoritarian institutions” 291 while Fallon’s slightly more guarded reason is that “the legislatures are as likely as courts to decide correctly”.292

What should be the courts’ standard in determining the definition of a fundamental right and whether to invalidate legislation? Fallon advocates a “relatively deferential review” as “probably a more attractive option when judicial review is predicated on the assumption that fundamental rights should be protected by multiple veto opportunities than if courts are thought more likely than legislatures to resolve dispute questions correctly”.293 Fallon does not specify the degree of judicial deference advocated. The above statement, coupled with his labelling his case for judicial review as an “uneasy” one, leads one to suspect that he could have in mind a standard close to Thayer’s rule of clear mistake.

To the arguments about multiple vetoes and erring on the side of rights protection, one may add, as a further justification, Black’s point about the legitimating function of judicial review.294 Election, as pointed out by Cross, “is an imperfect method of protecting rights”.295 For the sake of the regime’s legitimacy, people aggrieved by legislative excesses need an avenue for their grievances to be heard and adjudicated upon. Eylon and Harel argue that democratic participation includes the right to a fair hearing when one’s right is

290 291 292 293 294 295

Ibid, p 1730. Cross (n 260 above), p 1605. “Uneasy Case for Judicial Review” (n 277 above), p 1730. Ibid, p 1733. See n 56 above. Cross (n 260 above), p 1598.


infringed and hence, judicial review realises rather than frustrates democracy.296

3.4.8 Comparison of Dworkin, Waldron, Cross and Fallon
Part of the difference between Dworkin and Waldron is merely semantic. Dworkin uses the word “democracy” to denote not just majority rule but also, conditions pertinent to the respect and concern for the citizens. Waldron, while using “democracy” to mean majority rule, does not dispute that such respect and concern are values in political decision-making. Dworkin believes the citizens’ substantive rights can be inferred from the principles of participation, stake and independence implicit in “democracy” but stops short of identifying the specific rights to be enshrined in the Constitution. Waldron, though against spelling out the substantive rights in a written constitution and thus limiting the decisions of the elected legislature, would no doubt accept that some of the rights specified in the Constitution, such as the rights to free speech and to equality, are prerequisites to true democracy, except that the conceptions of such rights should be matter for the legislature to decide.

The debate about the legitimacy or otherwise of judicial review boils down to three questions. First, which is the more important value in a civil society: fairness or justice? Second, in a constitutional issue, is there only one right decision? Third, if so, who are more competent to find that one right decision: legislators or judges?

Dworkin’s answers would be that fairness and justice are of equal importance. There is only one right decision in a constitutional issue and that would be the one which, under the concept of integrity in law, pass the “fit

Yuval Eylon and Alon Harel, “The Right to Judicial Review” (2006) 92 Virginia Law

Review 991, accessed vide on 15 September 2008.


and justification” test in respect of fairness, justice and due process. Judges are more competent than legislators to find that one right decision because they decide in the context of the flesh and blood of a case and also, legislators are prone to submit to the majority’s pressure at the expense of the minority’s rights.

Waldron, who admits to be an emotivist, explains that his opposition to judicial review has nothing to do with emotivism or moral realism. There are, as he sees it, two levels in the dispute: the first-level dispute about rights and the second-level one “about the proper way to settle political disagreements (such as first-level disagreements about rights)”.297 Even if moral realism were true, the realists cannot demonstrate – or propose any generally agreed method to prove – that a judge’s opinion on the first-level question is closer to the objectively right answer than are the other opinions expressed in the community. 298 In other words, judicial review is illegitimate because it is unfair and does not have the countervailing benefit in terms of justice as argued by Bickel and Dworkin. Waldron could claim, in support, Cross’s survey of the theoretical, historical and empirical researches, which negate the purported institutional advantages which judges have, over the legislators, in interpreting and enforcing the Bill of Rights.299

Jeremy Waldron, “Moral Truth and Judicial Review” (1998) 43 American Journal of

Jurisprudence, 75-97 – accessed via on 15 September 2008 – at 81. According to Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), “Emotivists held that moral judgments express and arouse emotions, not beliefs. … Indeed, since it entailed that moral judgments elude assessment in terms of truth and falsehood, it suggested that rational argument about morals might be at best inappropriate, and at worst impossible.” (Vol 3, pp 291-2); “Moral realism is the view that there are facts of the matter about which actions are right and which wrong and about which things are good and which bad. … (R)ealists hold that moral facts are independent of any beliefs or thoughts we might have about them … We cannot make actions right by arguing that they are, any more than we can make bombs safe by agreeing that they are.” (Vol 6, p 534).
298 299

Waldron, ibid, pp 83-90. See n 261 above and accompanying text.


Yet, the claim that judicial review would result in more justice in a society does not have to depend on the judges’ relative competence. Since judges merely exercise veto powers, Cross’s multiple-veto justification argues convincingly that judicial review would result in over-enforcement, but not under-enforcement, of constitutional rights. Fallon’s argument – that in a society committed to rights, over-enforcement is morally better than underenforcement – is also valid. The one area where the multiple-veto argument may not hold is that involving the trade-off between two competing constitutional rights. That is the area where judicial deference to the legislature would be required. This area is a comparatively small one. Most constitutional cases involve balancing the individuals’ interests against the collective interest.






Judicial review is alleged to be illegitimate because of the countermajoritarian difficulty. However, several studies, which counter the impression of the courts acting against the will of the people or their elected representatives, suggest that the difficulty has been exaggerated.

In a quantitative analysis of 6,408 decisions made by three-judge panels of the US federal appeal courts on different areas of the law, Sunstein et al analyse the 19,224 associated votes of individual judges and find that “(i)n most of the areas investigated …, the political party of the appointing president is a fairly good indicator of how individual judges will vote”. 300 However, the judges’ votes cannot be predicted by their ideology in cases involving criminal appeals, takings claims, challenges to punitive damages

Cass R. Sunstein et al, Are Judges Political : An Empirical Analysis of the Federal

Judiciary (Washington DC, 2006), p 10.


awards, standing to sue, and Commerce Clause challenges to congressional enactments.301

This is not to say that the judges simply play to the tunes of their political principals. Judges have their own political agenda, too. In a historical study of how judicial supremacy in constitutional interpretation has resulted from the political interplay between the US Supreme Court and US presidents, Whittington observes that “(t)he judiciary has been able to sustain its claims to interpretive predominance primarily because, and when, other political actors … have determined that judicial supremacy has been in their own best interests”. 302 On the question of judicial supremacy versus democracy, he concludes from the study that: “The Court has not taken the Constitution away from the people. The Constitution has often been entrusted to the hands of the judges, if not by the people themselves, then at least by their elected representatives”.303

Whittington’s suggestion that judicial supremacy may have the blessing of the people themselves is consistent with a study by Peretti. Reviewing the literature on the relevant empirical researches, he remarks that “(o)verall, the research refutes Bickel’s characterisation of the Court as a countermajoritarian institution. While the Court does often rule against majority opinion (about one-third of the time, according to Marshall) it more

301 302

Ibid, p 11. Keith E. Whittington, Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy: The Presidency, the

Supreme Court, and Constitutional Leadership in U.S. History (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007), p 27.

Ibid, p 293.


often sides with majority opinion”


and that “the Court reflects public

opinion in its decisions as often as the other institutions”.305

One-third is quite a substantial proportion. Why is it that the US Supreme Court still enjoys the people’s trust and respect despite such a high frequency of ruling against the majority opinion? The clue may be found in Schuaer’s study. Comparing the “nation’s agenda” (as reflected in the headline stories on US national newspapers and in public opinion polls) and the Court’s agenda (as reflected in cases on the Supreme Court’s docket), he finds “just how few of the public’s major issues of concern or the nation’s first-order policy decisions come anywhere near the purview of the judiciary”.

An inference to draw is that the one-third or whatever

percentage of cases in which the Court goes against the public opinion relates to subjects of low salience to the public. 307 On matters of high salience, Schauer suggests from history, the Court either avoided any countermajoritarian decision or “climbed on the train of … public opinion well after it had left the station”. 308 This last observation, if valid, may be regarded as empirical evidence in support of Bickel’s views about the Court exercising the passive virtues until a principle is ripe for adjudication.

3.4.10 Conclusion
Defending Chief Justice Marshall’s constitutional interpretation in Marbury v Madison, Dworkin writes:

Terri Peretti, “An Empirical Analysis of Alexander Bickel’s The Least Dangerous Branch”,

Ch 6 in Kenneth D. Ward and Cecilia R. Castillo (eds), The Judiciary and American Democracy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005), p 132.
305 306

Ibid, p 136. Frank Schauer, “The Supreme Court 2005 Term: Foreword: The Court’s Agenda – and the

Nation’s” (2006) 120 Harvard Law Review 4, p 32.
307 308

Ibid, pp 56 – 57. Ibid, pp 59 – 60.










interpretation. The United States is a more just society than it would have been had its constitutional rights been left to the conscience of majoritarian institutions. … His decision was accepted, at least in that abstract form, and subsequent constitutional practice has coagulated firmly around it. … Even those who think he made a mistake concede that almost two centuries of practice have put his position beyond challenge as a proposition of law …”309

Those words can also be understood as arguments for the social, legal and moral legitimacy of judicial review in the United States. In the same way that the legal doctrine of sovereignty is founded ultimately on the “simple relationship between subjects rendering habitual obedience and a sovereign who renders habitual obedience to no one”, 310 years of implementation of judicial review by the judges and its voluntary acceptance by elected politicians and the people (social legitimacy) since Marbutry has established the legal legitimacy of the institution. Dworkin’s assertion of the United States being a “more just society” with than without the institution amounts to a consequentialist argument, based on the principle of justice, for moral legitimacy in the face of the counter-majoritarian difficulty which is based on the principle of fairness.

Dworkin’s arguments apply in the United States only. Ginsburg’ study shows that when it comes to the new democracies, the design of judicial review and the powers conferred on and actually exercised by the courts are influenced more by political considerations than moral ones. 311 The system thus arrived at in a new democracy acquires legal legitimacy if it complies
309 310 311

Law’s Empire (n 191 above), pp 356 – 357. H. L. A. Hart, The Concept of Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2nd edn, 1994), p 50. Note 48 above and accompanying text.


with the “rule of recognition”312 prevailing in the country concerned. Whether social legitimacy will be attained is a fact depending on the reactions of all the political actors involved – judges, officials as well as the people.

While social legitimacy and legal legitimacy are country specific, moral legitimacy transcends national boundaries. In the mature democracies of Canada, New Zealand and United Kingdom – where the question of judicial review was intensely debated in the last few decades – it is hopefully not naïve to believe that the proponents on both sides genuinely view the issue more from the point of principle than from the point of their or their constituents’ gains or loss and hence, the weak form eventually adopted313 culminates more from political morality consideration than from pure politics. The three countries all appear to meet Waldron’s four assumptions as regards the conditions of a society in which strong judicial review is morally unjustified. The fact that they have all opted against strong judicial review seems to support his theory.

Yet, a question of moral truth or falsity has to be settled by reason and not number. Even if Waldron’s four assumptions are all met, Fallon argues, the multiple-veto theory would justify judicial review because in a society committed to rights, it would be more just to err on the side of overenforcement than underenforcement of constitutional rights.314 However, as Fallon also recognises, this is true only up to a point. Overenforcement, if it goes beyond an optimum point, would amount to injustice. 315

There is

The Concept of Law (n 310 above), Ch V: “Law as the Union of Primary and Secondary

Rules”. “(P)rimary rules are concerned with the actions that individuals must or must not do” (p 94). A “rule of recognition” is a secondary rule which “will specify some feature or features possession of which by a suggested [primary] rule is taken as a conclusive affirmative indication that it is a rule of the group to be supported by the social pressure it exerts” (p 94).
313 314 315

See section 2.2. Fallon, “The Core of an Uneasy Case for Judicial Review” (n 277 above). Ibid, p 1708.


uncertainty as to where precisely that point is. US history has shown that in the people’s opinion, the optimum point was exceeded time and again. 316 Hence, Fallon’s theory does not fully counter the main tenet in Waldron’s core case, ie judicial review is clearly detrimental to fairness without producing any compensating benefit by way of demonstrable enhancement in justice.

It may be argued, in reply to Waldron, that fairness is preserved because if judicial review in a particular case does result in injustice, it can be remedied through amending the constitution or other relevant document. Such amendment, however, usually requires a supermajority. Apart from the practical question of the resources required for any amendment exercise, the requirement of supermajority itself is unfair because it enables the minority to frustrate the wish of the majority. The requirement can be justified, on ground of prudence, when the purpose of the exercise is to change the status quo. In an amendment to over-ride the result of judicial review, the purpose and effect are to restore the status quo by reviving the invalidated legislation.

The discussion in the last two paragraphs supports Yap’s claim that among the different types of judicial review in the common law jurisdictions, the “notwithstanding” system in Canada appears to strike the best balance between fairness and justice. 317 It leaves the ultimate decisions on rights conceptions in the hands of the elected representatives without incurring the unfairness from the supermajority requirement. By requiring the elected representatives to revisit the issue every five years if it wishes to continue disabling the judiciary’s decision, this strongest type of weak judicial review enables the people to continue to participate in deciding on the relevant constitutional issue until any reasonable disagreements in the community are settled.

316 317

See n 194 above. Yap, “Rethinking Constitutional Review” (n 34 above), p 100.


From the political morality’s point of view, the Canadian system should be the one to opt for by a society which meets Waldron’s four assumptions and in which a strong judicial review does not already exist. This is, however, not to say that the strong judicial reviews being practised in the United States and other mature democracies are illegitimate. Yap appears to suggest that in a society where a form of judicial review is already in place, any imbalance between fairness and justice can be minimised, if not completely remedied, by the judges exercising self discipline – the stronger the type of judicial review, the greater restraint should be exercised by the judges themselves.318

As abstract theories in political morality, Waldron’s fairness argument has an edge – but only a very slight one – over the justice argument in Fallon’s multiple-veto theory. The edge will disappear if judicial decisions can be demonstrated to be just. It is accepted that justice cannot be demonstrated by number. However, in real life, the fact that a decision is made by some of the best brains in the society acting impartially and aligns with the majority’s view in the society must be the closest humans can get to the metaphysical justice. Hence, the empirical evidence in the United States – which suggests that judicial decisions align with public opinions or the political inclination of the politicians who appoint the judges concerned – 319 provides support for Dworkin’s claim that judicial review has led to greater justice. If so, the institution is morally legitimate – or at least, is not morally illegitimate – there. Similar reasoning applies to any other mature democracies where a strong judicial review already exists and enjoys social legitimacy.

Waldron qualifies his theory by saying that even if any of the four assumptions is not met, strong judicial review is not necessarily justified. In fact, if his first assumption is not met – that is, a democratic decision-making
318 319

Yap, “Rethinking Constitutional Review” (n 34 above). See section 3.4.9.


system does not exist in form or in substance – the principle of fairness would justify judicial intervention for the sake of abating unfairness, eg protecting the freedom of expression such that all members of the community can at least have an equal opportunity to make their views known to the decision-makers who either are not democratically elected or do not act democratically. On the other hand, if the third assumption is not met – ie there is no rights commitment on the part of the officials and most members of the community – it is likely that the minority’s rights will not be adequately protected. In the interests of justice, judicial review is necessary to safeguard against the tyranny of the majority. In a society where both the first and third assumptions are not met, judicial review is strongly justified from the moral point of view but then, in real politics, there is probably little or nothing the judiciary can do to remedy the injustice and unfairness done by the undemocratic legislature and executive.

To complete the picture, if Waldron’s second assumption is not met – that is, the rule of law or an independent judiciary does not exist – there is no point talking about judicial review at all. A judicial decision disliked by the politicians will simply be ignored. Worse still, if the judges are not independent, they may be a main source of injustice. Finally, if there is any modern society at all in which the third assumption (the existence of reasonable disagreements about the conceptions of right) is not met, judicial review will be superfluous because no one will challenge, in court, the constitutionality of any legislative act. In such an unreal society, all legislative acts would reflect the community’s (including the judges) consensus. No one should be aggrieved by it. If anyone agrees with it at heart but contemplates legal action out of self interests, he or so she will be deterred by the expected certainty that the case will be thrown out by the court.


4.1.1 Constitutional provisions
The Constitution of Singapore does not expressly empower the courts to conduct constitutional review of legislation. Though the US case of Marbury v Madison has probably never been cited in any judgment, 320 the judiciary apparently infers such power, as in that case, from Article 4 of the Constitution, which provides for the supremacy of the Constitution and any legislation inconsistent with the Constitution to be void321 and from Article 93, which vests judicial power in the Supreme Court and the subordinate courts. The foundation is weak. From 1965 to 1979, the Constitution could be amended, like an ordinary statute, by a simple majority in Parliament. Article 5(2) was amended in 1979 to change the procedure such that, at present, a constitutional amendment bill has to be passed by two-thirds of the Members of Parliament. Since the People’s Action Party has been dominating the Parliament since Singapore’s independence, the two-thirds majority can easily be obtained. Amendments have been so frequent as to lead two commentators to the view that legislative supremacy rather than constitutional supremacy is


A Lexis search for the word “Marbury” in Singapore Law Reports conducted on 4 June

2009 led to a nil result.

This is more explicit than Article VI (2) of the US Constitution. In Marbury v Madison,

Chief Justice Marshall interprets the phrase “This Constitution, and the Laws of United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof” to mean that any legislation inconsistent with the Constitution to be void - 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, (1803), at 180.


being practised. 322 One of the amendments was specifically to restrict the court’s power to conduct judicial review.

4.1.2 Restriction of judicial review
Section 8(1) of the Internal Security Act (Cap 143) requires the Minister of Home Affairs to detain a person, without trial, if the President is satisfied that it is necessary to do so “with a view to preventing that person from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of Singapore … or to the maintenance of public order or essential services”. In Lee Mau Seng v Minister of Home Affairs,323 it was held that a subjective test applied and the grounds upon which the President was so satisfied was not subject to judicial review. The issue reached the Court of Appeal again in 1988, in Chng Suan Tze v Minister of Home Affairs, after several persons, detained for allegedly being involved in a Marxist conspiracy aimed at establishing a Marxist state, appealed against the High Court’s decision not to grant them habeus corpus.324 The appeals could have been allowed on the narrow, technical ground that there had not been sufficient admissible evidence of the President’s satisfaction in those cases.325 Nevertheless, the CA went on to reconsider the decision in Lee Mau Seng. After reviewing the jurisprudence in UK (the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council being the final appellant court for Singapore at that time) and some Commonwealth countries (including Malaysia where the subjective test originated), the CA held that, having regard to the court’s judicial power under article 93 of the Constitution to administer

See Jaclyn Ling-Chien Neo and Yvonne C.L. Lee, “Constitutional Supremacy: Still a Little

Dicey”, Ch 5 in Li-ann Thio and Kevin Y.L. Tan (eds), Evolution of A Revolution: Forty Years of the Singapore Constitution (Milton Park, Abingdon; New York, N.Y.: RoutledgeCavendish, 2009),
323 324 325

pp 155 and 162-173. At pp 188-192 is an Appendix listing the

constitutional amendments from 1965 to 2008. [1971] 2 MLJ 137. Chng Suan Tze v Minister of Home Affairs & Others and other appeals [1988] 1 SLR 132. Ibid, 146.


the rule of law and the citizens’ right under article 12(1) to equal protection of the law against the exercise of arbitrary powers by the government, the subjective test in Lee Mau Seng could no longer be supported. Instead, the President’s satisfaction under section 8(1) was reviewable by the court. The review, however, should be confined to the question whether objective facts which fell within section 8(1) did exist. “Those responsible for national security are the sole judges of what action is necessary in the interests of national security, but that does not preclude the judicial function of determining whether the decision was in fact based on grounds of national security.” 326 The CA concluded that “the judicial process is unsuitable for reaching decisions on national security … [and] the scope of review of the exercise of discretion under ss. 8 and 10 of the ISA is limited to the normal judicial review principles of ‘illegality, irrationality or procedural impropriety’ (the GCHQ case)”.327

If such avowed deference to the legislature and other repeated assurances in the judgment were meant to assuage the possible concern of the government about unjustified judicial interference, they failed. The government’s response was swift and peremptory. The CA’s judgment was handed down on 8 December 1988. On 25 January 1989, the government introduced into the Parliament the Constitution of Singapore (Amendment) Bill and the Internal Security (Amendment) Bill. The combined effects of the constitutional and legislative amendments, eventually enacted, were that first, the judicial power under Article 93 could not be exercised to invalidate legislation enacted to stop or prevent acts threatening internal security; 328 secondly, the subjective test in Lee Mau Seng was restored and no law in any other Commonwealth country relating to judicial review should apply to

326 327 328

Ibid, p 157. Ibid, p 163. Amended Article 149(3) of Constitution.


decisions made or acts done under the ISA;329 thirdly, judicial review of such decisions or acts should be confined to the question of compliance with the procedural requirement only;330 and fourthly, appeal to the Privy Council was abolished in respect of cases involving review of acts or decisions under the ISA, interpretation of the ISA and interpretation of Part XII of the Constitution on “Special Powers Against Subversion and Emergency Powers”.331

Moving the Second Reading of the two Bills, the Minister of Law said that the constitutional amendment was necessary to avoid the judiciary having the last word on preventive detention cases and thus, taking over the executive’s responsibility for national security. That, of course, was an overstatement of the effect of Chng Suan Tze. In regard to the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council, his reason – a manifestation of the cultural relativism advocated by Singapore in international forums – was that the social, economic and political situations in Singapore differed from the United Kingdom and legal questions relating to national security should be decided by local judges familiar with the local conditions.332

329 330 331 332

Sections 8A and 8B(1) of Internal Security Act (Cap 143). Section 8B(2) of ISA. Section 8C of ISA. Singapore Parliamentary Reports, 25 January 1989, columns 463-473. Available on, last accessed on 23 March 2005. The Minister’s speech also implied a four walls approach in constitutional interpretation – see pp 14-18 in Thio Li-ann, “Constitutional Review – Influences Beyong the Four Walls: Human Rights, Constitutional Liberties and the Singapore Experience”, a paper presented at the LAWASIA Comparative Constitutional Law Standing Committee, 3rd Biennial Conference on Constitutions In An Interdependent World: The Impact of Internationalisation on Governance in the Asia-Pacific Region, Macau 18-20 November 1996.


4.1.3 Limits to constitutional amendments?
In another habeus corpus application after the amendments – Teo Soh Lung v Minister of Home Affairs & Others,333 the applicant’s counsel argued, among other things, that the constitutional amendment was invalid. The Parliament’s power under Article 5 to amend the Constitution, he said, was not unlimited. The limit had been exceeded when the Parliament sought to restrict the scope of judicial review in ISA cases.334 Rejecting the submission, the High Court cited the dissenting view in the Indian case Kesavananda v State of Kerala335 that “(t)he power to amend is wide and unlimited”.336

On appeal, Teo’s counsel repeated the point about the invalidity of the constitutional amendment.337 In addition, he argued that the restored ruling in Lee Mau Seng, though referred to as a subjective test, did enable the court to enquire whether the executive’s decision to issue a detention order or revoke a suspension order was in fact based on facts falling within the scope of national security.338 The CA decided that the facts of the case had shown the detention order and the revocation order to have been made on ground of national security and that Teo had not discharged the burden of proving the contrary.339 The appeal was dismissed on that ground.340 “In the circumstances, it is …
333 334 335 336 337

[1989] 1 SLR 499. Teo (n 333 above), at 508 – 511. AIR 1973 SC 1461. Ibid, at para 1078, cited in Teo (n 333 above), at 511. Teo Soh Lung v Minister of Home Affairs & Others [1990] 1 SLR 40. It is stated at 46 that

“(i)n this appeal, the issues of law and fact canvassed by Lord Alexander were substantially those raised by Mr Lester before FA Chua J”.
338 339 340

Ibid, at 48-49. Ibid, at 56. It would appear that the court might have reached the same result even if the objective test

in Chng Suan Tze – and the principles of “illegality, irrationality and procedural impropriety” stated by Lord Diplock in C. C. S.U. v Minister for Civil Service (the “GCHQ” case), [1985] 1 AC 374, at 410D-411C – were still applicable. Despite the rather flimsy evidence adduced by


unnecessary for [the court] to consider … whether … the purported amendments to the Constitution are invalid as violating the basic structure of the Constitution.”341

Hence, there is yet not any final adjudication as to whether the Parliament can limit judicial review through constitutional amendment and for that matter, whether there is any limit to the Parliament’s amending power. Recent scholarly views suggest that there are and should be limits to such amending powers even when they are not expressly stated in a written constitution; and that even in the United Kingdom where no written constitution exists, there are limits to parliamentary sovereignty.342

4.1.4 The only striking-down case
In the last ten years or so, the most robust statement about the court’s power to strike down legislation in order to protect constitutional rights was made by Karthigesu JA, when he said: “It is the duty of the court to uphold and preserve those rights, and to impugn any Act of Parliament or any course of executive action which injures, detracts from or infringes those rights.”343 In support, he quoted Chief Justice Yong Pung How’s statement in Chan

the Minister, the court did not agree that the Minister’s decision was Wednesbury unreasonable – see Teo Soh Lung (n 337 above), at 55-57.
341 342

Teo Soh Lung (n 337 above), at 57. See Gary Jeffrey Jacobsohn, “An Unconstitutional Constitution? A Comparative

Perspective”, (2006) 4(3) International Journal of Constitutional Law 460; Jeffrey Jowell, “Parliamentary Sovereignty Under the New Constitutional Hypotheses”, [2006] Public Law 562; Vincent J. Samar, “Can a Constitutional Amendment be Unconstitutional?” (2008) 33 Oklahoma City University Law Review 667; Vivek Krishnamurthy, “Colonial Cousins: Explaining India and Canada’s Unwritten Constitutional Principles”, (2009) 34 Yale Journal of International Law 207; Richard Albert, “Nonconstitutional Amendments”, (2009) 22 Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 5.

Taw Cheng Kong v Public Prosecutor [1998] 1 SLR 953, at para 14.


Hiang Leng Colin & Others v Public Prosecutor that “(t)he court also has a duty to declare invalid any exercise of power, legislative and executive, which exceeds the limits of the power conferred by the Constitution, or which contravenes any prohibition which the Constitution provides”.344 Rejecting the prosecution’s “social contract” argument, Karthigesu JA continued:

“There is in our view no legal contract between State and citizen. It is not an exchange of rights … Constitutional rights are enjoyed because they are constitutional in nature. They are enjoyed as fundamental liberties – not stick and carrot privileges. To the extent that the constitution is supreme, those rights are inalienable.”345

Eventually, he invalidated section 37 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (Cap 1993), which criminalised corruptive acts committed by a Singapore citizen outside the country. The reasons were twofold. First, while the constitutional right to equality under the law could be restricted where necessary to achieve a valid legislative objective, there was insufficient nexus between the objective of combating corruption and the differential treatment based on citizenship. 346 Secondly, his reading of section 6(3) of the Republic of Singapore Independence Act passed on 9 August 1965 to mark Singapore’s separation from Malaysia was that the legislative power transferred to the Parliament of Singapore did not include the power to legislate extraterritorially.347

Both reasons were overturned on appeal. The Court of Appeal held that to legislate extra-territorially was part of the plenary power of a sovereign state and no empowering provision was necessary for the Parliament to
344 345 346 347

[1994] 3 SLR 662, at 681B-C. Taw Cheng Kong (n 343 above), paras 55 and 56. Ibid, paras 64 and 65. Ibid, para 82.


exercise the power.348 The CA held that the differentiation between citizens and non-citizens for the purpose of criminality was a rational one having regard to the Parliament’s intention to observe international comity.349

4.2.1 Constitutional provisions
As far as the protection of human rights are concerned, the most significant constitutional development in Hong Kong is the enactment of the Hong Kong Bills of Rights Ordinance (“HKBORO”) on 8 June 1991. It includes a Hong Kong Bill of Rights (“BOR”) which incorporates, word for word, the core provisions of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 350 except those relating to the reservations entered by the British Government for Hong Kong. 351 The Ordinance binds the government and public authorities only.352 It repeals “(a)ll pre-existing legislation that does
348 349 350 351 352

Public Prosecutor v Taw Cheng Kong [1998] 2 SLR 410, para 42. Ibid, para 70. Part II of HKBORO. Part III of HKBORO. Section 7 of HKBORO. In Tam Hing Yee v Wu Tai Wai (1991) 1 HKPLR 261, the first

HKBORO case reaching the Court of Appeal, the CA held that the effect of section 7 was that the HKBORO did not apply to a prohibition order issued under s 52E of the District Court Ordinance since the dispute leading to the order was between two private citizens. For a discussion of the case, see Johannes Chan and Yash Ghai, “A Comparative Perspective on the Bill of Rights”, Ch 1 in Johannes Chan and Yash Ghai (eds), The Hong Kong Bill of Rights: A Comparative Approach (Hong Kong; Singapore; Malaysia: Butterworths Asia, 1993), at pp 23 – 26. With a view to over-riding the decision in Tam v Wu such that the HKBORO would repeal all inconsistent pre-existing legislation even when only inter-citizen disputes were involved, the colonial Legislative Council passed a Member’s Bill – see pp 1406 – 1418 of the Hong Kong Legislative Council Official Record of Proceedings for the meeting held on 26 June 1997 and Ordinance No 107 of 1997. The amendments were later repealed by the HKSAR Provisional Legislative Council – see pp 18 – 20, 121 – 137, 217 – 218 and 223 of


not admit of a construction consistent with this Ordinance … to the extent of the inconsistency”. 353 As regards future legislation, the British government amended the Letters Patent on the same day such that “(n)o law of Hong Kong shall be made after [that date] that restricts the rights and freedoms enjoyed in Hong Kong in a manner which is inconsistent with that Covenant as applied in Hong Kong”.354

R v Sin Yau Ming was the first Court of Appeal case in which several pre-existing legislative provisions were repealed on ground of inconsistency with the HKBORO. As if to forestall any possible criticisms based on the counter-majority difficulty, the Court stated:

“It needs to be emphasised that the only duty of this, or any other court, considering legislation is to decide whether that legislation is or is not

Hong Kong (China) Provisional Legislative Council Record of Proceedings for the meeting held on 25 February 1998 and Ordinance No 2 of 1998.

Section 3 of HKBORO. Even without the express provision, the common law principle of

“implied repeal” would have operated to repeal all pre-existing legislation to the extent of the inconsistency: F.A.R. Bennion, Bennion on Stautory Interpretation: A Code


LexisNexis, 5 edn, 2008), section 87. An exception to the principle is the maxim generalia specialibus non derogant – that when a general provision conflicts with a specific one, the latter would prevail: Bennion, section 88. The purpose of section 3 was, apparently, to override the maxim. Sections 3 and 4 (which provided for pre-existing and future legislation to be interpreted in a manner consistent with the ICCPR as applied to Hong Kong) were, pursuant to Art 160 of the Basic Law, not adopted by the NPC Standing Committee as the law of Hong Kong after 1 July 1997 – see Annex 2, item 7 of the NPC Standing Committee’s decision adopted at its 24th session held on 23 February 1997. The non-adoption of the two sections appeared to be politically motivated – the Chinese Government did not wish the HKBORO to be seen as having a higher status than other legislation. The non-adoption has no legal consequence in view of BL 8 and 39, the effect of which is that all laws enacted before or after the handover must comply with the ICCPR as applied to Hong Kong.

Art VII (3) of Hong Kong Letters Patent, 1991.


inconsistent with the Hong Kong Bill. This, or any other court, does not repeal legislation. That is done by the Hong Kong Bill itself.”355

In the same vein, in Attorney General v Lee Kwong-kut, the first case in which the final appellate court upheld a repeal of pre-existing legislation on ground of inconsistency with the Hong Kong Bill, the Privy Council concluded its judgment with remarks apparently aimed at assuring the legislature and the public:

“In order to maintain the balance between the individual and the society as a whole, rigid and inflexible standards should not be imposed on the legislature’s attempts to resolve the difficult and intransigent problems with which society is faced when seeking to deal with serious crime. It must be remembered that questions of policy remain primarily the responsibility of the legislature. (See R v Downey [1992] 2 SCR 10 at 36 – 37, 72 CCC (3d) 1 at 18 and Chaulk [1990] 3 SCR at SCR at 1302, 62 CCC (3d) at 222).”356 In R v Lum Wai-ming, 357 the High Court repealed a legislative provision enacted after 8 June 1991 on the ground that it was inconsistent with the ICCPR and therefore ultra vires Art VII (3) of the Letters Patent. No authority or reason was cited for the court’s power to strike down the legislation. The court apparently took it as axiomatic.

As a result of the above and other similar cases, the judicial review of legislation became firmly established as part of the laws of Hong Kong in the six years before Hong Kong’s sovereignty reverted to China on 1 July 1997. The legal foundation of the institution was strengthened by the Basic Law
355 356 357

(1991) 1 HKPLR 88, at 104 lines 21 – 24. (1993) 3 HKPLR 72, at 100, lines 14 – 20. (1992) 2 HKPLR 182.


which took effect after the handing over of sovereignty. Under BL 8, “the laws previously in force in Hong Kong, … [including] the common law …, shall be maintained except for any that contravene [the Basic Law]”. BL 160 provides that “the laws previously in force in Hong Kong shall be adopted as laws of the Region except for those which the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress declares to be in contravention of this Law”. In addition, BL 19, 81 and 87 provide for the maintenance of the previous judicial system (except for the establishment of the Court of Final Appeal) and for the maintenance of the principles previously applied in Hong Kong. In HKSAR v Ma Wai Kwan, the Court of Appeal held that “the laws … in force [on 30 June 1997] including the common law have been adopted and become the laws of the HKSAR on 1 July 1997, [and] the judicial system together with the principles applicable to court proceedings have continued”. 358 Judicial review being part of the laws and judicial system previously in force and there being nothing about the institution in the NPC Standing Committee’s decision on non-adoption of laws which contravened the Basic Law, it became part of the laws and judicial system of the HKSAR on 1 July 1997. The power applies to the regional legislation only and it is not for the regional courts to challenge the validity of decisions made by China as the sovereign, such as the NPC’s decisions or resolutions.359

The HKSAR judiciary’s power to conduct judicial review of legislation can also be inferred from other provisions in the Basic Law. BL 19 provides for the judiciary’s “jurisdiction over all cases in the Region”, which does not include “jurisdiction over acts of state such as defence and foreign affairs”. Under art 67(4) of the Constitution of the Republic of China, the authority to interpret the national legislation is vested in the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (“NPCSC”). Through BL 158, NPCSC authorises the regional courts “to interpret on their own, in
358 359

[1997] 2 HKC 315, at 344 B – C, per Chan, CJHC, as he then was. Ibid, 334 F– 345H.


adjudicating cases, the provisions of this Law which are within the autonomy of the Region”.360 The combined effect of BL 19 and 158 and Ma Wai Kwan is that the courts’ power to invalidate unconstitutional legislation continues, subject to two provisos. First, the courts may exercise such power in the adjudication of cases only. In other words, the sort of a priori or abstract reviews as practised in some countries, including those in Europe,361 are not available in Hong Kong. Secondly, pursuant to BL 158(3), in regard to any BL provisions “concerning affairs which are the responsibility of the Central People’s Government, or concerning the relationship between the Central authorities and the Region”, the courts shall “before making their final judgments which are not appealable, seek an interpretation of the relevant provisions from the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress”. In practice, it means that only the CFA will seek interpretation from the Standing Committee. 362 The courts’ power to interpret the Basic Law and

A mainland scholar opines that the NPCSC’s power to interpret the Basic Law is not an

extension of its power under art 67(4) of the Constitution but is a new system created under the Basic Law independent of the interpretation of other laws: Hongshi Wen, “Interpretation of Law by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress” in Johannes M. M. Chan, H.L. Fu and Yash Ghai (eds), Hong Kong’s Constitutional Debate: Conflict over Interpretation (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2000), pp 183 – 197, at pp 192 – 5.

For an account of different types of judicial review of legislation, see C. Neal Tate,

“Comparative Judicial Review and Public Policy: Concepts and Overview”, Ch 1 in Donald W. Jackson and C. Neal Tate (eds), Comparative Judicial Review and Public Policy (Westport, Connecticut; London: 1992), pp 3 – 13.

Professor Yash Ghai expresses the concern that in some instances, final adjudication may

rest with the lower courts and hence the Standing Committee may render interpretation without the benefit of the CFA’s opinion – see Yash Ghai, Hong Kong’s New Constitutional Order (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1999, 2nd edn), pp 204 – 205. The concern should have been alleviated, if not dispelled, by the CFA’s decision in Solicitor v Law Society of Hong Kong and Secretary for Justice [2004] 1 HKLRD 214 that section 13 of the Legal Practitioners Ordinance which purportedly provided for the finality of the Court of Appeal’s decisions was ultra vires the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 and also the Basic Law. In Ng Ka Ling & Others v Director of Immigration (n 363 below) 342D, the CFA stated, with reference to BL 158: “Thus, there is no limitation on the power of the lower courts to interpret


conduct judicial review was confirmed in Ng Ka Ling & Others v Director of Immigration, 363 the first constitutional case reaching the CFA. It was also in this very first case that the CFA drew a rebuke for the way it applied BL 158.

4.2.2 Ng Kai Ling and its aftermath
Under BL 24(3), the permanent residents of Hong Kong include “persons of Chinese nationality born outside Hong Kong of” those Chinese citizens who have acquired permanent residency either by birth in Hong Kong or by having ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of seven years. A considerable number of male permanent residents were married to mainlanders and their children born and living in the mainland. The plain literal meaning of the article is that these children, who did not have the right of abode before 1 July 1997, have such right when the Basic Law takes effect. To prevent a mass influx of such children overburdening the education system and housing situation in Hong Kong, the Provisional Legislative Council – a “new kitchen” built by the Chinese Government after the originally intended “through train” for the legislature’s smooth transition from the colonial to the SAR government went off the track owing to the disagreement between the Chinese and British governments over the structure of the legislature 364 – enacted legislation to the effect that these children have the right of abode only if they enter Hong Kong on the strength of a one-way exit permit (issued by the relevant Chinese authorities) affixed with a certificate of entitlement (issued by the Director of Immigration of HKSAR).365 As there was a quota of 150 a day for one-way permits, eligible children might take many years before

all the provisions of the Basic Law. The only limitation is on the jurisdiction of the Court of Final Appeal.”
363 364

[1999] 1 HKLRD 315. See Steve Tsang, A Modern History of Hong Kong (London; New York: I. B. Tauris, 2004)

pp 263 – 267.

Ng Ka Ling (n 363 above), pp 332G – 333D.


they could exercise their right as permanent residents. The legislation was challenged for being inconsistent with BL 24(3). All eyes were on the CFA when it delivered its judgment on 29 January 1999.

On the courts’ power to conduct judicial review, the CFA relied solely on BL 19(1) (which provides for the HKSAR “to be vested with independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication”) and BL 80 (which provides for the courts to exercise the judicial power in the Region). The CFA asserted:

“In exercising their judicial power conferred by the Basic Law, the courts of the Region have a duty to enforce and interpret that law. They undoubtedly have the jurisdiction to examine whether legislation enacted by the legislature of the Region or acts of the executive authorities of the Region are consistent with the Basic Law and, if found to be inconsistent, to hold them to be invalid. The exercise of this jurisdiction is a matter of obligation, not of discretion so that if inconsistency is established, the courts are bound to hold that a law or executive act is invalid at least to the extent of the inconsistency. Although this has not been questioned, it is right that we should take this opportunity of stating it unequivocally. In exercising this jurisdiction, the courts perform their constitutional role under the Basic Law of acting as a constitutional check on the executive and legislative branches of government to ensure that they act in accordance with the Basic Law.”366

Overruling the Court of Appeal’s opinion in Ma Wai Kwan that it was not for the regional courts to challenge the validity of decisions made by the central government,367 the CFA stated, in obiter, that “in appropriate cases, the
366 367

Ibid, p 337D – G. Note 359 above.


courts of the Region do have jurisdiction to examine National People’s Congress’ laws and acts which affect the Region”.368 The Court had in mind those amendments to the Basic Law which might breach BL 159(4) because they “contravene the established basic policies of the People’s Republic of China regarding Hong Kong”.

A review of the legislation challenged in Ng Ka Ling required the interpretation of two BL provisions. In addition to BL 24(3) on the children’s right of abode, the requirement for one-way permit was to implement BL 22(4), which provides that “(f)or entry into the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, people from other parts of China must apply for approval”. The latter provision appears in a chapter entitled “Relationship between the Central Authorities and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”. BL 158(3) requires that the NPC Standing Committee’s interpretation be sought for such a provision before the CFA makes its judgment. The CFA held the requirement for one-way permit to be inconsistent with BL 24(3). It did so without seeking the NPC Standing Committee’s interpretation of BL 22(4). The Court’s interpretation of BL 158 was that when more than one BL provisions had to be interpreted in a case, the CFA had to make reference to the NPC Standing Committee only if the predominant provision was one of those excluded under BL 158(3) from the Court’s jurisdiction (“the excluded provisions”). As BL 24(3) but not BL 22(4) was the predominant provision as far as the right of abode was concerned, the CFA considered such reference to be unnecessary.369 In addition to striking down the one-way permit requirement (which would have the effect of abolishing the quota of 150 a day as far as such children are concerned), the CFA also held that children born out of wedlock were also entitled to the right. Furthermore, in another judgment – Chan Kam Nga & Others v Director of Immigration – the CFA held that for a child born outside Hong Kong of
368 369

Ng Ka Ling (n 363 above), p 339E. Ibid, pp 341 – 345.


Chinese nationals who were not permanent residents of Hong Kong, he / she would have the right of abode when one of the parents became a permanent resident.370

The CFA’s decisions were welcomed by scholars and the legal profession for its pro-right stand and for asserting broad jurisdiction to interpret the Basic Law.371 Given the relatively low human rights standard in the mainland and as interpretation by the NPCSC’s interpretation of the Basic Law might turn out to be legislative act not complying with the doctrines of interpretation in the common law,372 people in Hong Kong generally feared that interpretations by the NPC Standing Committee might erode the rule of law as well as the rights and liberties enjoyed in Hong Kong. 373 The SAR Government, on the other hand, was concerned that the CFA’s decisions would open the floodgate to an estimated 1,675,000 persons from the mainland.

The community was sharply divided: some shared the

government’s concern but others criticised the government’s figure to be an exaggeration.

370 371

[1999] 1 HKLRD 304, See, for example, Professor Yash Ghai’s commentary in [1999] 1 HKLRD pp 360 – 366;

the Hong Kong Bar Association’s statements dated 5 and 25 February 1999 on “Court of Final Appeal Judgment on Right of Abode” and “The Bar’s Views on Constitutional Jurisdiction of the Court of Final Appeal” respectively, reproduced in Chan et al (eds) (n 360 above), pp 238 – 245.

See Yash Ghai, Hong Kong’s New Constitutional Order (Hong Kong: Hong Kong

University Press, 2nd edn, 1999), 201 – 218 for differences in the interpretation tradition between the China mainland and Hong Kong.

See, for example, the South China Morning Post’s editorial “Two Systems” on 8 February


Secretary for Security’s speech in Hong Kong (China) Legislative Council Official Record

of Proceedings for meeting held on 28 April 1999, pp 7209 – 7217. For a collection of the HKSAR Government’s assessments of the social and economic implications of the CFA’s decisions on the right of abode, see Chan et al (eds) (n 360 above), pp 259 – 287.


In the Hong Kong legal system, the proper way to overcome the population problem which the SAR Government said would arise from the CFA’s decisions would be either to request the CFA to review its ruling in a future case or to amend the Basic Law. The Government ruled out both options.375 Instead, it considered that “the most reasonable, lawful, expeditious and thorough approach to solve the problems” was to request the NPCSC’s interpretation of BL 22(4) and 24(2)(3).376 There being no relevant provision in the Basic Law, the Hong Kong Bar Association opined that the Chief Executive did not have the power to refer a question of interpretation to the NPCSC and that even assuming the CE did have such a power, any attempt to overturn the CFA’s interpretation of BL 24, a matter within Hong Kong’s autonomy guaranteed by the Basic Law, would be contrary to BL 2, 8, 18, 19,


The HKSAR Government ruled out seeking a review from the CFA because a suitable case

might not arise; when it did, it would take considerable time before the CFA could reach a verdict; and, in case the CFA did reverse its ruling, it might be accused of yielding to political pressure.: see Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government’s paper entitled “Right of Abode: The Solution” tabled at the Legislative Council House Committee meeting dated 18 May 1999 and the speech by the Secretary Justice at the same meeting. Both are reproduced in Chan et al (eds) (n 360 above), pp 310 – 327. On the other hand, the Government mentioned four reasons for not seeking an amendment of the Basic Law. First, the legislative provisions invalidated by the CFA in fact reflected the legislative intent as contained in an agreement reached in the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group in 1993 and an opinion formulated by the Preparatory Committee in 1996 on the implementation of BL 24. Secondly, “the exercise of power by the NPCSC to interpret the legislative intent of national laws does reflect part of the new constitutional arrangement in the wake of the handover”. Thirdly, the population crisis from the CFA’s decisions had to be dealt with quickly but the amendment process would take time. Fourthly, under BL 159, an amendment required the consent of, among other parties, two-thirds of the HKSAR’s deputies to the NPC but twenty-seven of the thirty-six deputies had already indicated openly that they would not support amending the Basic Law: see Speech by the Secretary for Security in the Hong Kong (China) Legislative Council Official Record of Proceedings for sitting on 19 May 1999, pp 7906 – 7916, at pp 7909 – 7910. The speech is reproduced in Chan et al (eds) (n 360 above), pp 334 – 338

LegCo Record of Proceedings (n 375 above), p 7908.


48, 81, 158 and 159.377 In the event, despite the strong sentiments expressed in the community about the possible negative impact on the SAR’s autonomy and the CFA’s authority,378 the NPCSC re-interpreted, under art 67(4) of the Constitution and BL 158(1), the two provisions to the effect that:


under BL 22(4), people from all areas directly under the Central Government, including those falling within BL 24(2)(3), must hold valid documents issued by the relevant central authorities before they could lawfully enter the HKSAR; and


the right of abode under BL 24(2)(3) was available to only those Chinese nationals born of parents either one or both of whom were already HK permanent residents under category (1) or (2) of BL 24(2) at the time of the children’s birth.379

The SARG did not request interpretation on the question of children born out of wedlock because the laws in Hong Kong and the mainland already gave equal status to children born within wedlock and out of wedlock and because all the judges of the Court of First Instance, Court of Appeal and CFA adjudicating on the dispute had unanimously held that it would contravene the

Hong Kong Bar Association’s papers “A Constitutionally Acceptable Solution” dated 13

May 1999 and “The Bar’s Response to the Government Paper to LegCo” dated 20 May 1999 and the speech by the Association’s Chairman to the Legislative Council on 10 June 1999 – reproduced respectively.

in Chan et al (eds) (n 360 above), pp 378 – 382, 387 – 388 and 389 – 391

See Hong Kong (China) Legislative Council Official Record of Proceedings for sitting on

19 May 1999, pp 7906 – 7992 and the representations reproduced in Chan et al (eds) (n 360 above), pp 348 – 407.

The Interpretation by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of

Articles 22(4) and 24(2)(3) of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, adopted by the NPCSC on 26 June 1999: [1999] Gazette Extraordinary, Legal Supplement No 2, p B1576 (LN 167 of 1999, 28 June 1999).


ICCPR to exclude from the right of abode scheme children born out of wedlock whose fathers were Hong Kong permanent residents.380

4.2.3 Do HKSAR courts have the power to review acts of the NPC and NPCSC?
In the mainland, the CFA’s assertions that the regional courts had jurisdiction to review the NPC’s acts “became the subject of vehement criticism by leading mainland constitutional scholars”.381 Apparently more for the sake of pacifying the central government than clarifying the law, the HKSAR Government took the unusual step of applying for the CFA to clarify its judgment and the Court took the equally unusual course of acceding to the application. 382 After reiterating that its judicial power is derived from the Basic Law, the Court stated:

“The Court’s judgment on 29 January 1999 did not question the authority of the Standing Committee to make an interpretation under art 158 which would have to be followed by the courts of the Region.
380 381

HKSARG’s paper “Right of Abode: The Solution” (n 375 above), pp 318 – 319 Bing Ling, “The Proper Law for the Conflict between the Basic Law and Other Legislative

Acts of the National People’s Congress”, pp 151 - 170 in Chan et al (eds) (n 360 above), at p 152 referring to People’s Daily, 8 February 1999. See also Albert H. Y. Chen, “Constitutional Crisis in Hong Kong: Congressional Supremacy and Judicial Review” (1999) 33 International Lawyer 1025, at 1025 – 1026. For counter-arguments to the mainland scholars’ criticisms, see Johannes Chan, “Judicial Independence: Controversies on the Constitutional Jurisdiction of the Court of Final Appeal of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”, (1999) 33 International Lawyer 1015.

Against the criticisms made by some lawyers that the government’s move was politically

motivated and putting pressure on the court, a legal scholar argues that the clarification, sought in reliance on the British House of Lords’ decision in the Pinochet case concerning the court’s inherent jurisdiction, was necessary to clarify certain legal propositions of great constitutional importance: Chen (n 381 above), pp 1036 – 1037.


The Court accepts that it cannot question that authority. Nor did the Court’s judgment question, and the Court accepts that it cannot question, the authority of the National People’s Congress or the Standing Committee to do any act which is in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law and the procedure therein.”383

The clarification, which sidestepped the sensitive and complicated question of what if an NPC’s act is not in accordance with the Basic Law, did nothing to retract the Court’s earlier controversial statement.384 As stated by Johannes M. M. Chan, “(t)he clarification indeed clarifies nothing” and it “was not a ‘judgment’ but a political statement”. 385 Albert H. Y. Chen, however, opines that the clarification had clarified two points. First, the Hong Kong courts cannot review interpretations issued by the Standing Committee under BL 158. Nor, secondly, can they review any act done by the NPC or its Standing Committee if they have been done “in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law and the procedure therein”.386

The question of whether HKSAR courts can review the acts of NPC and NPCSC can be split into two questions: Are the powers of the NPC and NPCSC limited by the Basic Law? If so, do the HKSAR courts have jurisdiction to enforce those limits?

383 384

Ng Ka Ling & Others v Director of Immigration (No 2) [1999] 1 HKLRD 577, at 578. A view shared by two Hong Kong academics is that while the HKSAR courts do not have

the power to invalidate an NPC’s act inconsistent with the Basic Law, they may refuse to give effect to such an act which violates the procedural requirement laid down in the Basic Law, eg amending the Basic Law without going through the procedure set out in BL 159. See Chen (n 381 above), pp 1032 – 1035 and Bing Ling, “Can Hong Kong Courts Review and Nullify Acts of the National People’s Congress”, (1999) 29 HKLJ 8.

Johannes M. M. Chan, “What the Court of Final Appeal Has Not Clarified in Its

Clarification: Jurisdiction and Amicus Intervention” in Chan et al (eds) (n 360 above), pp 171 – 181, at pp 180 and 181 respectively.

Chen (n 381 above), pp 1038 - 1039.


On the last question, Professor Xiao Weiyun opines that Hong Kong courts, being regional courts, have no jurisdiction over the supreme organs of state power. Acts by the NPC or NPCSC are “acts of state”, which are specifically excluded under BL 19 from the Hong Kong courts’ jurisdiction.387 Professor Johannes Chan, short of stating that the Hong Kong courts have such power, points out that the NPCSC is, in the absence of any exemption provision, bound by the Basic Law. He has refrained from mentioning the NPC presumably because of the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy. By stating that “the judiciary is the guardian of the law”, he seems to imply that the Hong Kong courts are entitled to review the NPCSC’s acts.388

The more convincing views come from Professor Albert H. Y. Chen. Under the Chinese legal system, there is no legal remedy if the NPC or NPCSC breaches the Constitution, let alone the Basic Law which is merely national legislation. Not even the Supreme People’s Court in China can invalidate any act of the NPC or NPCSC on ground of unconstitutionality. On the other hand, applying the UK common law principle of parliamentary supremacy, any legislative work by the NPC or NPCSC is outside the courts’ jurisdiction. In the absence of any express authorising provision in the Basic Law, it cannot be the NPC’s legislative intent to confer on the Hong Kong courts the jurisdiction to review the NPC’s and NPCSC’s acts. Another

common law principle at play is that a parliament cannot bind its successors, except in relation to manner and form or procedural restrictions. These common law principles support the conclusions that (a) an act by the NPC and NPCSC which satisfies the procedural (as distinct from substantive)

Xiao Weiyun, “A Brief Discussion of the Judgments of the Court of Final Appeal and the

NPCSC Interpretation” (translated by Lin Feng) (2001 - 2002) 5 Journal of Chinese and Comparative Law 93, pp 94 – 95.

Johannes Chan, “Judicial Independence: Controversies on the Constitutional Jurisdiction of

the Court of Final Appeal of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”, (1999) 33 International Lawyer 1015, pp 1020 – 1021.


requirements laid down in the Basic Law is not justiciable in Hong Kong; but (b) the Hong Kong may refuse to give effect to such an act if it violates the procedural requirements.389

Chen’s views, apart from legally convincing, accord with the political reality. Given the Central Government’s jealousy of its sovereign powers, it is inconceivable that the NPC, when enacting the Basic Law, intended to empower the HKSAR courts to review the NPC or NPCSC’s acts on policy ground. Indeed, the Central Government would probably find it difficult to swallow if a HK court openly refused to give effect to such acts on ground of procedural impropriety. Yet, in view of the important role played by the Basic Law in retaining the local residents’ and the international community’s confidence in the viability of “one country, two systems”, one can count on the NPC and NPCSC taking care to comply with the express procedural requirements. If, unfortunately, an act by NPC or NPCSC clearly violating the policies or procedures laid down in the Basic Law does occur, it will be a test of the judges’ integrity and skills – political and legal – in juggling with the “passive virtues”.

One NPCSC’s act did come up for adjudication. That was the interpretation of BL 22(4) and 24(2)(3) referred to earlier (“the Interpretation”). The questions of binding effect of the Interpretation and whether the NPCSC may interpret all provisions in the Basic Law, including those within the limits of the HKSAR’s autonomy, will be discussed in a later section of this chapter.


Albert Chen, “Constitutional Crisis in Hong Kong: Congressional Supremacy and Judicial

Review”, (1999) 33 International Lawyer 1025.


4.2.4 When necessary to refer to NPCSC for interpretation?
With reference to BL 158(3), the effect of the approach in Ng Ka Ling was that when two Basic Law provisions – one on matters within Hong Kong’s autonomy and the other on matters falling under BL 158(3) (an “excluded provision”) – were arguably relevant to the adjudication of a case, the CFA should refer the excluded provision to the NPCSC for interpretation only if it “(a)s a matter of substance, … predominantly is the provision that has to be interpreted in the adjudication of the case”.390

Professor Yash Ghai, while appreciating that the CFA’s “bold line of reasoning no doubt overcomes some anxieties about autonomy and the viability of the rule of law”,391 doubts whether the decision not to seek the NPCSC’s interpretation of BL 22 was correct. “Even if correct, questions will undoubtedly arise in the future as to the determination of what is the ‘predominant’ provision in question in a particular case.”392 Professor Albert Chen’s opinion 393 – particularly influential as he was a member of the Committee of Basic Law which has to be consulted by the NPCSC under BL 158(4) on any interpretation of the Basic Law – is that since BL 158 was inspired by article 177 of the E. C. Treaty, an account of the reference procedure under art 177 was relevant to the application of BL 158. 394 An
390 391 392 393

Ng Ka Ling (n 363 above), p 344I – J. Ghai (n 371 above), p 363I to J. Ibid, 364A. Albert H. Y. Chen, “The Court of Final Appeal’s Ruling in the ‘Illegal Migrant Children

Case: A Critical Commentary on the Application of Article 158 of the Basic Law” in Chan et al (eds) (n 360 above), pp 113 – 141, at pp 113 – 114.

Art 177 has been renumbered as art 234 by the Treaty of Amsterdam – see Stephen

Weatherill, Cases and Materials on EU Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 7th edn, 2006), p 184. The article reads: “[1]The Court of Justice shall have jurisdiction to give preliminary rulings concerning: (a) the interpretation of this Treaty; (b) the validity and interpretation of acts of the institutions of the Community and of the ECB; (c) the


authoritative set of guidelines, according to Professor Chen, was laid down by Lord Denning MR in Bulmer Ltd v Bollinger SA [1974] 1 Ch 401, [1974] 2 All ER 1226, and followed by both English and Scottish courts.395

In Bulmer v Bollinger, it was held that the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg was the supreme authority in the interpretation of EC law. In the United Kingdom, the House of Lords, against whose decisions there was no judicial remedy under national law, was bound to refer to the ECJ, under art 177, a question of interpretation of any EC law. In view of the word “may” in art 177(2), the other English courts were not so bound. They had discretion whether or not to refer. “An English court can only refer the matter to the European Court ‘if it considers that a decision on the question is necessary to enable it to give judgment’.”396 Lord Denning laid down four guidelines on when the necessity condition was satisfied. 397
interpretation of the statutes of bodies established by an act of the Council, where those statutes so provide. [2]Where such a question is raised before any court or tribunal of a Member State, that court or tribunal may, if it considers that a decision on the question is necessary to enable it to give judgment, request the Court of Justice to give a ruling theron. [3]Where any such question is raised in a case pending before a court or tribunal of a Member State, against whose decisions there is no judicial remedy under national law, that court or tribunal shall bring the matter before the Court of Justice.”

Albert H. Y. Chen, “The Court of Final Appeal’s Ruling in the ‘Illegal Migrant’ Children

Case: A Critical Commentary on the Application of Article 158 of the Basic Law” in Chan et al (eds) (n 371 above), pp 113 – 141, at pp 117 – 120.
396 397

[1974] 2 All ER 1226, at 1234b. The guidelines were: (a) “The point must be conclusive. The English court has to consider

whether ‘a decision of the question is necessary to enable it to give judgment’. … The judge must have got to the stage when he says to himself: ‘This clause of the Treaty is capable of two or more meanings. If it means this, I give judgment for the plaintiff. If it means that, I give judgment for the defendant’ “; (b)“Previous ruling” – if the same point had been decided by the ECJ before, it was not necessary for the English court to refer it again unless it thought the previous decision to be wrong ; (c)“Acte Claire” – In other cases the English court may consider the point is reasonably clear and free from doubt. In that event there is no need to interpret the treaty but only to apply it; and (d) “Decide the facts first” – an investigation of


According to Chen, the court should consider the “necessity condition” (ie whether the interpretation of a particular provision is necessary to enable it to give judgment) before the “classification condition” (ie whether the provision in question is one requiring reference to the NPCSC under BL 158(3)). The facts in Ng Ka Ling engaged BL 22(4) and 24(3). The meaning of the latter, Chen opines, was reasonably clear. What was not clear was the meaning of the former – more specifically, whether the provision applied to those who were eligible for the right of abode under BL 24. An interpretation of BL 22(4) was conclusive of the case and hence, necessary. The crux of the problem in the CFA’s reasoning was that “(t)he court never went into the ‘necessity condition’ and applied it to article 22(4) for the purpose of determining whether it is necessary to interpret it for the purpose of deciding the case”. 398 Contrary to the CFA’s view that to refer to the NPCSC the question of interpretation of BL 22(4) “would be a substantial derogation from the Region’s autonomy and cannot be right”,399 Chen thinks the CFA need only refer the question whether the words “people from other parts of China” in BL 22(4) included mainland residents who have acquired the status of Hong Kong permanent residents by virtue of article 24. After the NPCSC’s interpretation had been obtained, the CFA would, in line with the Region’s autonomy, interpret or apply BL 24 in the light of the NPCSC’s interpretation of BL 22(4) and decide on its own whether the relevant regional legislation was compatible with the Basic Law.400

Since the Preamble to the NPCSC’s interpretation stated that before making its judgment in Ng Ka Ling, “the Court of Final Appeal had not sought an interpretation of the Standing Committee of the National People’s
the facts would determine whether an interpretation of E.C. law was indeed necessary. It might turn out that the case could be decided on another ground altogether. See Bulmer v Bollinger [1974] 2 All ER 1226, at 1234g – h and 1235a – c.
398 399 400

Chen (n 393 above), p 125. Ng Ka Ling (n 363 above), 344H – I. Chen (n 393 above), pp 132 – 136.


Congress in compliance with the requirement of Article 158(3) of the Basic Law”, the CFA said, in the subsequent case applying the Interpretation, it would have to revisit, in an appropriate case, the approach adopted in Ng Ka Ling in deciding on the requirement referral.401 In Director of Immigration v Chong Fung Yuen, the CFA opined that Professor Chen’s “argument merits serious consideration but it does not arise for decision here”.402

4.2.5 Limits to the NPCSC’s power of interpretation?

During the public discussions prior to the NPCSC’s reinterpretation, one of the objections was that “(i)nterpretation by the NPCSC is inconsistent with the ‘one country, two systems’ policy under article 158 of the Basic Law”.

That the legality of the NPCSC’s reinterpretation would be

challenged in court was only to be expected. The question reached the CFA without prior discussion in the lower courts.404 In Lau Kong Yung & Others v Director of Immigration, the leading counsel for the migrant children
401 402 403

Lau Kong Yung v Director of Immigration [1999] 3 HKLRD 778, at 800C – F. [2001] 2 HKLRD 533, p 552D. Democratic Party’s representation dated 10 May 1999, reproduced in Chan et al (eds) (n

360 above), pp 348 – 357, at p 348. Also, the Hong Kong Bar Association argued, inter alia, that the re-interpretation of a provision already interpreted by the CFA would contravene the “high degree of autonomy, judicial independence and the power of final adjudication under articles 2, 19, 80 and 82”: Bar Association letter 13 May 1999 (n 377 above), at p 379.

After Ng Ka Ling, the Director of Immigration issued removal orders to migrant children

who overstayed in Hong Kong without holding any certificate of entitlement to right of abode. The requirement for such a certificate, but not the manner to apply for such a certificate, was held in Ng Ka Ling to be constitutional. As a new application procedure to replace the one struck down in Ng Ka Ling had not yet been introduced, there was in fact no way in which these children could obtain the certificate. About two weeks before the NPCSC’s interpretation, the Court of Appeal quashed the removal orders on the ground that the Director, when making the orders, had not taken into account a relevant factor, namely the absence of a workable scheme for the children to establish their right of abode: Lau Kong Yung & Others v Director of Immigration [1999] 2 HKLRD 516.


submitted that in line with the high degree of autonomy granted to the HKSAR, BL 158 restricted the NPCSC’s power of interpretation, to the extent that the NPCSC could exercise its power only in response to a judicial reference in respect of an “excluded provision”, a term used in Ng Ka Ling to refer to “provisions … concerning affairs which are the responsibility of the Central People’s Government, or concerning the relationship between the Central Authorities and the Region” in BL 158(3). He relied for the submission on the different wording of the equivalent article in the 1988 draft of the Basic Law.405

The CFA disagreed. The NPCSC’s power of interpretation, it held, “originates from art 67(4) of the Chinese Constitution and is contained in art 158(1) of the Basic Law itself. The power of interpretation of the Basic Law conferred by art 158(1) is in general and unqualified terms. That power and its exercise is not restricted or qualified in any way by art 158(2) and 158(3)”.406 BL 158(3) extended the authority granted to HKSAR courts under BL 158(2), subject to judicial reference in respect of the “excluded provisions”. As regards the draft article relied on by the leading counsel, the CFA held that “the draft would not lead to a different interpretation of art 158 from that reached on the wording of that article”. 407 In Chong Fung Yuen, the CFA reaffirmed the binding effect of the NPCSC’s interpretation but only to the extent that it interpreted the two provisions on which the interpretation was sought, ie BL 22(4) and 22(2)(3).408

Though the NPCSC’s general and unqualified power to interpret the Basic Law has been established in Lau Kong Yung, Ling Bing opines that “the

405 406 407 408

[1999] 3 HKLRD 778, at 798 – 799. Ibid, at 798J – 799A. Ibid, at 800A. [2001] 2 HKLRD 533, p 545A – I. For an analysis of the case, see Albert H. Y. Chen,

“Another Case of Conflict?” (2001) 31 HKLJ 179.


NPCSC’s interpretive power does not extend to all provisions of the Basic Law, but is confined to the provisions of the Basic Law that are outside the limits of the autonomy of the HKSAR” and that “the CFA’s assessment on the NPCSC’s interpretive power is misguided and damaging to the high degree of autonomy and the ‘One Country Two Systems’ policy which underpin the constitutional system in Hong Kong”.409 In support, Ling argues that first, a comparison of the various drafts of the Basic Law shows it was the intention of the relevant Subgroup under the Basic Law Drafting Committee established by the NPC that “under what is now Article 158(2), the NPCSC may not interpret those provisions of the Basic Law that are within the limits of the autonomy of the SAR”. 410 Secondly, under the doctrine of delegation of powers derived from or implied in Chinese law, after the NPCSC has authorised the SAR courts to interpret the relevant provision, it is “at least presumed to have been precluded from having or exercising the delegated power”.411 Thirdly, the three interpretations issued by the NPCSC since the handover are all, in the NPCSC’s view, in respect of “excluded provisions”.

On the first point about the drafting history, the CFA held in Chong Fung Yuen that “(t)he courts’ role under the common law in interpreting the Basic Law is to construe the language used in the text of the instrument in order to ascertain the legislative intent as expressed in the language”.412 Since the wording in BL 158(1) that “(t)he power of interpreting of this Law shall be vested in the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress” is clear and unambiguous, it is neither necessary nor desirable to refer to any extrinsic material. On the second point, the reasoning in which Ling arrives at the Chinese doctrine of delegation of powers leaves considerable room for debate. Professor Wu Jianfan, a well respected Mainland scholar who participated in
409 410 411 412

Ling Bing, “The NPCSC’s Power to Interpret the Basic Law”, (2007) 37 HKLJ 619, at 620. Ibid, p 632. Ibid, p 635. Note 402 above, p 546C – D.


the drafting of the Basic Law, opines that authorisation does not mean division of power.413 Hence, despite BL 158, the NPCSC retains its interpretive power under the Chinese Constitution. Even assuming Ling’s reasoning to be correct, the problem is that the doctrine is based on the mainland legal system. In common law, a delegation does not preclude the delegator from exercising his power. 414 It would, indeed, seriously damage Hong Kong’s autonomy if its courts were to interpret the Basic Law according to Chinese rules of interpretation,415 not to mention that such an approach would be beyond the expertise of lawyers and judges in Hong Kong. I agree with Lin Feng that “by acknowledging the unqualified authority of the NPCSC’s to interpret provisions of the Basic Law regardless of their character” – a conclusion which I consider to be dictated by Hong Kong’s own principle concerning delegation – “the CFA has been able to maintain and defend the adoption by all courts in the HKSAR of the common law approach to the interpretation of the Basic Law”.416 With regard to the third point, at least two scholars with expertise on Chinese law differ as to whether the NPCSC intended BL 24(2)(3) to be an “excluded provision”.417 Or, if Ling is right that “the NPCSC seems to have consistently confined its interpretative power within what it considers to be areas that fall outside the limits of the autonomy of Hong Kong”,418 one could count on the NPCSC’s self restraint. The low probability of the NPCSC

Wu Jianfan, “Legal Basis for China’s Top Legislature to Interpret Basic Law of Hong

Kong” (translated by Liu Zhenyun), (August 1999) China Law 51, p 53.

The UK case law is uncertain on this point: see Paul Craig, Administrative Law (London:

Sweet and Maxwell, 6th edn, 2008), pp 505 – 506. In Hong Kong, the uncertainty is dispelled by section 44(1)(a) of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance (Cap 1), which provides that the delegation of any statutory power “shall not preclude the person so delegating from exercising or performing at any time any of the powers or duties so delegated”.
415 416

See Yash Ghai (n 372 above), pp 189 – 192. Lin Feng, “The Development of Jurisprudence of the Court of Final Appeal in Basic Law

Litigation”, (2001 – 2002) 5 Journal of Chinese and Comparative Law 21, p 39.
417 418

Chong Fung Yuen (n 402 above), pp 550B – 551D. Ling Bing (n 409 above), p 644.


barging its way into the province entrusted to HKSAR courts under BL 158(2) makes it not worthwhile for the CFA to argue for a limitation to the NPCSC’s power.

Ling Bing suggests that the practical implications of limiting the NPCSC’s interpretive powers are “to force the NPCSC and the Central Authorities to provide more rationality and transparency in their future interpretive practices”, “to discourage, if not eliminate, the SAR Government’s tendency to seek short-cut solutions to Hong Kong’s domestic problems by requesting interpretation from the NPCSC”, “to reinforce judicial independence and rule of law in Hong Kong” and “provide added impetus for all parties involved to reflect and debate on the nature, value, limit and sustainability of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy”. 419 This is a very optimistic assessment. Chinese officials have often emphasised that the principle enshrined in the Basic Law is “One Country, Two Systems”, that what Hong Kong enjoys is a “high degree of autonomy” and not independence, that China is a unitary state and that the Basic Law is conferred by the Central Government, not an agreement between a federal government and a member state. As evidenced in the reaction to Ng Ka Ling, any suggestion that the Central Government cannot – as distinct from “will not” – exercise its powers in Hong Kong would touch raw nerves. If the CFA had so much as hinted in Chong Fung Yuen that the NPCSC’s power has perhaps been limited by BL 158(2), the Central Government would see it as a challenge to its authority. The likely response – for example, the NPC passing a resolution to put the CFA in its place – would probably do irreparable damage to public confidence in the judicial independence and rule of law in Hong Kong.

As shown in Chen’s analysis of Chong Fung Yuen, Hong Kong judges have, as far as common law principles permit, defended the SAR judiciary’s


Ibid, pp 645 – 646.


independence to the extent of ignoring the NPCSC’s open view. 420 Ling Bing’s arguments amount to a suggestion, diametrically opposite to Bickel’s idea of “passive virtues”, that the CFA should temporarily depart from the common law principles and stage a costly, futile fight for the purpose of reinforcing the interpretive powers under BL 158 (2), which the SAR courts have been exercising (arguably with one disruption) for more than ten years.

Neither Singapore’s Constitution nor Hong Kong’s constitutional documents (the Letters Patent before 1 July 1997 and the Basic Law thereafter) expressly empowers the judiciary to strike down unconstitutional legislation. As in Marbury v Madison, constitutional review of legislation in both places is founded on the supremacy of the constitution and the courts’ inherent judicial power.

In Singapore, the legal foundation is so weak as to cast doubt on whether the judiciary does have – or if it does, whether it will ever exercise – such power. Though there have repeatedly been judicial pronouncements of the supremacy of the Constitution and the judiciary’s power to declare as void any unconstitutional legislation,421 the HC’s decision in Taw Cheng Kong was the only occasion when the court has actually done so.422 Though the decision was overturned on appeal, the reason for the overturning had nothing to do with the question of the court’s power. Taw Cheng Kong cannot be regarded as Singapore’s Marbury but it does leave a glimmer of hope that though the

420 421

Chen (n 408 above). For example, Chan Hiang Leng Colin v Public Prosecutor [1994] 3 SLR 662, at 681;

Nguyen Tuong Van v Public Prosecutor [2005] 1 SLR 103, at paras 57 and 73; Law Society of Singapore v Tan Guat Neo Phyllis [2008] 2 SLR 239, at para 143.

See notes 343 to 347 above.


threshold may be very high, the judiciary will in suitable cases overrule the legislature’s decisions in the interests of checks and balances.

Ironically, the strongest evidence that the Singapore judiciary does have the power of judicial review comes from a refutation by the legislature. The constitutional amendment enacted in January 1989 that “nothing in Article 93 shall invalidate any law enacted pursuant to this Clause” 423amounts to the political branches’ implicit recognition that the judicial power in Article 93 does include the power to invalidate legislation. The CA’s avoidance in Teo Soh Lung to answer the question whether the Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution is subject to any limit has left open, though perhaps only slightly, the question whether what exists in Singapore is parliamentary supremacy or constitutional supremacy.

The HKSAR courts’ power to conduct constitutional review is derived from BL 80 (judicial power) read in conjunction with BL 158 (the power of interpretation of the Basic Law). While the power has been firmly established, two questions have yet to be tested in court. First, if the final adjudication of a case requires the interpretation of both an “excluded provision” and a “non excluded provision”, is referral to the NPCSC necessary? Chen’s answer is in the affirmative. The CFA has stated that his views merit serious consideration. Secondly, do HKSAR courts have the power to invalidate an act by the NPC or NPCSC which violates the Basic Law? The courts have not addressed the point direct. However, the decision in Chong Fung Yuen not to give effect to the Preparatory Committee’s Opinions, even though the Opinions amount to national legislation under the mainland legal system, seems to support Chen’s view that if an act by the NPC, NPCSC or in the instant case a committee established by the NPC (the Opinions of which have not been included in Annex III as required by BL 18(3)) does not comply with procedural


Art 149(3) of the Constitution of Singapore.


requirement in the Basic Law, the courts may refuse to give it legal effect but not to declare it invalid.

Goldsworthy suggests the greater difficulty in amending the constitution to be a possible reason why judges are more creative in interpreting the constitution than in interpreting other laws.424 This view can be supported by a comparison between Germany (where the ease in which the constitution can be amended is said to be a cause for judicial reluctance to bring about substantial changes through interpretation) and the United States (where the constitution is difficult to amend and the courts make creative interpretations).425 If so, the ease in which the constitution can be amended in Singapore will perhaps lead to its judiciary’s exercising little creativity in constitutional interpretation?


Jeffrey Goldsworthy, “Introduction” in Jeffrey Goldsworthy (ed), Interpreting

Constitutions: A Comparative Study (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), p 1.

Rabinder Singh, “Interpreting Bills of Rights”, (2008) 29 Statute Law Review 82, p 87.


The purposive approach is adopted in constitutional interpretation in Hong Kong. It is also supposedly so in Singapore. The two versions of purposive interpretation will be compared with that by Barak. Barak, who advocates the purposive approach for interpretation of all legal documents – contracts, wills, statutes and constitution – distinguishes between the subjective and the objective purpose. “Purpose is an expression of the internal relationship (which changes according to the type of text) between the intent of the specific author of the text (subjective intent) and the intent of the reasonable author (objective purpose).” 426 When it comes to constitutional interpretation, “(t)he subjective purpose of a constitution is the goals, interests, values, aims, policies, and function that the founders of the constitution sought to actualise”.427 It is to be ascertained from reading “the context as a whole, paying attention to its structure and its division into different provisions that play different roles” 428 and “from its history, including its pre-enactment history – the social and legal background that gave birth to the constitution”.429 On the other hand, the objective purpose is the goals etc. “that the constitutional text is designed to actualise in a democracy”.430 It is to be derived from a variety of sources: the structure of the constitution and the

Aharon Barak, Purposive Interpretation in Law, translated from the Hebrew by Sari Bashi

(Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2005), p xi.
427 428 429 430

Ibid, p 375. Ibid, p 376. Ibid. Ibid, p 377.


relationship between different parts therein, case law and fundamental values of the society and externally, the fundamental values and fundamental values of other democratic societies. 431 Barak sets a tall order when he “asks the interpreter to examine all data about the purpose of the constitutional text” (emphasis added). 432 When the data indicate inconsistency between the subjective and the objective purpose, decisive weight to objective purpose”.

“(p)urposive interpretation gives There is no such thing as a true

ultimate purpose. Purposive interpretation is to “formulate the proper (not the true) relationship between the different kinds of data about subjective and objective purpose”.434

The theory and philosophy aside, Barak’s book contains guidance on the wide range of data to take into account in constitutional interpretation. His advice that an interpreter is to look for a proper ultimate purpose, not the true ultimate purpose, is realistic and pragmatic. The determination of which of the possible proper purposes should be adopted is, as he frankly admits, a matter of judicial discretion. Except for the advice to give decisive weight to objective purpose (there can be more than one objective purpose behind a constitutional provision) and to exercise judicial discretion within

constitutional principles (without his elaborating what those principles or their sources are), he ends the chapter on constitutional interpretation with several bland statements:

“In exercising discretion, an interpreter can only choose the solution that appears best to him or her, taking pragmatic considerations into account. Different interpreters will arrive at different results. My

431 432 433 434

Ibid, pp 377 – 384. Ibid, p 385. Ibid, p 385. Ibid.


suggestion is to aspire to the constitutional solution that is most just. Law and justice thus meet.”435

5.2.1 Section 9A of the Interpretation Act
The 1993 amendments to the Interpretation Act mandates a purposive approach in the interpretation of “written law”, which includes the Constitution. 436 Section 9A(1) of the Singaporean Act states: “In the

interpretation of a provision of a written law, an interpretation that would promote the purpose or object underlying the written law (whether that purpose or object is expressly stated in the written law or not) shall be preferred to an interpretation that would not promote that purpose or object” (emphasis added). Section 9A(2) permits extrinsic materials to be taken into consideration in confirming or ascertaining the meaning of any provision.

5.2.2 Cases applying the purposive approach
Section 9A was applied to constitutional interpretation in

Constitutional Reference No 1 of 1995. A Tribunal formed under art 100 of the Constitution rejected a literal interpretation of art 22H(1), which set no limit to the President’s veto power. “(I)t would be wrong to adopt a literal approach … even if art 22H(1) was not ambiguous or inconsistent, if the literal approach did not give effect to the will and intent of Parliament.”437 The Parliament’s intention to restrict the veto power to non-constitutional bills only was signified in art 5(2A) and also, the words in parenthesis in art 22H(1).

435 436 437

Ibid, p 393. Section 2 of Interpretation Act 1993 of Singapore. Constitutional Reference No 1 of 1995 [1995] 2 SLR 201, p 211G – H.


Though art 5(2A) had not taken effect, it had not been repealed and so remained part of the law.

The only other constitutional case I can find in which section 9A was expressly invoked – to interpret a statutory and not constitutional provision – is Public Prosecutor v Knight Glenn Jeyasingnam. An issue in the case was whether section 23 of the Evidence Act (Cap 97), which codified the “no prejudice” rule in civil cases and contained an express reference to civil cases, should apply to a plea bargaining representation in a criminal case. Applying a purposive approach, the High Court held that the purpose of the section was to encourage consensual case settlement in civil disputes. It would not be inconsistent with the legislation to apply the same policy to criminal cases. In exercise of the judiciary’s constitutional power in the administration of justice, the Court extended the policy behind section 23 to plea bargaining representations.438

The case can, however, no longer be relied on as a precedent in view of the disagreement expressed by the Court of Appeal in Law Society of Singapore v Tan Guat Neo Phyllis, where the CA opined that “(s)ince the words of s 23 are plain in meaning and purpose, there is no necessity to resort to ‘purposive interpretation’ to discover the purpose of this section”.439 The CA’s remark casts doubt on Goh’s finding that “(t)he general approach seems to be well settled, in that neither ambiguity nor inconsistency must exist within a statutory provision before a purposive approach could be adopted”.440
438 439 440

[1999] 2 SLR 499, paras 55-71. [2008] 2 SLR 239, para 122. Goh Yihan, “Statutory Interpretation in Singapore: 15 Years on from Legislative Reform”

(2009) 21 Singapore Academy of Law Journal 97, para 15. Goh, though fully aware of the CA’s decision in Phyllis Tan, makes no attempt to reconcile the remark with his general finding. A possible explanation is that he sees the CA as merely questioning, without actually overruling Glenn Knight: see n 92 on p 113 of his article. Another possible explanation is that Goh does not regard the CA’s remark to be a ratio. In Phyllis Tan, the CA was saying that


5.2.3 Cases of literalism and textualism What is the meaning of “law” and the purpose of the Constitution?
Most articles in Part IV of the Constitution, which is Singapore’s entrenched bill of rights, contain references to “law”, which may define or limit the scope of the rights. 441 What is the meaning of “law”? A related question is: what is the purpose of the Constitution in general and Part IV in particular?

The Privy Council, when still Singapore’s final appellant court, made a “bright flash of discussion”442 on the first question in Ong Ah Chuan v Public Prosecutor. 443 It held that in cases concerning fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, “a generous interpretation avoiding what has been called ‘the austerity of tabulated legalism,’ suitable to give to individuals the full measure of the [fundamental liberties]”444 should be adopted. The PC rejected the “narrow view” that the requirement for “law” in articles 9(1) and 12(1) was “satisfied if the deprivation of life or liberty complained of has been carried out in accordance with provisions contained in any Act passed by the Parliament of Singapore, however arbitrary or contrary to fundamental rules
Glenn Knight was wrongly decided because it was neither the literal meaning of section 23 nor the purpose behind it for the provision to be applicable to criminal cases.

Art 9(1) provides that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in

accordance with the law”. Art 12(1) states that “all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”. Under art 14(2), “Parliament may by law impose” restrictions on the right to freedom of speech, assembly and association.

Michael Hor, “The Presumption of Innocence – A Constitutional Discourse for Singapore”,

[1995] Singapore Journal of Legal Studies 365, p 367.
443 444

[1981] AC 648. Minister of Home Affairs v Fisher [1980] AC 319, at 328, cited in Ong Ah Chuen (n 443

above), 670B.


of natural justice the provisions of such Act may be”.445 In a passage which took into account both the subjective and objective purposes of the Constitution, Lord Diplock said:

“In a Constitution founded on the Westminster model and particularly in that part of it that purports to assure to all individual citizens the continued enjoyment of fundamental liberties or rights, references to ‘law’ in such contexts as ‘in accordance with law,’ ‘equality before the law,’ ‘protection of the law’ and the like, in their Lordships’ view, refer to a system of law which incorporates those fundamental rules of natural justice that had formed part and parcel of the common law of England that was in operation in Singapore at the commencement of the Constitution. It would have been taken for granted by the makers of the Constitution that the ‘law’ to which citizens could have recourse for the protection of fundamental liberties assured to them by the Constitution would be a system of law that did not flout those fundamental rules.”446

Singapore abolished the appeals to the Privy Council in 1994. Ong Ah Chuan is still cited as the authority to support the proposition that unequal treatment of different classes is not inconsistent with art 12(1) so long as the factor used to distinguish the classes is not purely arbitrary.


Interpretation Act was amended in 1993 to provide for the purposive approach. However, except for Knight Glenn Jeyasingnam discussed above, there is no evidence of the purposive approach being adopted in the constitutional cases reported in the years 1993 to 2008.

445 446 447

Ong Ah Chuan (n 443 above), 670C – D. Ibid, 670G-671A. For example, Eng Foong Ho & Others v Attorney General [2009] 2 SLR 542, para 26;

Johari bin Kanadi and another v Public Prosecutor [2008] 3 SLR 422, para 14; and Nguyen Tuong Van v Public Prosecutor [2005] 1 SLR 103, paras 67-70.


In the 1995 case of Jabar v Public Prosecutor, in which a prisoner sentenced to death penalty applied for stay of execution on the ground that the prolonged delay in carrying out the execution amounted to cruel and inhumane treatment (the death row phenomenon) and violated his constitutional right under art 9(1), the Court of Appeal of Singapore made the following statement: “Any law which provides for the deprivation of a person’s life or personal liberty, is valid and binding so long as it is validly passed by the Parliament. The court is not concerned with whether it is also fair, just and reasonable as well.”448 Admittedly this was merely obiter and the CA declined the application based on the separation of powers, ie after the court had pronounced a sentence, only the President and not the court had the power to decide whether a delay in execution justified commuting the sentence.449 It, however, heralded a departure from the Privy Council’s view in Ong Ah Chuan. In an article published in 1997, Thio Li-ann lamented that “it appears the Ong Ah Chuan approach was oppugned in Jabar while the literalist approach in Arumugam Pillai v Government of Malaysia is currently in the ascendancy, with grave implications for the health of constitutionally safeguarded fundamental liberties.”

Her concern that the court might

exercise self-constraint and adopt a literal, positivist approach to interpret “the law” in the Constitution as any enacted law has unfortunately come true. In two book chapters published in 2009, Singapore courts were said to adopt “textualist approach”,
451 452 453

“over legalistic approach”,


448 449 450

[1995] 1 SLR 617, at 631A-B. Ibid, at 632B-D. Thio Li-ann, “Trends in Constitutional Interpretation: Oppugning Ong Awakening

Arumugam”, [1997] Singapore Journal of Legal Studies 240, at 241.

Jaclyn Ling-Chien Neo and Yvonne C. L. Lee, “Constitutional Supremacy: Still A Little

Dicey”, Ch 7 in Li-ann Thio and Kevin Y. L. Tan (eds), Evolution of A Revolution: Forty Years of the Singapore Constitution (Milton Park, Abingdon: New York, N.Y.: RoutledgeCavendish, 2009), p 180.



“literalist, amoral interpretive approaches”,454 “extra-textualism”455 and “strict textualist approach”456 in constitutional interpretation in rights cases.

A study of the constitutional cases from 1997 to 2008 confirms the commentators’ observations mentioned above. The courts have not addressed the subjective or objective purpose of Part IV of the Constitution. Worse still, some judicial comments create the impression that the judges see Part IV not as protective of rights but instead, as an instrument to empower the legislature to restrict rights. For example, in Chee Soon Juan v Public Prosecutor, Chee argued that the requirement in the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act to obtain licence for publicising and holding public rallies was inconsistent with the right to free speech enshrined in art 14(1)(a) of the Constitution. Rejecting the argument, Chief Justice Yong referred to art 14(2)(a) and said:

“Parliament may by law impose – (a) on the rights conferred by clause (1)(a), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore … public order or morality …” 457

“In any society, democratic or otherwise, freedom of speech is not an absolute right. Broader societal concerns such as public peace and order must be engaged in a balancing order exercise with the enjoyment of his personal liberty. This is embodied in art 14(2)(a). I did not find the provision of PEMA to be in any way contrary to our Constitution. Indeed, it seemed eminently clear that the enactment of


Li-ann Thio, “Protecting Rights”, Ch 6 in Evolution of A Revolution (n 451 above), at p

454 455

Ibid. Thio Li-ann, “In Search of the Singapore Constitution: Retrospect and Prospect” Ch 10 in

Evolution of A Revolution (n 451) above, at p 340.
456 457

Ibid. [2003] 2 SLR 445, para 19.


PEMA was fully within the power of the legislature pursuant to the power granted to it by art 14(2)(a).”458 Counter-majoritarian consideration
Article 9(3) of the Constitution states: “Where a person is arrested, he shall be informed as soon as may be of the grounds of his arrest and shall be allowed to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice.” In Rajeevan Edakalavan v Public Prosecutor,459 the issue was whether the article conferred on an arrested person the right to be informed of his legal right to counsel. Chief Justice Yong sitting as the High Court held that to read such a right into art 9(3) would amount to judicial legislation, in defiance of the clear wording of the article. In a passage which could have been written by Waldron,460 he ended with the following words:

“The judiciary is in no position to determine if a particular piece of legislation is fair or reasonable as what is fair or reasonable is very subjective. If anybody has the right to decide, it is the people of Singapore. The sensitive issues surrounding the scope of fundamental liberties should be raised through our representatives in parliament who are the ones to address our concerns. This is especially so with regard to matters which concern our well-being in society, of which fundamental liberties are a part.”461

It is accepted that, as the judge said, based on the literal meaning of the words, “nowhere in art 9(3) does it provide that there is a further right to be
458 459 460

Ibid, paras 19 and. 20. [1998] 1 SLR 815. See Jeremy Waldron, “A Right-based Critique of Constitutional Rights”, (1993) 13 Oxford

Journal of Legal Studies 18.

Note 459 above, para 21.


informed of one’s right to counsel”.462 However, the purpose of the article is to ensure fair trial in a criminal case. To confer on a suspect the right to legal representation assumes most people’s ignorance of the law. In keeping with the assumption, it would promote the purpose of fair trial to read into the article a right to be informed of the right to legal representation. That would be the preferred interpretation mandated by section 9A(1) of the Interpretation Act, the application of which did not require any ambiguity or inconsistency.463 Judicial deference to the executive too
In the above examples, the law relied on to restrict fundamental liberties was statutory provisions enacted by the Parliament. In a series of cases concerning the religious group the Jehovah’s Witnesses (“JW”), their right under art 15(1) to profess, practise and propagate their religion was severely limited as a result of executive orders, made under legislative provisions which conferred wide and general powers on the executive. The constitutionality of the legislative provision was not challenged presumably because the JW adherents’ counsel saw no hope of success, given the apparent judicial deference to the legislature. The cases turned on the application of administrative law principles. At the core of the dispute was whether, in a matter which touched on national security, the court could examine the procedural propriety and merits of the executive’s decision.

The JW’s doctrine advocated refusal to perform military service. The Minister of Home Affairs de-registered the Singapore Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses under section 24 of the Societies Act on the ground that it was a threat to national security (“the de-registration order”). At the same time, pursuant to section 3 of the Undesirable Publications Act, the Minister
462 463

Ibid, para 19. See note 440 above and accompanying text.


for Culture banned all publications by the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society (“WTBTS”), which was the JW’s parent body (“the prohibition order”). In the first case arising from the two orders (“the JW No 1 case”), several JW adherents appealed against their conviction under the UPA for the possession of WTBTS publications.464 They challenged the validity of the orders alleging that: the two orders, made without JW being given the right to be heard, breached natural justice and hence, were ultra vires art 15 (freedom of religion) of the Constitution and also, ultra vires the Societies Act and UPA respectively; the de-registration order was invalid as there was no factual basis for regarding JW as a threat to national security; and the banning of all WTBTS publications were unreasonable because they included many which could not be regarded to be contrary to the public interest, eg the King James Version of the Bible, which was widely circulated in Singapore.

When considering the appeal, the High Court took into account the additional information provided by the government that during the years 1972 to 1994, 108 persons who claimed to be JW adherents had been disciplined for refusing to comply with orders to put on military uniforms.465 On the right to be heard, the court noted that the legislative provisions in question did not expressly require the ministers concerned to give the affected parties a right to be heard before they made the orders. Since the purpose of the de-registration and prohibition orders was to preserve national security, “the ordinary principles of natural justice have to be modified accordingly (per Lord Denning MR in R v Secretary of State for Home Affairs, ex p Hosenball). As such, there is no room for the appellants’ contention that the requirements of natural justice must to be (sic) complied with fully”. 466 Rejecting the
464 465

Chan Hiang Leng Colin & Others v Public Prosecutor [1994] 3 SLR 662. Ibid, at 684G – H. The average of about five persons per year does not tally with what the

Minister for Trade and Industry said in Parliament in February 1990 that “(e)ach year, a few dozen young men who are Jehovah’s Witnesses have to be court-martialled because they refuse to do National Service, and then sentenced to detention” – see 685C – D.

Ibid, 688B.


challenge about the merit of the de-registration order, the court opined that “it was not for this court to substitute its view for the minister’s as to whether the Jehovah’s Witnesses constituted a threat to national security. … (T)he appellants had the burden of showing that the Minister had exercised his powers wrongly. This court was not here to review the merits of the decision and conclude that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were or were not a threat to public order”.467 As regards the unobjectionable nature of some WTBTS publications, the court’s response was this:

“I do not see the merit of this contention. The fact that one publication is unobjectionable as to its contents, be it the King James Version or ‘Alice in Wonderland’, does not make the ban unreasonable per se. Instead, it was not unreasonable, in my view, for the minister to prohibit all publications by WTBTS. The minister’s actions were clearly to stop the dissemination and propagation of beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and this would of necessity include every publication by WTBTS. Any order other than a total blanket order would have been impossible to monitor administratively.”468

Dealing with procedural fairness first, Hosenball was a case in which the UK Home Secretary deported a US citizen on the ground that he had “while resident in the United Kingdom, in consort with other sought to obtain and has obtained for publication information harmful to the security of the United Kingdom and that this information has included information prejudicial to the safety of the servants of the Crown”.469 His request to be provided with particulars supporting the allegation was refused by the Home Secretary. The UK Court of Appeal upheld the refusal for two reasons. First,
467 468 469

Ibid, 685H – I. Ibid, 687B – D. Regina v Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Ex parte Hosenball [1977] 1 WLR 766, at

777C – D, per Lord Denning.


the provision of such particulars would disclose and endanger the sources of information.470 Secondly, Mr Hosenball, after informed of the allegations, was given the opportunity to appear before a panel of advisers and made representations to them before they tendered advice to the Home Secretary.471

The exception made in Hosenball to the natural justice rules should not have been applied to JW (No 1) case because (a) constitutional rights were involved (while Mr Hosenball resided in the United Kingdom on the British Government’s hospitality), (b) the JW adherents did not have the opportunity to make representations before the making of the de-registration and prohibition orders and (c) informing the JW adherents of the allegations (which presumably were based on actual instances of JW adherents refusing to perform national service) would not cause any risk to any source of information. In the GCHQ case, the House of Lords held that executive decisions involving national security or the exercise of prerogative power were reviewable by the court on ground of procedural propriety. 472 The decision not to conduct consultation prior to changing the conditions of service of the GCHQ staff was upheld by the court only because such consultation would give rise to a real risk to national security. Similar risk would not have arisen from giving JW a hearing before the Ministers decided whether or not to make the two orders.

The High Court supported its decision in JW No 1 case by adding: “It cannot be disputed that it is part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ doctrine that military service is prohibited for its adherents. … Since the basis for the orders clearly could not be disputed, no purpose would be achieved if a hearing or inquiry was held.”473 Judicial comments in the United Kingdom
470 471 472 473

Ibid, at 782F – G. Ibid, 785B to C. GCHQ case (n 340 above). Chan Hiang Leng (n 464 above), 688C – D.


have cast doubt on the propriety in prejudging the futility of a hearing.474 In R v Chief Constable of the Thames Valley Police ex parte Cotton, Bingham LJ expected fair hearing to be denied only in a “great rarity” of cases and offered six reasons for the rarity.475 While cases do exist in which a hearing would not have made any difference to the end result,476 the JW (No 1) case did not belong to that category.477

The court’s remarks in the JW No 1 case quoted above seem to suggest that it had no power to review the merit of a case involving national security. In United Kingdom – which again is used as the standard for comparison because of the British legal heritage in Singapore – “(n)ational security is often said to be an area in which the courts should not readily intervene” but “here too the court will no longer unquestioningly accept the say-so of the executive or other experts, and will properly intervene if the decision is based

William Wade and Christopher Forsyth, Administrative Law (Oxford: Oxford University

Press, 9th edn, 2004), pp 506 – 509.
475 476 477

[1990] IRLR 344, para 60. For example, the case of Cotton, ibid. Here, there was before the High Court an expert witness’ denial that “the Jehovah’s

Witnesses preached that national service should not be undertaken by their adherents and [the witness said] that they, in fact, advocated an official policy to tell persons not to break the law”: Chan Hiang Leng (n 464 above), 669B. The information, if presented, would have prompted a fair-minded minister to consider whether the proposed prohibition order was indeed based on accurate facts. The denial was countered by the government’s information on the number of JW adherents who had been disciplined for refusing to wear military uniforms. If similar statistics had been contained in a notice inviting representation, the JW might have come up with equally relevant statistics concerning JW adherents who had performed national service. At the very least, the High Court should have enquired into the Minister’s reason for not giving JW a hearing. Its conclusion – reached without such an enquiry – that “no purpose would be achieved if a hearing or inquiry was held” amounts to the court deciding on the substantive merits of the case, contrary to its own stand that the question of what national security required (and by implication, what it did not require) was one for the executive to decide.


on a material mistake of fact, or is otherwise illegal or irrational”.478 In any case, the court in JW No 1 case confined itself to the question whether there was evidence before the minister that JW was a threat to national security. It concluded that there was, namely the JW’s doctrine advocating refusal to perform military service, even though the court did not disagree with the claim “that the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Singapore were a responsible, honest and law-abiding group, which kept strictly out of politics”.479

Regardless of whether the Singapore judiciary had power to conduct substantive review, the court in JW No 1 did state its views on the merits of the prohibition order: “The fact that one publication is unobjectionable as to its contents, be it the King James Version or ‘Alice in Wonderland’, does not make the ban unreasonable per se”. In a country which values racial and religious harmony, how many reasonable persons would agree that the two mentioned books should be banned simply because they are published or printed by a particular organisation? The blanket prohibition appeared to be Wednesbury unreasonable. In justifying its decision not to strike down the two orders, the court remarked that “(a)ny order other than a total blanket order would have been impossible to monitor administratively”.480 The impossibility was not explained. A constitutional right means very little indeed if it can be restricted by a bald claim of administrative difficulty.


Harry Woolf, Jeffrey Jowell and Andrew Le Sueur, De Smith’s Judicial Review (London:

Sweet & Maxwell, 6th edn, 2007), pp 19 – 20. Woolf et als have not supported the second of the quoted statements with any judicial decisions. In Regina v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Ex parte Chahal [1995] 1 WLR 526, the UK Court of Appeal held that though national security was involved, the Secretary of State was required to balance the risks to national security against the risks to the individual who was proposed to be deported. The requirement there was, however, imposed by the relevant statute and international convention, which have nothing to do with a case like JW No 1.
479 480

Chan Hiang Leng (n 464 above), at 684B. Note 468 above.


In a subsequent case concerning the judicial review of another order banning JW publications by the International Bible Students Association (“IBSA”), the Court of Appeal, citing the GCHQ case as the authority, held that even though matters of national security were not justiciable, the court could conduct a substantive review by applying the Wednesbury test.481 The CA did not find it Wednesbury unreasonable – in fact, not even arguably so – to ban all publications of the IBSA, including King James version of the Bible printed by the IBSA. Nor was it arguably unreasonable to de-register the Singapore Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses even though the women and some other members of the JW faith did not have to perform military service. Delivering the CA’s judgment was Karthigesu JA, the same judge who, several years later, struck down the over-inclusive and under-inclusive legislation in Taw Cheng Kong.482 If an executive order banning publications including the Bible was not over-inclusive, what was it?

In the series of cases which followed, the JW adherents’ application to refer the constitutional questions to the Court of Appeal was refused; 483 materials published by the International Bible Students’ Association, a JW organisation, were also banned without a hearing; 484 an adherent was convicted for possession of the banned publications;485 an office-bearer of the deregistered Singapore Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who was at home and not attending any meeting of the JW when arrested, was convicted for being member of an unlawful society;486 several adherents were convicted

Chan Hiang Leng Colin v Minister for Information and the Arts [1996] 1 SLR 609, at

619G – G and 621D – E.
482 483 484

Note 343 above. Chan Hiang Leng Colin & Others v Public Prosecutor [1995] 1 SLR 687. Chan Hiang Leng Colin & Others v Minister for Information and the Arts [1995] 3 SLR

644 and Chan Hiang Leng Colin & Others v Minister for Information and the Arts [1996] 1 SLR 609
485 486

Liong Kok Keng v Public Prosecutor [1996] 3 SLR 263 Chan Cheow Khiang v Public Prosecutor [1996] 3 SLR 271


for attending a meeting of an unlawful society with two of them being convicted further for allowing their premises to be used for such a meeting;487 and a person, who was accompanying another person possessing a banned publication, was convicted for possessing prohibited publications in furtherance of a common intention though he (the first person) was not found to be carrying any prohibited publication.488 Finally, in a civil case, the Court of Appeal upheld an educational institution’s decision to dismiss a teacher who, being a JW adherent, refused to take the National Pledge and sing the National Anthem during the school assembly.489

Despite all the criminal liabilities arising from the de-registration and prohibition orders, the court did not see the orders as infringing religious freedom. The following passage from a judicial review case was cited in a criminal appeal:

“A citizen’s right to profess, practice and propagate his religious belief, even a Jehovah’s Witness, has not been taken away. It is the manner of carrying out these activities that is circumscribed by the relevant orders. The relevant orders provide that, in pursuing these activities, Jehovah Witnesses may not be a member of the SCJW or any other unregistered society and they may not have access to the prohibited publications.”490

What is the JW’s remaining right to profess, practise and propagate their religious belief when it is an offence for them to be members of their religious congregation, an offence to assemble in private homes for prayers

487 488 489 490

Kok Hoong Tan Dennis & Others v Public Prosecutor [1997] 1 SLR 123 Quak Siew Hock David v Public Prosecutor [1999] 1 SLR 533. Peter Williams v Institute of Technical Education [1999] 2 SLR 569 Chan v Minister for I & A [1996] 1 SLR 609, 615B – D. Cited in Kok v PP (n 487 above),

para 25.


and biblical study and an offence to possess or distribute publications propagating their religious belief? Was the court saying that they were free to profess and propagate the same belief through words of mouth or through publications other than those published or printed by WTSBS and IBSA and also, free to assemble to share the same belief through prayers and biblical study so long as the size of the assembly was smaller than the ten persons provided for in the Societies Act? If so, it would be a mockery of the purpose of the Societies Act and the UPA. It goes to show that, even assuming it to be a legitimate objective to prevent spreading the belief in refusal to perform national service, the de-registration and prohibition orders could not achieve the objective.

5.3.1 Purposive interpretation of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights
The Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance contains its own interpretive provisions, ie subsections (3) and (5) of section 2.491 Taking into account the provisions and the common law principle that a statute be interpreted in a manner consistent with the state’s international treaty obligations, the Hong Kong Court of Appeal laid down, in R v Sin Yau Ming, the general principles for interpretation of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights (ie Part II of HKBORO which mirrors the specific rights clauses in the ICCPR). The CA held that the Hong Kong Bill should be regarded as being sui generis and a constitutional

The two sub-sections read: “(3) In interpreting and applying this Ordinance, regard shall be

had to the fact that the purpose of this Ordinance is to provide for the incorporation into the law of Hong Kong of provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as applied to Hong Kong, and for ancillary and connected matters. (5) There shall be no restriction upon or derogation from any of the fundamental right recognised or existing in Hong Kong pursuant to law, conventions, regulations or custom on the pretext that the Bill of Rights does not recognise such rights or that it recognises them to a lesser extent.”


document, not an ordinary statute. The Court, per Silke VP, concluded: “ We must look, in our interpretation of the Hong Kong Bill, at the aims of the Covenant and give ‘full recognition and effect’ to the statement which commences that Covenant. From this stems the entirely new jurisprudential approach to which I have already referred.”492

Kempster JA, citing from the UK authorities Minister of Home Affairs v Fisher [1980] AC 319 and Attorney General of the Gambia v Jobe [1984] AC 689, added that the Hong Kong Bill called for a purposive and generous interpretation “avoiding what has been called ‘the austerity of tabulated legalism,’ suitable to give to individuals the full measure of the fundamental rights and freedoms referred to [in the ICCPR]”.493 The HKCA’s approach to the interpretation of the Hong Kong Bill was endorsed by the Privy Council in Lee Kwong-kut.494

5.3.2 Purposive interpretation of the Basic Law
In Ng Ka Ling, the first case in which the CFA interpreted the Basic Law, the Court saw no need for any authority on adopting the purposive approach. A constitutional document being “a living instrument intended to meet changing needs and circumstances”,495 the Court held, “(i)t is generally accepted that in the interpretation of a constitution such as the Basic Law a purposive approach is to be applied”.496 This does not mean that the text is unimportant. “So, in ascertaining the true meaning of the instrument, the courts must consider the purpose of the instrument and its relevant provisions
492 493

Note 355 above, at p 107. Minister of Home Affairs v Fisher [1980] AC 319, at 328 per Lord Wilberforce. Cited by

Kempster JA in Sin Yau Ming (n 355 above), at p 125, lines 8 – 11.
494 495 496

Note 356 above, p 90, lines 5 – 33. Ng Ka Ling (n 363 above), at 339J. Ibid.


as well as the language of its text in the light of the context, context being of particular importance in the interpretation in the interpretation of a constitutional instrument.”497

The CFA stated that “(t)he courts should give a generous interpretation to the provisions in Chapter III [of the Basic Law] that contain these constitutional guarantees in order to give to Hong Kong residents the full measure of








On the other hand, any restriction of the fundamental rights

must be narrowly interpreted.499 “If the language of [a BL provision] were ambiguous, that is, it is reasonably capable of sustaining competing alternative interpretations, the principles that the Court must have regard to, … [for example, a right under the BOR], would require the Court to lean in favour of an interpretation … that would be conducive towards achieving [those principles].”500

5.3.3 Constraint posed by the text
“Semantic meaning sets the limits of interpretation. The interpreter may not give the text a meaning that its language cannot bear.” 501 The constraint posed by the text to constitutional interpretation is illustrated in Chong Fung Yuen, which involved the interpretation of BL 24(2)(1).502 The CFA stated that “(w)hilst the courts must avoid a literal, technical narrow or rigid approach, they cannot give the language a meaning which the language cannot bear.”503 The Court went on to hold that all Chinese citizens born in
497 498 499 500 501 502 503

Ibid, at 340B. Ibid, at 340G. Gurung Kesh Bahadur v Director of Immigration [2002] 2 HKLRD 775, para 24. Tam Nga Yin & Others v Director of Immigration [2001] 2 HKLRD 644, 656F – G. Barak (n 426 above), p xiii. Note 402 above. Ibid, 546C – F.


Hong Kong came within BL 25(2)(1) since there was nothing in the purpose and context of BL 24(2)(1) to suggest that the parents’ immigration status was relevant to the children’s right of abode. “In conformity with the common law, the Court is unable, …, to depart from what it considers to be the clear meaning of art 24(2)(1) in favour of a meaning which the language cannot bear.”504

Just how clear and precise must the language be for its meaning to be regarded as unambiguous and therefore not to depart from? The question comes to mind as one reads the series of judgments concerning the right of abode of adopted children. Two of the nine judges involved differed from the others on whether the plain meaning of BL 24(2)(3) was clear and unambiguous.505 The same question also arises from the series of judgments concerning the meaning of “the court” in BL 35.506

The answer to the above question is to be found in the CFA’s judgment in Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Ltd v New World Development Co. Ltd & Others, when the CFA over-ruled the lower courts’ decision that the word “court” included the disciplinary tribunals over lawyers and doctors. 507
504 505

Ibid, p 556B. The cases were: Lui Sheung Kwan & Another v Director of Immigration [1998] 1 HKLRD

265, Xie Xioyi & Others v Director of Immigration [1999] 2 HKLRD 505, Xie Xiaoyi v Director of Immigration [2000] 2 HKLRD 161 and Tam Nga Yin (n 500 above).

The cases were: Dr Ip Kay Lo v Medical Council of Hong Kong [2003] 3 HKLRD 851,

Solicitor v Law Society of Hong Kong, unreported, CACV 302/2002, Court of Appeal, 18 February 2004, New World Development Co. Ltd v Stock Exchange of Hong Kong [2005] 2 HKLRD 612.

In Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Ltd v New World Development Co. Ltd & Others [2006]

2 HKLRD 518, para 45, Ribeiro PJ in his usual comprehensiveness examined, inter alia, various articles in the Basic Law containing references to “the courts” or describing the legal system. “It is therefore entirely clear that when, in such articles, the Basic Law refers to ‘the courts’ it is referring to the courts of judicature: the institutions which constitute the judicial system, entrusted with the exercise of the judicial power of the HKSAR.” (Para 45). The


The approach adopted by the CFA is that where the plain meaning of a provision appears to be clear, the interpreter should examine whether the putatively clear meaning fits in with the purpose of the part of the document, and then the purpose of the whole document, in which the provision appears. If it does so fit, the interpreter, contrary to Barak’s advice to examine all data relating to the subjective and objective purposes, should adopt the plain meaning without looking outside the document. Cheung JA deviated from this approach when he, in Dr Ip Kam Lo, sought assistance from foreign jurisprudence and art 10 of the Bill of Rights without first examining the immediate context in which the provision appeared, ie the Basic Law itself.508 He did so apparently out of zealousness to implement the CFA’s guidance to give a generous and purposive interpretation to the human rights provisions in the Basic Law. The CFA’s approach, which was no different from the common law principle in statutory interpretation, restricted the scope of the context from which the purpose of the provision under interpretation was to be derived. In doing so, it limited judicial discretion and avoided the possible accusation of judicial legislation. However, the grammatical meanings of constitutional provisions are seldom clear and precise. Furthermore, as shown in the UK leading case Kammins Ballrooms Co. Ltd v Zenith Investments (Torquay) Ltd, analytical skills are required in order to ascertain whether an

purposes of BL 35, as gleaned from the relevant articles in the Basic Law, were to entrench the individuals’ rights in relation to “the courts” and to ensure “that the fundamental rights conferred by the Basic Law as well as the legal rights and obligations previously in force and carried through to apply in the HKSAR are enforceable by individuals and justiciable in the courts” (paras 49 and 50). Hence, “(t)he ’courts’ in this context are plainly the courts of law” (para 50). The word should not be given a wider meaning to encompass tribunals such as the disciplinary committees being considered in the instant and previous cases (para 50). Bohkary PJ, concurring, added that the rights and freedoms enshrined in Chapter III of the Basic Law, in which BL 35 appeared, were “safeguarded by the structural provisions of the Basic Law. So, when art 35 refers to ‘the courts’ it obviously means the judiciary and nothing else” (para. 1).

Ip Kay Lo v Medical Council (n 506 above), paras 5 – 10.


exception should be read into what appears to be a clear, unambiguous provision.509

Despite the purposive interpretation mandated by section 9A of the Interpretation Act, the courts of Singapore have been adopting a strictly textualist approach in constitutional interpretation. A provision is read in isolation. There has been no attempt to ascertain the purpose of the provision being interpreted in the context of other provisions in the Constitution, let alone inquiring into the extrinsic materials as permitted by section 9A(2) of the Act. 510 In particular, the word “law” which appears in Part IV of the Constitution on “Fundamental Liberties” has been interpreted as any law enacted by the Parliament. The effect is that Part IV, instead of protecting the individuals’ rights, has become empowering provisions for the Parliament to restrict such rights. The courts justify this approach on ground of democracy – the question of how much rights the individuals should have is a matter for the people’s elected representatives to decide. Such thinking may in reality accurately reflect the Parliament’s, as evidenced from the Parliament’s quick and robust reaction to Chng Suan Tsz.511 However, for the courts to give effect to the subjective purpose (in Barak’s parlance) of the politicians without any inquiry into the objective purpose means that the separation of powers, an essential ingredient of the rule of law, is missing. Judges in Singapore may, in line with Barak’s views, “[choose] the solution that appears best to [them],

509 510

[1971] AC 850 A commentator opines that section 9A permits the examination of extrinsic materials – any

extrinsic materials without general restriction – even if the text is not ambiguous and a literal interpretation does not give rise to absurdity: Goh Yihan, “Statutory Interpretation in Singapore:15 Years on from Legislative Reform” (2009) 21 Singapore Academy of Law Journal 97, pp 130 – 132.

See section 4.1.2.


taking pragmatic considerations into account”.512 Their choice, however, is far from “the constitutional solution that is most just”.513 If Barak’s purposive interpretation represents the norm, Singaporean courts’ performances are way, way below standard. Or, even if Fish’s intentionalist-originalist’s

interpretation is the standard, there is no indication of the courts’ conducting any “good old-fashioned empirical inquiry”514 into the Parliament’s intention behind Part IV.

The Hong Kong CFA’s “text, context and purpose” approach to the interpretation of the Basic Law looks to coincide with Barak’s, except that in the cases discussed above, the courts have been able to ascertain the purposes from the Basic Law itself without the aid of any extrinsic materials other than the Joint Declaration. Unlike the silence in the Constitution of Singapore as to its purposes, the Preamble and Chapter 1 of the Basic Law state expressly the policies of “one country, two systems”, high degree of autonomy for HKSAR, judicial independence and the safeguard of the residents’ rights and freedoms. All this provides a firm legal foundation for the CFA to take a liberal approach to determine the courts’ interpretive powers and the extent of rights and freedoms which should be enjoyed by the residents. That has happened even though section 19 of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance (Cap 1) mandating a “large, fair and liberal construction and interpretation as will ensure the best attainment of the object of the Ordinance” does not apply to the Basic Law. The NPCSC’s Interpretation may be compared to Singapore’s constitutional amendments after Chng Suan Tsz. The incident does clip the CFA’s wings a bit. There is, however, no evidence of the Court receding from the pro-autonomy and pro-right stand it took in Ng Ka Ling.

512 513 514

Barak (n 426 above), p 393. Ibid. Stanley Fish, “Intention Is All There Is: A Critical Analysis of Aharon Barak’s Purposive

Interpretation in Law” (2008) 29 Cardozo Law Review 1109, at p 1141.


“The Court of Final Appeal has readily and consciously assumed a role of the guardian of fundamental rights.”515


Johannes Chan, “Basic Law and Constitutional Review: The First Decade” (2007) 37

HKLJ 406, at 419


A world common law is developing in the use of foreign precedents, commercial laws and human rights.516 Yet, even in a cosmopolitan country like the United States, the use of foreign law in constitutional interpretation is a controversial issue not only among the academics but also among the justices of the US Supreme Court. 517 References to foreign laws are not uncommon in the Court’s judgments. The debate was rekindled in and after Roper v Simmons. 518 The case drew strong reactions from the politicians and some went so far as to suggest that the justices concerned be impeached.519

516 517

Robin Cooke, “The Judge in An Evolving Society” (1998) 28 HKLJ 145, pp 147 – 149. Mark C. Rahdert, “Comparative Constitutional Advocacy”, (2007) 56 American University

Law Review 553

(2005)125 S. Ct. 1183. The Supreme Court decided, by five to four, that capital

punishment for a person under 18 would amount to cruel and unusual punishment, in contravention of the Eighth Amendment. The majority of the Court reached the decision on the basis that most of the states in the United States had abolished the execution of persons under 18, death penalty was a disproportionate response considering the mental states of such persons and in other parts of the world, Somalia was the only country which administered the penalty on minors.

Constitution Restoration Act of 2005. See Mark Tushnet, “The ‘Constitution Restoration

Act’ and Judicial Independence: Some Observations” (2006) 56 Case Western Reserve Law Review 1071; Ronald Kahn, “The Constitution Restoration Act, Judicial Independence and Popular Constitutionalism” (2006) 56 Case Western Reserve Law Review 1083; and Roger P. Alford, “Four Mistakes on ‘Outsourcing Authority’” (2006) 69 Albany Law Review 653, pp 661 – 663.


A variety of arguments have been advanced against the use of foreign laws. First, the US Constitution is unique in terms of language, structure, history and the values it enshrines; hence, foreign laws are irrelevant. 520 Secondly, the practice amounts to circumvention of the democratic process because foreign judges do not have to go through the confirmation hearings required for appointments to the US Supreme Court521 and also, the unelected judges may bring into the legal system foreign materials in such a way as to foreclose any choice by the elected politicians.522 Thirdly, judges can choose and pick those foreign decisions which suit their needs. 523 Fourthly, the practice undermines sovereignty and might not have been contemplated by the Framers of the Constitution.524

Some of the objections are apparently predicated on the premise that foreign laws would have binding effect. In fact, proponents intend foreign jurisprudence to be no more than persuasive authority.525 The answer to the sovereignty argument is that the decision whether or not to adopt a foreign law rests with the domestic courts. It is not uncommon for the legislature and the executive to align domestic laws with overseas norms.526 There is no reason why the judicial practice would undermine national sovereignty when similar
520 521 522

Rahdert (n 517 above), p 555 on Justice Scalia’s arguments. Ibid, p 558 on John Roberts’s views. Ernest A. Young, “Foreign Law and the Denominator Problem” (2005 ) 119 Harvard. Law.

Review 148, at 164.
523 524

Rahdert (n 517 above), p 555. Po-Jen Yap, “Transnational Constitutionalism in the United States: Toward a Worldwide

Use of Interpretive Modes of Comparative Reasoning” (2005) 39 University of San Franscisco of Law Review 999, p 1000.

Basil Markesinis and Jorg Fedtke, “The Judge as Comparatist” (2005) 80 Tulane Law

Review 11, at p 153, where the authors state, towards the end of a long and detailed article on comparative law, that “no advocate of the comparative method has, to our knowledge, ever suggested [that foreign law be regarded as binding authority] (except in the area of public international law)”.

Yap (n 524 above), p 1006.


practice by the political branches would not. Ernest A. Young’s response would be that the importation of foreign law through the appointed judiciary, instead of the elected branches, raises questions of democracy, division of authority within the constitutional structure and institutional competence.527 Those questions are more about the justification of judicial review than about the use of foreign law.

The persuasiveness of a foreign legal norm depends on the subject matter and the extent it is shared by various countries. At one end of the spectrum are constitutional principles, such as human rights, which may have universal application. Sujit Choudhry refers to “scholars who posit that constitutional guarantees are cut from a universal cloth, and that all constitutional courts are engaged in the identification, interpretation, and application of the same set of principles”.528 Jeremy Waldron, despite his firm stand against judicial review, defends the use of foreign legal norms which are referred to as “law of nations”, “general common law”, “federal common law”, “customary international law” or, what he prefers, “ius gentium” ie “a body of law purporting to represent what various domestic legal systems share in the way of common answers to common problem”. 529 The ius gentium, which represents “the accumulated wisdom of the world on rights and justice”,530 is not to replace any existing municipal law but to guide its elaboration and development.531

527 528

Young (n 522 above), pp 161 – 166. Sujit Choudhry, “Globalisation in Search of Justification: Toward a Theory of

Comparative Constitutional Interpretation” (1999) 74 Indiana Law Journal 819, p 833.

Jeremy Waldron, “Foreign Law and the Modern Ius Gentium” (2005) 119 Harard Law.

Review 129, p 133.
530 531

Ibid, p 138. Ibid, p 139.


6.2.1 Proper understanding of the “four walls” approach
Singapore adopts a universalist approach in commercial laws. 532 “(F)oreign laws are used extensively in private law cases … as well as in criminal law and administrative law cases.”533 In constitutional adjudications, the courts have now and then cited the “four walls” approach in the Malaysian case Government of the State of Kelantan v Government of the Federation of Malaya & Another” 534 to keep out comparison with foreign case laws. Chan Hiang Liang & Others v Public Prosecutor535 was the first case in Singapore where the court, in response to submission about the right to freedom of religion in the United States, cited Malaysian Chief Justice Thomson’s statement that “the Constitution is primarily to be interpreted within its own four walls and not in the light of analogies drawn from other countries such as Great Britain, the United States of America or Australia”.536 To illustrate that the case was still good authority, the court stated that “(t)his approach was recently affirmed by the Malaysian Supreme Court in PP v Pung Chen Choon. [1994] 1 MLJ 566”.537


Eugene Kheng-Boon Tan, “Law and Values in Governance: The Singapore Way” (2000)

30 HKLJ 91, pp 109 – 114 and 118.

Victor V Ramraj, “Comparative Constitutional Law in Singapore” (2002) 6 Singapore

Journal of International and Comparative Law 302, p 310.
534 535 536 537

[1963] 1 MLJ 355, at p 358. Cited in Chan Hiang Leng (n 344 above), at p 681D – E. Note 344 above. Note 534 above, p 358. Cited in Chan Hiang Leng (n 344 above), p 681D – E. Note 344 above, p 681E.


The persuasive weight of Kelantan v Malaya is dubious.538 Thio finds it ironical that CJ Thomas was borrowing from the Nigerian case of Adegbenro v Akintola.539 The irony fades away when one considers that the Nigerian case was decided by the Privy Council, Malyasia’s final appellant court on constitutional matters until 1978. In any case, the passage quoted by CJ Thomson from Adegbenro v Akintola in fact does not support a wholesale rejection of foreign materials in constitutional interpretation.540 To reject the argument that the Western Nigerian Constitution was modelled on the constitutional doctrines in the United Kingdom and “the British sovereign would not be regarded as acting with constitutional propriety in dismissing a


It was a unique case in which the Malaysian court had to decide, at short notice, a matter

requiring a construction of the agreement entered into between a federal government and its member states – whether under the agreement, the federal government might admit new member states without consulting the parties to the agreement. The need for an urgent decision probably prevented the litigants from fully researching and arguing the issue and the judge from setting out his reasoning in detail. The case was more in the nature of contractual interpretation with the judge attempting to ascertain the intentions of the contracting parties from the text of the agreement. The approach, therefore, cannot be transplanted for use without question in the interpretation of an open-textured bill of rights, which nearly constitutional cases in Singapore were about.

Li-ann Thio, “Beyond the ‘Four Walls’ in an Age of Transnational Judicial Conversations:

Civil Liberties, Rights Theories, and Constitutional Adjudication in Malaysia and Singapore” ( 2006) 19 Columbia Journal of Asian Law 428, p 431.

The issue in that case was whether, under the Constitution of Western Nigeria, the

Governor could remove the Premier from office by relying on a letter signed by the majority of the members of the House of Assembly, when the Assembly had not taken a vote on the matter. The relevant provision in the Constitution read: “the Governor shall not remove the Premier from office unless it appears to him that the Premier no longer commands the support of a majority of the members of the House of Assembly” (section 33(10)(a)). Delivering the Privy Council’s judgment, Viscount Radcliffe said the “decision turns on the meaning to be attached to the wording of s 33 of the Constitution of Western Nigeria read, as it should be, in the context of any other provisions of the constitution that may legitimately influence its meaning”: Adegbenro v Akintola and Another [1963] 3 All E.R. 544, at 548E.


Prime Minister from office without the foundation of an adverse vote on a major issue in the House of Commons”,541 Viscount Radcliffe said:

“That instrument [the Constitution] stands in its own right; and, while it may well be useful on occasions to draw on British practice or doctrine in interpreting a doubtful phrase whose origin can be traced or to study decisions on the constitutions of Australia or the United States where federal issues are involved, it is in the end the wording of the constitution itself that is to be interpreted and applied, and this wording can never be overridden by the extraneous principles of other constitutions which are not explicitly incorporated in the formulae that have been chosen as the frame of this constitution.” (Emphases added)

The principle from Adegbenro v Akintola is that the meaning of a constitutional provision should be ascertained, primarily, by interpreting its wording in the context of other relevant provisions in the constitution. If the meaning can thus be ascertained, it “can never be overridden by the extraneous principles of other constitutions which are not explicitly incorporated”. The Privy Council did not foreclose references to foreign materials. When the meaning cannot be found within the constitution itself, it “may well be useful on occasions” to look to practices and doctrines in other jurisdictions. The “four walls” approach in Kelantan v Malaya should be understood as an application of the same principle. Phrases such as “freedom of speech” and “equality before the law” should surely count as “doubtful phrases” for the purpose of Viscount Radcliffes’s dictum.

In Chan Hiang Leng, the High Court rejected judicial pronouncements in the United States on the freedom of religion on the ground that the US
541 542

Ibid, 550E. Ibid, 551A – B. Cited in Kelantan v Malaya (n 534 above), p 358.


Constitution contained the clause “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” whereas a similar “establishment clause” did not exist in the Constitution of Singapore.543 Similarly, the different wording in the US Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights, as compared with that in the Constitution of Singapore, was given as the reason for not following the US and ECtHR’s decisions on defamation.544 That appears to be a correct application of the principle in Kelantan v Malaya, which is a logical extension of the Singapore courts’ textualism and literalism in constitutional interpretation. This is merely a comment on the form and should not be taken to mean that the result of the case is correct in substance.

6.2.2 General critiques
Singapore courts did refer to foreign materials frequently both before and after Chan Hiang Liang. Discussing the end results and reasoning in cases where a large quantity of foreign materials were referred to, Thio and Ramraj suggest that the courts have been using such materials selectively to rationalise judicial deference

and cultural relativism. 546 In an article

analysing the courts’ pathological use of foreign cases – outright rejection, dismissing by focusing on superficial or non-significant distinctions and incorrect reliance – Thiruvengadam labels Singapore judges as National Formalist, whose traits include “a preference for the interpretive strategies of textualism and originalism”.547

543 544 545 546 547

Note 344 above, p 681F – G. J. B. Jeyaratnam v Lee Kuan Yew [1992] 2 SLR 310, p 330 “Beyond the ‘Four Walls’” (n 539 above), in particular pp 443 – 446 and 461 – 496. Ibid, 461 – 496 and Ramray (n 533 above), 310 – 332. Arun K Thiruvengadam, “Comparative Law and Constitutional Interpretation in

Singapore”, Chapter 4 in Evolution of a Revolution (n 451 above), at p 128.


In support of the suspicion that the Singapore courts are picking and choosing foreign cases out of judicial deference, it is observed that despite the frequent references, there have been, among the constitutional cases reported from 1997 to 2008, only two in which foreign case laws were used to rule against the government and in favour of the individuals. In Public Prosecutor v Manogaran s/o R Ramu, 548 the Court of Appeal overruled its previous decision and extended the meaning of “cannabis mixture”. As a result, more persons would be caught by the offence of possessing or trafficking “cannabis mixture”. In considering whether the overruling should take prospective or retrospective effect, the Court took account of the US cases on the doctrine of prospective overruling and an Indian case which restricted the application of the doctrine to issues arising under the Constitution. It chose not “to follow the narrow path marked out” in the Indian case and followed the US ruling.549 Similarly, in Abdul Nasir bin Amer Hamasah v Public Prosecutor, the Court of Appeal followed Manogaran and referred to case laws in Canada, United States and United Kingdom to hold that the pronouncement – that “life imprisonment” should mean “imprisonment of the remainder of life” and not “imprisonment for 20 years” – should take prospective effect.550 The principle of nullum crimen nulla poena sine lege (“conduct cannot be punished as criminal unless some rule of law has already declared conduct of that kind to be criminal and punishable as such”) is, indeed, as the CA noted, a “basic principle of criminal jurisprudence”. 551 The two cases could have been resolved on the basis of domestic law. The references to foreign cases amount to “affirmation” in Yap’s five modes of comparative reasoning.552

548 549 550 551 552

[1997] 1 SLR 22. Ibid, paras 71 and 73. [1997] 3 SLR 643, paras 43 – 60. Manogaram (n 548 above), para 61. Yap (n 524 above), p 1029.


6.2.3 Categories of foreign cases
Thio, Ramraj and Thiruvengadam use the word “foreign” to include all judicial decisions other than those made by Singapore courts. My general impression, not backed up by any quantitative analysis, is that in terms of frequency of references, foreign cases cited by Singapore courts in human rights cases can be divided into three categories based on jurisdictions: (a) courts in the United Kingdom, India and Malaysia; (b) other national courts in the world; and (c) international tribunals. Decisions by Privy Council and supreme courts of India and Malaysia
The first and most frequent category consists of decisions made by the Privy Council, House of Lords and supreme courts in India and Malaysia. This is only natural because the Privy Council was Singapore’s final appellant court on constitutional cases until 1989 while the constitution of Singapore, in particular the rights provisions therein, is genealogically linked to those of India and Malaysia.553 The Privy Council did state, though, that owing to the difference in language used in the constitutions, the Indian courts’ decisions on the rights provisions “should be approached with caution as guides to the interpretation” of the corresponding provisions in the Constitution of Singapore.554

Ramraj opines that the courts shunned universalist principles except in two cases: Chng Suan Tze [1988] 1 SLR 132 and J. B. Jeyaretnam v Public Prosecutor [1990] 1 MLJ 129.555 In Chng Suan Tze, which is also considered

553 554 555

“Beyond the ‘Four Walls’” (n 539 above), pp 432 & 433. Ong Ah Chuen v Public Prosecutor (n 443 above), p 669F – H. Ramraj (n 533 above), pp 317 – 321.


by two other commentators as the high water mark,556 the Singapore Court of Appeal replaced the subjective test in Liversidge v Anderson [1942] AC 206 and Lee Mau Seng [1971] 2 MLJ 137 with an objective test which had become the trend in decisions of the Privy Council and the highest courts in several Commonwealth countries.557 In fact, it was merely an exercise of stare decisis, the Privy Council being still Singapore’s final appeallant court then. As pointed out by the Minister for Law, the CA could have been overruled on appeal if it had decided otherwise.558 This observation does not support Yap’s regarding the case as an example of universalism559 even though, it is accepted, a universal principle was indeed involved. It would be more appropriate to classify the case – more specifically, the reference to decisions in Commonwealth countries – as “affirmation” in his categorisation.

In J. B. Jeyaretnam, the appellant was convicted for providing “public entertainment”, in the form of a public speech, without licence, in contravention of section 18(1) of the Public Entertainments Act. The judge, of his own volition, raised the question whether the section contravened art 14 of the Constitution; referred to the Indian case Indulal v State of Gujarat AIR 1963 G 259 and Privy Council case Arthur Francis v Chief of Police [1973] AC 761 (both of which were decided after reviewing decisions in the United States and India and in the case of Arthur Francis, also several other jurisdictions); and held that the licensing requirement under section 18(1) was not unconsitutional. Contrary to the principle in Kelantan v Malaya – and J. B. Jeyaretnam was decided before the “four walls” doctrine was cited by any Singapore court – the judge held that though the Constitution of Singapore

Thio (n 539 above), pp 451 – 455; and Arun K Thiruvengadam, “Comparative Law and

Constitutional Interpretation in Singapore”, Ch 4 in Evolution of a Revolution (n 451 above), pp 118 – 121.
557 558

See notes 324 - 327 above and accompanying text for an account of Chng Suan Tze Singapore Parliamentary Reports for sitting on 25 January 1989 (n 332 above), columns

472 – 473.

Yap (n 524 above), p 1039.


differed in language from the Indian constitution in Indulal and Constitution of St Christopher, Nevis and Anguilla in Arthur Francis, “the test of constitutionality applied in both Indulal AIR 1963 G 259 and Arthur Francis [1973] AC 761 is relevant to determine whether the [Public Entertainments] Act contravenes art 14(2) [of the Constitution of Singapore]”.560 The judge did so without explaining what were the differences in wording between the relevant constitutional provisions and why the differences did not affect the applicability of the foreign decisions to the situation in Singapore. It is doubtful whether a licensing requirement for a speech given in the circumstances of this case would be constitutional in most jurisdictions with entrenched bills of rights. The case, instead of being regarded as an application of universal principle, can at best be Choudhry’s “genealogical interpretation”, given Singapore’s historical link with the Privy Council and India. Decisions by major common law jurisdictions
The Privy Council also cautioned in Ong Ah Chuan that the US Supreme Court’s decisions on the US Bill of Rights “are of little use in construing provisions of the Constitution of Singapore” because the Bill’s “phraseology is now nearly 200 years old”.561 That brings us to the second category of decisions occasionally referred to by the Singapore courts, namely those made by the national courts of jurisdictions with entrenched bills of rights, mainly the United States, Australia and Canada.

Singapore’s resistance to developments in these jurisdictions is most noticeable in the laws impinging on the freedom of expression, namely, the laws on scandalising the court and on defamation. More specifically, the question of where to strike the right balance between protection of free speech
560 561

[1990] 1 MLJ 129, at 135. [1981] AC 648, at 669G.


and protection of public figures from criticism is an area in which the Singapore courts regard European and US values to be inapplicable to the social conditions in Singapore. They have done so without articulating why this is the case even though Singapore’s political and economic systems both originated from the west and have been serving the country well. Scandalising the court The rationale of the offence of scandalising the court is to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice 562 but it also has the unintended effect of protecting the reputation of the judges. In Attorney General v Wain & Others (No 1), the editor, publisher, printer and distributor of the Asian Wall Street Journal were prosecuted for the publication of an article which scandalised the court.563 While the law of contempt in Singapore was based on English laws, the High Court held that “those [English cases] from the beginning of the last decade onwards are … of no guidance … on the law of contempt applicable in Singapore”.564 The Canadian decisions, such as R v Kopyto 39 CCC 1, could not be regarded as authorities because they were “based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which has no parallel in Singapore”. 565 Decisions in the Commonwealth jurisdictions were of no

Attorney-General v Hertzberg Daniel and Others [2009] 1 SLR 1103, para 20 which refers

to Phang JA’s view in Pertamina Energy Trading Ltd v Karaha Bodas Co LLC and Others [2007] 2 SLR 518, para 22.

The article reported the comments made in New York by Peter Kann, the president of Dow

Jones & Co., the owner of Far Eastern Economic Review, about a defamation case in which the court awarded aggravated damages against the Review in favour of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. According to the article, Kann said what the Review had published was “an essentially accurate portrayal of highly newsworthy events” and “(s)oley because it was read to be critical of Mr. Lee, however, it has resulted in this unwarranted determination against the Review”: AG v Wain (No 1) [1991] 1 SLR 383, p 387.
564 565

Ibid, p 393. Ibid. Kopyto was decided by the Ontario Court of Appeal. While the Court unanimously

allowed the appeal by the defendant in the contempt proceedings, the judges were divided as


authority either because they turned on the facts of each case and the judges were “concerned with the social, political, industrial and other economic conditions prevailing in their respective societies at the particular time”. 566 The socio-political and economic situations in Singapore were markedly different from those in other countries. However, the only difference mentioned in the judgment was that there was no jury trial in Singapore.567 Thio argues that the difference means the judges in Singapore wield more powers and therefore need greater accountability.568 “The Canadian approach is more protective of free speech and, indeed, displays both judicial confidence in being able to withstand hardy criticism and faith in the public’s ability to discern truth from falsehood. To deny the applicability of this reasoning would be to suggest that the Singapore public was undiscerning and that judicial reputation rests on tenuous foundations!”569

That Singapore judges decide both questions of fact and law was again mentioned in Attorney General v Chee Soon Juan as a reason why “any attacks on a judge’s impartiality must be ‘firmly dealt with’ ”. 570 Another reason based on geography was added. While holding that Commonwealth case law and “recent jurisprudence from the UK had to be treated with considerable caution because of the differing legislation in those countries”,571 the judge quoted from a Privy Council’s case on contempt in Mauritius that

to the circumstances in which the law of contempt could be consistent with the freedom of expression guaranteed by s 2(b) of the Canadian Charter. The only consensus in the majority view was that a requirement of the offence was that the impugned speech must pose a clear and present or imminent danger to the administration of justice: C. J. Miller, Contempt of Court (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd edn, 2000), para 12.52.
566 567 568 569 570 571

AG v Wain (No 1) (n 563 above), p 393. Ibid, p 394. “Beyond the ‘four walls’ ” (n 539 above), p 470. Ibid, p 471. [2006] 2 SLR 650, para 26. Ibid, para 23.


“(t)he need for the offence of scandalising the court on a small island is greater”.572 In Ahnee the Privy Council went on, immediately after the quoted statement, as follows:

“Moreover, it must be borne in mind that the offence is narrowly defined. … There must be a real risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice. The field of application of the offence is also narrowed by the need in a democratic society for public scrutiny of the conduct of judges, and for the right of citizens to comment on matters of public concern.”573

The law of contempt in Singapore certainly does not follow the narrow definition and application mentioned in Ahnee. In AG v Chee Soon Juan, the judge described Singapore’s law in the following terms:

“Liability for scandalising the court does not depend on proof that the allegedly contemptuous publication creates a ‘real risk’ of prejudicing the administration of justice; it is sufficient to prove that the words complained of have the ‘inherent tendency to interfere with the administration of justice’ (per Sinnathuray J in Wain’s case at 397 [50]). In addition, the offence is also one of strict liability; the right to fair criticism is exceeded and a contempt of court is committed so long as the statement in question impugns the integrity and impartiality of the court, even if it is not so intended (see AG v Lingle [1995] 1 SLR 696 at 701, [13]).”574


Gilbert Ahnee and Others v Director of Public Prosecutions [1999] 2 AC 294, at 306A.

Quoted in AG v Chee Soon Juan (n 570 above), para 25.
573 574

Ahnee (n 572 above), p 306B – C. Note 570 above, para 31.


Thus framed, the offence simply does not take account of “the need in a democratic society for the public scrutiny of the conduct of judges, and for the right of citizens to comment on matters of public concern”.575 Defamation

The same one-sidedness in protecting the reputation of persons exercising public powers exists in the law of defamation. A commentator writing in 2006 observes that “no PAP leader has ever lost a defamation action against an opposition leader in the Singapore courts, and no foreign publisher has ever successfully defended a defamation action brought by a Singapore political leader in the Singapore courts”. 576 The Singapore judiciary has adhered to its version of common law on defamation despite developments in other jurisdictions towards enhancing freedom in the debate of political and public affairs. Incidentally, “the reputation of others” – an interest for “respect” under the ICCPR 577 and “protection” under the ECHR 578– is not specifically mentioned in Part IV of the Constitution of Singapore.579

The common laws on defamation in the major common law jurisdictions include three basic principles which are against the defendants and not conducive to free speech. First, a defamatory statement is presumed to

575 576

Note 573 above. Tey Tsun Hang, “Defamation and Political Speech”, paper delivered at the HKU-NUS

Symposium on The Common Law in the Asian Century, 11-12 December 2006, Hong Kong, pp 5 – 6. See also Tsun Hang Tey, “Singapore’s Jurisprudence of Political Defamation and Its Triple-whammy Impact on Political Speech” [2008] Public Law 452, pp 452 – 453.
577 578 579

Art 19(3) of ICCPR. Art 10(2) of ECHR. The Constitution provides, however, that “Parliament may by law impose – … restrictions

[on the right to freedom of expression] designed … to protect against contempt of court, defamation …”: art 14(2)(a).


be false.580 Secondly, liability is strict and a defendant is liable regardless of his state of mind when publishing the statement. Thirdly, the plaintiff in a libel case is presumed to have suffered damages. 581 In respect of the first two principles, the imbalance is redressed by the defences of justification, fair comment, absolute privilege and qualified privilege. The qualified privilege is available where the defendant has a duty (whether legal, social or moral) to publish the information and the recipients have a corresponding interest to receive it (“the reciprocity principle”).582 The defendant bears the burden of proving the facts and circumstances which give rise to the privilege. The claim of privilege can be defeated by proof of “malice”, eg the defendant lacked an “honest belief” in the untrue defamatory statement

or “the defendant

misused the occasion for some purpose other than that for which the privilege is accorded by law”.584 In recognition of the importance of the free debates on political and public affairs in a democratic society, courts in the United States,585 Europe,586 Australia,587 New Zealand588 and the United Kingdom589

Dario Milo, Defamation and Freedom of Speech (Oxford; New York: Oxford University

Press, 2008), pp 10 – 12 and Ch V. See also Patrick Milmo, W.V.H. Rogers, Godwin Busuttil, Richard Parkes and Clive Walker (eds), Gatley on Libel and Slander (London: Thomson Reuters, 11th edn, 2008), para 11.3.
581 582 583 584

Milo (n 580 above), pp 10 – 12. Gatley on Libel and Slander (n 580 above), paras 1.10, 14.1 and 14.4 – 14.8. Horrocks v Lowe [1975] AC 135, 150B, per Lord Diplock. Ibid, 150F. According to Milo (n 580 above), p 187 note 11, the Australian law largely

follows English cases in defining “malice”.

The US Supreme Court decided in New York Times v Sullivan that the requirement for

defendants to prove truth of defamatory statements would deter would-be critics from commenting on public conduct since a factual statement, even if true, might be difficult to prove. In the light of the First Amendment, the Court pronounced “a federal rule that prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made with ‘actual malice’ – that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not”: (1964) 376 US 254, at 279 – 280

The European Court of Human Right held in Lingus v Austria (1986) 8 E.H.R.R. 407 that a

politician should expect to be subject to closer scrutiny by the media. “The limits of


acceptable criticism are accordingly wider as regards a politician as such than as regards a private individual ….” (Para 42). The ECtHR probably had the common defence of qualified privilege in mind when it said that the press had the task of communicating not just fact, but also opinions interpreting the facts, and the public had the right to receive such information (para 41). Opinions were value judgments incapable of being proved. Article 111 of the Austrian Criminal Code which punished Mr. Lingus, a journalist, unless he could prove the truth of his defamatory opinions was held to violate Art 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (paras 46 & 47).

In Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1997) 145 ALR 96, the High Court of

Australia held that the law of defamation would impose an undue burden on the freedom of communication under the Commonwealth Constitution of Australia if it provided “no appropriate defence for a person who mistakenly but honestly publishes government or political matter to a large audience” (p 114, lines 18 – 19). To render consistency with the Constitution, the Court expanded the defence of qualified privilege by declaring that “each member of the Australian community has an interest in disseminating and receiving information, opinions and arguments concerning government and political matters that affect the people of Australia. The duty to disseminate such information is simply the correlative of the interest in receiving it” (p 115, lines 34 – 38). Mindful that the extension might result in inadequate protection of the reputation of the defamed, the Court required defendants who invoked the extended category of qualified privilege to prove that their conduct was reasonable in all circumstances of the case. Furthermore, the defence would be defeated if the plaintiff could prove that the publication of the defamatory statement was actuated by ill will or improper motive (p 117, lines 38 – 46). Given the nature of politics, “the motive of causing political damage to the plaintiff or his or her party cannot be regarded as improper. Nor can the vigour of an attack or the pungency of a defamatory statement, without more, discharge the plaintiff’s onus of proof of this issue” (p 118, lines 16 – 19).

Shortly after Lange v ABC (n 587 above), the New Zealand Court of Appeal also reviewed

the defence of qualified privilege. After an extensive survey of the development of the defence in the common law world, it came to the conclusion that the defence applied to “political statements which are published generally”, ie “generally-published statements which directly concern the functioning of representative and responsible government, including statements about the performance or possible future performance of specific individuals in elected public office”: Lange v Atkinson [1998] 3 NZLR 424, at 468. This amounted to the same effect as the extended category of qualified privilege in Lange v ABC, except that the New Zealand Court of Appeal decided not to introduce the reasonableness of conduct test. Tipping J gave three reasons for not introducing the test: “No other occasion of qualified privilege has such a requirement; there would be difficulties in drawing the line as to


have, during the 20th century, reversed the onus of proof or expanded qualified privilege in cases where the plaintiffs are politicians or government officials.
what occasions of qualified privilege were and were not covered by reasonableness requirement; and however one dressed it up, we would thereby be creating essentially a new defence which is the prerogative of Parliament and not a bona fide development of the common law defence of qualified privilege” (pp 474 – 475). On appeal, the Privy Council remitted the case back to the NZCA for reconsideration in the light of the House of Lords’ judgment in Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd (n 589 below). The NZCA decided that since the constitutional structure, relevant statute law and local political and social conditions in New Zealand were different from those in the United Kingdom and Australia – and in particular, the press in NZ was tame and had a relatively small circulation and section 19 of the Defamation Act 1992 in New Zealand prevented misuse of qualified privilege – its earlier decision was appropriate: Lange v Atkinson [2000] 3 NZLR 385, pp 395 – 405. The Court, though, added another point which it said was implicit in its earlier discussion, and that is, “to attract privilege the statement must be published on a qualifying occasion” (para 41). It did not explain, however, what “qualifying occasion” meant in relation to “political statement which are published generally”. Presumably, it would only exclude private communications on an occasion which does not meet the reciprocity principle.

In Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd [2001] 2 AC 127, the House of Lords decided against

affording qualified privilege to a generic category of “political information”. Such a privilege would not give sufficient protection to reputation (p 204G per Lord Nicholls); “it would be unsound in principle to distinguish political discussion from discussion of other matters of serious public concern” (p 204H per Lord Nicholls); the privilege might result in plaintiffs being allowed to access confidential source of information by way of discovery (p 210G to H per Lord Steyn and p 240B per Lord Hobhouse); it was at variance with the ECtHR’s jurisprudence about conducting a balancing exercise based on the facts in individual cases (pp 210H – 211C per Lord Steyn); and the category of “political information” privilege could not be described with precision (pp 230B – 235E per Lord Hope). Instead, the HL considered that the existing defence of qualified privilege was elastic enough such that a case by case approach should be adopted taking into account various factors such as the seriousness of the charge, the nature of the information and urgency of the matter (pp 204H – 205F per Lord Nicholls, p 213C per Lord Steyn and p 240C per Lord Hobhouse). “The press discharges vital functions as a bloodhound as well as a watchdog. The court should be slow to conclude that a publication was not in the public interest and, therefore, the public had no right to know, especially when the information is in the field of political discussion. Any lingering doubts should be resolved in favour of publication.” (Page 205F – G per Lord Nicholls).


In the leading case of Jeyaratnam Joshua Benjamin v Lee Kuan Yew [1992] 2 SLR 310, the Court of Appeal declined to follow Sullivan 590 and Lingus. 591 The reasons were first, the wording of the relevant provisions in the US Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights were different from those in the Constitution of Singapore. 592 More specifically, Singapore’s constitution provided for freedom of expression to be restricted by the law on defamation.593 Secondly, contrary to the premises in Sullivan and Lingus, politicians and government officials in Singapore were entitled to the same protection of reputation as other people.594 Thirdly, Sullivan opened the gate too widely and might deter sensitive and honourable persons from seeking public office.595 The first and second reasons evade the argument that the law should develop in order to give greater latitude to political speeches. As regards the different wording in constitutional provisions, comparative constitutionalism could never be practised if such difference were in itself a sufficient reason for refusing any foreign law. The US Constitution and ECHR do permit freedom of expression to be restricted by law but “the law” does not mean, as interpreted by the Singapore courts, just any enacted law or common law. The third reason – at least the first part – is probably shared by the Australian High Court and the House of Lords, as evidenced from their reasoning in Lange v Australia Broadcasting Corporation596 and Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd.597

The High Court of Singapore discussed the developments of qualified privilege in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom in Lee Hsien
590 591 592 593 594 595 596 597

Note 585 above. Note 586 above. [1992] 2 SLR 310, p 330. Ibid, pp 330 – 332. Ibid, p 332. Ibid, p 333. Note 587 above. Note 589 above.


Loong v Singapore Democratic Party. 598 As the CA had rejected Lingus on the ground that the wording of the ECHR differed from that of the Constitution of Singapore, Ang J refused to follow Reynolds because its decision was influenced by the ECHR. 599 With regard to Lange v ABC and Lange v Atkinson, she noted that the approach of granting special privilege to information on political and government matters was rejected by Lord Nicholls in Reynolds.600

Ang J’s reasoning, justifiably, did not impress Woo Bih Li J. The latter let in a breathe of fresh air when he attempted to crack the four walls with his statement, in Lee Hsien Loong v Review Publishing Co. Ltd, that:

“It is only necessary for me to say that Reynolds was influenced by Art 10 [of the European Convention on Human Rights]. It matters not how great that influence was as that influence in itself does not necessarily mean that Reynolds should not apply in Singapore. Likewise for the point about legislation and/or circumstances prevailing in Australia or New Zealand.”601

In the end, however, he held there was no general media privilege as he was “bound by the doctrine of precedence to adopt the same position as Ang J which was endorsed by the Court of Appeal”.602

598 599 600 601 602

[2007] 1 SLR 675. Ibid, para 76. Ibid, para 77. [2009] 1 SLR 177, para 211. Ibid, para 221.

167 Decisions by international tribunals
The third category of foreign cases consists of the jurisprudence of international tribunals. The UN Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights are two rich sources of authorities for human rights adjudications. Yet, it appears that Singapore courts never refer to any decision by the HRC. 603 The courts mentioned the ECtHR’s decisions, on most occasions, only indirectly – when referring to UK or other common law courts’ rulings which were based on or influenced by the ECtHR’s jurisprudence. Direct references to the ECtHR’s decisions had been made only in several cases concerning the freedom of speech. In defamation, the Court of Appeal held that it could not follow the ECtHR’s decisions because “(t)he terms of our art 14 of our Constitution differs materially from … art 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights”. 604 The resistance is more distinct when it comes to the law on contempt of court. The High Court held that though Singapore’s law on contempt was derived from the common law of England, English cases from the beginning of the 1980s became of no guidance because of the changes brought about by the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and because the United Kingdom was now bound by the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.605

The Singapore courts’ resistance to the ECtHR’s decisions – and consequently, also the human rights decisions made by the English courts after the Human Rights Act 1998 – was set out clearly in Chee Siok Chin v Minister for Home Affairs . 606 After reviewing a series of English cases concerning the right to public demonstration, the High Court observed that

Based on a Lexis search of the Singapore Law Reports conducted on 11 September 2009

for “Human Rights Committee”.
604 605 606

J. B. Jeyaratnam v Lee Kuan Yew [1992] 2 SLR 310, p 330. Attorney General v Wain & Others (No 1) [1991] 1 SLR 383 at 393 [2006] 1 SLR 582.


“(i)t is obvious that a distinct and decisive legislative and judicial transformation has taken place in England over the last decade, in particular, on the resolution and/or adjudication of public order issues”. 607 Turning specifically to the ECtHR, the court said “the terms and tenor of Art 10(2) of the … Convention … are very different from Art 14 of the Constitution”;608 the margin of appreciation “restricts different members of the European Union from straying too widely from perceived common standards in interpreting and applying legislation involving human rights”; 609 and proportionality, a more exacting requirement than reasonableness, was not part of the law of Singapore.

The relevant paragraphs in the judgment amount to an

elaboration of the government’s reason in 1989 for abolishing appeals to the Privy Council. The Minister for Law who introduced the constitutional amendment said then that “all these developments connected with the European Community are contrary to Singapore's experience and irrelevant to our circumstances”. 611

6.3.1 Authority for use of foreign precedents
While Singapore courts emphasise local conditions in resisting foreign judicial decisions in constitutional adjudication, Hong Kong courts place much reliance on foreign materials. In R v Sin Yau-ming, 612 the first

constitutional review case reaching the Hong Kong Court of Appeal, the court
607 608 609 610 611

Ibid, para 84. Ibid, para 86. Ibid, para 86 Ibid, para 87. Singapore Parliamentary Reports for sitting on 25 January 1989 (n 332 above), column


(1991) 1 HKPLR 88


sought guidance from the decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee, the ECtHR and national courts of the United Kingdom, United States and Canada. The approach was endorsed and elaborated upon by the Privy Council in Attorney General v Lee Kwong-kut:

“Reference was also made in the judgments in the Sin Yau-ming case to the decisions in other common law jurisdictions, including the United States and Canada, and of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights. Such decisions can give valuable guidance as to the proper approach to the interpretation of the Hong Kong Bill, particularly where the decisions in the other jurisdictions are in relation to an article in the same or substantially the same terms as that contained in the equivalent provision of the Hong Kong Bill. However, it must not be forgotten that decisions in other jurisdictions are persuasive and not binding authority and that the situation in those jurisdictions may not necessarily be identical to that in Hong Kong. This is particularly true in the case of decisions of the European Court, … The European Court is not concerned directly with the validity of domestic legislation but whether, in relation to a particular complaint, a State has in its domestic jurisdiction infringed the rights of a complainant under the European Convention; whereas, in the case of the Hong Kong Bill, the Hong Kong Courts, and on appeal the Board, have to determine the validity of domestic legislation having regard to the entrenched provisions of the Hong Kong Bill.”613

After 1 July 1997, the practice receives constitutional backing by way of BL 84, which provides that the courts “may refer to precedents of other common law jurisdictions”. Yet, the practice has been so firmly established that probably no judge finds it necessary to cite any authority. I shall mention

(1993) 3 HKPLR 72, p 90 line 38 to p 91, line 12, per Lord Woolf.


just two cases to illustrate how the courts have used foreign materials, including but not confined to judicial decisions, in finding the solutions to novel, constitutional issues.

6.3.2 Examples of use of foreign materials Scandalising the court
The Oriental Daily News, which has the largest circulation among newspapers in Hong Kong, ran a series of articles for several days which made “abusive, offensive and scurrilous attacks with … racial slurs”614 against Obscene Articles Tribunal members and two judges and in addition, mounted a paparazzi operation on one of the judges. As a result, it was prosecuted for scandalising the court. In both the trial and the appeal, the defence relied on the Canadian case R v Kopyto615 to argue that the offence of scandalising the court was inconsistent with the freedom of expression guaranteed by the ICCPR. Like Singapore, Hong Kong judges decided not to follow Kopyto.

However, while the former did so on the bland assertions about differences in the wording of constitutional provisions and in social circumstances, the latter gave very detailed reasons, which included why the English and New Zealand decisions, though made without any constraint posed by a bill of rights, were preferred.

The offence had never been judicially considered in Hong Kong and there were widely different approaches in other common law jurisdictions.616


Secretary for Justice v The Oriental Press Group Ltd & Others [1998] 2 HKLRD 123, p (1988) 47 DLR (4th) 213. Also, see n 565 above. S for J v Oriental (n 614 above), pp 163J – 164A.

615 616


Having regard to the English and New Zealand authorities, the trial judges617 formulated the ingredients of the offence. On the actus reus, they arrived at the following test: “was there a real risk that the acts complained of would undermine confidence in the due administration of justice in the minds of at least some of the persons who were likely to become aware of the publication or acts complained of?” 618 “The phrase ‘a real risk’ should be given its ordinary meaning. It means a good chance as opposed to a mere possibility. Whether such a risk has been established will depend on the circumstances of each case including the nature of the act done or the language of the publication used. It will also depend on whether there is a pending action or whether the act or publication is targeted at a particular case or at the court or judge generally.”619

On the question whether the offence was necessary for the maintenance of public confidence in the administration of justice, the court commented on three points coming out of selected passages in Kopyto. First, it disagreed with the view that “a modern advanced society is too sophisticated to be taken by invective aimed at the judiciary”.620 In the instant case, readers’ letters which the newspaper claimed to have received after the publication of the articles complained of showed a significant risk of public confidence in the administration of justice having been undermined. Secondly, it disagreed with the view that “(t)he judges should not be seen to be suppressing criticism of themselves, however vitriolic or extreme that criticism may be”.621 In a trial for scandalising the court, judges were protecting the system of administration of justice and not themselves personally. Thirdly, it also disagreed with the

The Chief Justice directed, under s 32(3) of the High Court Ordinance (Cap 4), that the

case be heard by two High Court judges instead of one, as is normally the case: S for J v Oriental (n 614 above), p 172F.
618 619 620 621

Ibid, p 152B – C. Ibid, p 151I – J. Ibid, p 162I. Ibid, p 163A.


view that the law of defamation would be sufficient to protect the judges. The offence of scandalising the court was necessary in order to put a quick stop to any act which posed a real risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice. That was why the proceedings for the offence was a summary process. Furthermore, individual judges could not institute defamation action if the attack was directed at the judiciary as a whole.622 The court already had the proportionality test in mind when it formulated the ingredients of the offence. In particular, the mens rea – an intention to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice was not an ingredient of the offence – was compensated by the actus reus, which required a real risk to be established.623

Kopyto was rejected with more reasons in the appeal proceedings. The defendant’s counsel asked why, given the similarity of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with the relevant provisions in Hong Kong, what was unconstitutional in Canada could be necessary in Hong Kong. In a reply which reminds one of Choudhry’s genealogical interpretation and Tushnet’s expressivism or Yap’s exposition, Mortimer VP said “(t)he answer … lies partly in the Commonwealth tradition and partly in what is necessary in the particular circumstances of Hong Kong”. Kopyto, he said, was influenced by the American jurisprudence and its “clear and present danger” test, such that the offence of contempt could only be committed if there was interference with the fair trial of present or pending proceedings. In contrast, the Commonwealth tradition treated the administration of justice as a continuing process and protected all the factors which contributed to such a process.624 The “real risk” test in the Commonwealth tradition – derived from Solicitor General v Radio Avon Ltd [1978] 1 NZLR 225 at p 239 – was, even though the case was decided before New Zealand’s Bill of Rights, not of practical
622 623 624

Ibid, p 163E – H. Ibid, p 164A – C. Wong Yeung Ng v Secretary for Justice [1999] 2 HKLRD 293, p 312A – C.


difference from the minority views of Dubin and Brooke JJA in Kopyto that “(w)hat must be shown is that, by reason of the statement made by the appellant, there was a real risk that the administration of justice would be interfered with”.625 As regards the local circumstances, it was true that Hong Kong’s legal system was held in high repute. However, court proceedings were widely publicised and in view of the relatively small size of the legal system here, many judges were known by name in reporting. “Sustained scurrilous, abusive attacks made in bad faith, or conduct which challenges the authority of the court, are not susceptible to reasoned answer.”626 Such attacks, if they went unchecked, would undermine the ordinary citizens’ confidence in the administration of justice.627 Mayo JA countered Kopyto with the ECtHR’s decision in The Sunday Times v United Kingdom [1980] 2 EHRR 245, which showed that the newspapers’ freedom of expression could be restricted, on ground of contempt of court, in certain circumstances.628

Leong JA’s rejection of Kopyto was less forceful. He held that the Canadian case “was decided in the light of the Canadian Charter according to the Canadian social circumstances and therefore decided against a background totally different from that of Hong Kong”. 629 He did not elaborate on the differences. Instead, he referred to the article complained of in Kopyto as compared with those in the instant case, before ending with a remark which should be true of all foreign cases: “In any case, the Canadian approach should be treated as providing guidance and it cannot be said that the Judges were not justified in refusing to follow R v Kopyto”.630


R v Kopyto (1988) 47 DLR (4th) 213, p 290. Quoted in Wong Yeung Ng (n 624 above), p

626 627 628 629 630

Wong Yeung Ng (n 624 above), p 313B. Ibid, p 313C – F. Ibid, p 320E. Ibid, p 329D. Ibid, p 329F.

174 “Flag case”
About four months after the NPCSC’s Interpretation of BL 22(4) and 24(2)(3), the “flag case” – in which two activists were prosecuted for the offences of desecrating the national flag and the HKSAR flag, in contravention of the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance and the Regional Flag and Regional Emblem Ordinance respectively – reached the Court of Final Appeal. At issue was whether the relevant criminalising provisions in the ordinances were consistent with the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Basic Law. The Court was in a no-win situation. The former ordinance was enacted after the NPCSC had decided, under BL 18(3), to apply in Hong Kong the PRC Law on the National Flag. If the CFA upheld its constitutionality, it would be susceptible to criticisms about backing down to the Central Government to the detriment of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. A contrary verdict would result in backlash from the Mainland officials and scholars and local “patriots” about the Court, again, acting out of turn; the possibility of another re-interpretation was there.

Under article 19 of the ICCPR, the freedom of expression may be restricted only if the restriction is necessary to achieve the specified objectives, including “the protection of … public order (ordre public)”. Having regard to the Siracusa Principles agreed to by a group of experts in 1984 and an advisory opinion issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 1986, the CFA reached the view that the concept of ordre public could not be precisely defined but included “what is necessary for the protection of the general welfare or for the interests of the collectivity as a whole”. 631 In considering whether the criminalisation of flag desecration was “necessary” for the protection of ordre public, the Court performed the proportionality test. The test originated from the German Federal Court; influenced the European


HKSAR v Ng Kung Siu & Another [1999] 3 HKLRD 907, at 925A.


Court of Justice; spread to the Member States of the European Union;632 had implicitly been incorporated into the limitation clauses in the European Convention on Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights and the ICCPR; and was anchored in general international law.633 The test was to be conducted with the Court according due weight to the view of the HKSAR’s legislature that it is appropriate to enact the two ordinances. On one side of the balance, four of the five judges regarded the criminalisation to be “only a limited restriction on the right to the freedom of expression”.634 On the other side, the national and regional flags were unique symbols of national unity and regional integrity. Their protection played an important part in the attainment of the “one country, two systems” at the early stage of China’s resumption of the sovereignty over Hong Kong. Hence, the Court concluded that “the test of necessity is satisfied”.635 In support, the Court noted, without naming the countries concerned, that “a number of democratic nations which have ratified the ICCPR have enacted legislation which protects the national flag by criminalising desecration or similar acts punishable by imprisonment”.636

What would be more interesting for the purpose of our present discussion is the concurring judgment by Bokhary PJ, in which he referred to a host of foreign decisions (in the United States, Italy and Germany) and diversity of practices. From them he identified two approaches. One was to tolerate flag desecration as a form of expression though there were more effective ways, than such desecration, to make the same point. The other approach was to protect the national or regional flag from desecration for
632 633

“The Judge as Comparatist” (n 525 above), p 80. Yutaka Arai-Takahashi, The Margin of Appreciation Doctrine and the Principle of

Proportionality in the Jurisprudence of the ECHR (Antwerp; Oxford; New York: Intersentia, 2002), p 190.
634 635 636

Ng Kung Siu (n 631 above), p 926C per Li CJ. Ibid. Ibid, p 926F per Li CJ.


reason of reverence because people could still put their point across in many other ways. “Both [approaches] accord respect to the national flags and emblems. And both recognise that freedom of expression is not confined only to what is expressed but extends also to how it is expressed.”637 The question of which approach to adopt was one for the legislature under the separation of powers. The legislature, through enacting the ordinances under discussion, had gone for the second approach. The court’s role was to examine whether it was possible to protect the flags and emblems while maintaining the freedom of expression. In conclusion, Bokhary stated:

“This is possible if its flag and emblem protection laws are specific, do not affect the substance of expression, and touch upon the mode of expression only to the extent of keeping flags and emblems impartially beyond politics and strife. In my view, our laws protecting the national and regional flags and emblems from public and wilful desecration meet such criteria.”638

Bokhary PJ’s judgment – more specifically, his deducing from foreign materials the two different approaches towards flag desecration – is regarded by Yap as an example of functionalism. 639 Yap does not discuss Li CJ’s majority judgment presumably because it makes few explicit references to overseas materials. The principle of proportionality is now such an essential feature of human rights adjudications across the world that its foreign origin – foreign to Hong Kong and also, to its former source of common law the United Kingdom – can easily be overlooked. The universal principle was used in Ng Kung Siu to diagnose and solve the problem of how to determine whether the restriction was “necessary … for the protection of … ordre public” (“diagnosis” and “universalism”). The Siracusa Principles and
637 638 639

Ibid, p 932D – E, per Bokhary PJ. Ibid, p 933B – C. Yap (n 524 above), p 1037.


decision of the Inter-American Human Rights Court threw light on what ordre public meant (“functionalism”). The special situation in Hong Kong was fed into the balancing exercise (“exposition”) while the reference to ICCPR countries which punished flag desecration is an example of “affirmation”. The CFA did attract criticisms because of the “flag case”. This will be discussed in the section below concerning the proportionality test.

6.4 Comparison
Andrew Phang Boon Leong, a legal scholar now a Judge of Appeal, explains the concept of legal autochthony in the following terms:

“Simply put, legal autochthony is related to the development of an indigenous (here, Singapore) legal system that is sensitive to (and reflective of) the needs and circumstances of the nation concerned and its people. In other words, the legal system has, in the final analysis, uniquely local roots which are run deep in local soil and which, consequently, produce a uniquely local plant, bearing local fruit. Taking the metaphor further, whilst acknowledging that the initial seed was English in origin, the present mission is to cultivate the soil and surrounding circumstances in order that the legal tree which grows is wholly in tune with the local context. On occasion at least, some pruning and even engrafting may be necessary. Such pruning already takes place, it is suggested, through the application of the concepts of suitability and modification. Engrafting can take place with either local or even foreign legal stems.” 640 (Emphases added)

He also opines that “in the context of a country like Singapore where its only substantive resources comprise people and its focus is on commerce

Andrew Phang Boon Leong, From Foundation to Legacy: The Second Charter of Justice

(Singapore: Singapore Academy of Law, 2006), p 52.


as well as the provision of financial services”, “law in general and legal scholarship in particular must reflect the ever-increasing interconnectedness of nations and their respective legal system”. 641 As an expert on private law, Phang JA has the commercial law particularly in mind with those words. They are, however, equally applicable to human rights. The “ever-increasing interconnectedness” is brought about not just by economic inter-dependence but also, by sharing similar moral values. Yet, in constitutional rights adjudications, no occasional engrafting has taken place. Under Singapore’s version of the four walls doctrine in Kelantan v Malaya, the judges are expressivists practising Yap’s exposition, except that there is no genuine inquiry into the question of whether – and if so, how – Singapore’s conditions are different from other jurisdictions. Choudhry’s dialogical interpretation, aimed at a deeper understanding of – and consequently improvement to – Singapore’s own legal system is nowhere to be seen. Phang JA’s extra-judicial writing and Woo J’s dictum,642 however, inspire hope that perhaps changes are on the horizon.

In Hong Kong courts could have adopted in entirety Phang JA’s words quoted in the two preceding paragraphs. The engrafting and “ever-increasing interconnectedness of nations” advocated by him are very much the order of the day. The reasons for the different treatments of “foreign legal stems” in the two places can be explained by the difference in soil. The Singapore constitutional tree has “uniquely local roots … run deep” in the Shared Values whereas the Hong Kong soil is reflected in the HKSAR Government’s slogan of “Hong Kong, a world city”. The Hong Kong constitutional tree has grown to its present size through the engrafting of “foreign legal stems”, with nutrition from the local – yet cosmopolitan – rights-commitment soil.

641 642

Ibid, 62. See n 601 above and accompanying text.


Few rights are absolute. In the ICCPR and ECHR, for example, only specified rights, notably the right not to be subject to torture and the right not to be held in slavery or servitude, are non-derogable even in time of war and emergency. 643 In normal times, most rights may be restricted by “law”. Express provisions to that effect are contained in Part IV of the Constitution of Singapore and in the Basic Law as well as those ICCPR provisions applicable to Hong Kong pursuant to BL 39(1). The differences in constitutional interpretation between Singapore and Hong Kong boil down to three aspects: What is the meaning of “law”? What is the test to determine constitutionality? Who bears the burden of proving the constitutionality of the “law” in question?

In the jurisprudence of the ECtHR, for any limitation of the rights protected by the ECHR to be acceptable, three standards have to be met. First, the limitation must be “in accordance with law” or “prescribed by law”.644 Second, it must be for the purpose of protecting one or more of the legitimate aims which are exhaustively specified in the relevant articles.645 Even where
643 644

ICCPR art 4(2) and ECHR art 15(2). Yutaka Arai, “The Systems of Restrictions”, Ch 5 in Pieter van Dijk, Fried van Hoof,

Arjen van Rijn and Leo Zwaak (eds), Theory and Practice of the European Convention on Human Rights (Antwerpen; Oxford: Intersentia, 2006), pp 334 – 336.

Ibid and pp 336 – 340.


no express limitation is provided for in the relevant article and except for the non-derogable rights under art 15(2), the ECtHR may read into the relevant article an inherent or implied limitation. These include the right to access to court – an implied right derived from art 6 – and the right to property under art 1 of the First Protocol. 646 Third, the limitation must be “necessary in a democratic society”.647

In Sunday Times v UK, the ECtHR held that the expression “prescribed by law” covered both unwritten and statute law648 which “must be adequately accessible: the citizen must be able to have an indication that is adequate in the circumstances of the legal rules applicable to a given case” (the “accessibility test”) and “is formulated with sufficient precision to enable the citizen to regulate his conduct: he must be able – if need be with appropriate advice – to foresee, to a degree that is reasonable in the circumstances, the consequences which a given action may entail” (the “foreseeability test”).649

For the second and third standards, the ECtHR has stated time and again that “inherent in the whole of the Convention is a search for a fair balance between the demands of the general interests of the community and the requirements of the protection of the individual’s fundamental rights”.650 The limitation of rights must, therefore, be “proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued”. 651 The principle of proportionality also applies to art 14

646 647

Ibid, pp 343 – 350. Yutaka Arai, “The Systems of Restrictions”, Ch 5 in Pieter van Dijk, Fried van Hoof,

Arjen van Rijn and Leo Zwaak (eds), Theory and Practice of the European Convention on Human Rights (Antwerpen; Oxford: Intersentia, 2006), pp 334 – 336.
648 649 650

[1980] 2 EHRR 245, para 47. Ibid, para 49. David Harris, et al Harris, O’Boyle & Warbrick: Law of the European Convention on

Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd edn, 2009), p 10.



prohibiting discrimination. 652 Arai-Takahashi observes that “the notion of proportionality at times appears to play a merely rhetorical role” and “(e)xpress reference to proportionality does not necessarily accompany a genuine assessment, in particular, of the effects of the interference on the individual”.653

In a search for a theory of constitutional review, Beatty claims to have found it in the principle of proportionality. “Building a theory of judicial review around a principle of proportionality, it turns out, satisfies all the major criteria that must be met for it to establish its integrity. It qualifies both as a ‘neutral principle’ in Herbert Wechsler’s famous turn of phrase and it meets Ronald Dworkin’s tests of ‘fit’ and ‘value’ as well.” 654 The principle, according to him, is subscribed to by judges all over the world and applies to the adjudication of all rights and freedoms.655

The ECtHR applies the proportionality test alongside the margin of appreciation – another doctrine not expressly stated in the Convention – which gives national authorities latitude in weighing the competing public and individual interests.656 The latitude, out of the national authorities’ specialist knowledge on the local conditions, varies in degree depending on various factors, eg the nature of the particular right involved, 657 whether the right imposes any positive obligation on the national authorities, 658 whether national security or national fiscal policies are involved,659 whether there is
652 653 654

Ibid, p 11. Arai-Takahashi (n 633 above), p 16. David M. Beatty, The Ultimate Rule of Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp

160 – 161.
655 656 657 658 659

Ibid, Ch 5: “Proportionality”, in particular pp 159 – 166. Arai-Takahashi (n 633 above), pp 11 – 14. Ibid, pp 8 – 9. Ibid, pp 85 – 86 and 217 – 222. Ibid, pp 43 – 45.


consensus among the Member states


and the question of derogation in

times of emergency. 661 The Court appears to regard certain rights as fundamental to a democratic society and hence, allows a narrower margin than for other rights lower on the hierarchy.662 For example, equality being such a fundamental right, non-discrimination is one of the areas in which national authorities are allowed the narrowest margin. 663 In contrast, the margin is wider in respect of moral issues, such as sexual obscenity or propriety, because of the absence of uniformed standard among states.664 When it comes to derogation in times of emergency, national authorities have wide discretion as to whether emergency conditions exist but there is closer supervision by the Court on whether a particular derogating measure is justified.665

In an adversarial litigating system, a general rule is that the party who makes an allegation – which can safely be presumed to be one favourable to his position – bears the burden of proving the allegation. The general rule becomes inappropriate when it comes to the question of whether a particular legislative or executive act is constitutional. First, the assumption that the allegation of unconstitutionality, if proved, is favourable to only the individual who makes it is invalid. It is, indeed, a matter of both collective and individuals’ interests that such acts should comply with the constitution.666 Secondly, from the pragmatic point of view, to place the burden of proof on the state would press it to consider the constitutional implications carefully

660 661 662 663 664 665 666

Ibid, p 84. Ibid, pp 8 – 9. Ibid, p 246. Ibid, pp 165, 223 – 225 and 247. Ibid, pp 102 – 104 and 206 – 208. Ibid, pp 176 – 184. See Juliane Kokott, The Burden of Proof in Comparative and International Human Rights

Law (Hague; London: Kluwer Law International, 1999) pp 11 – 14 on the difficulty in applying the German “norm theory” to constitutional adjudication.


before introducing any rights-limiting measures. Thirdly, the proof may require resources and information not possessed by a private individual.

The overwhelming majority of the ECtHR’s case laws relate to “individual applications” made under art 34 of the ECHR. Pursuant to art 35, such an application is admissible only if, among other things, all domestic remedies have been exhausted in respect of the act complained of. The Court’s consideration is, therefore, divided into two stages: the admissibility stage and the merits stage. “At the merits stage, the approach to the burden of proof is subtle and context dependent. The level of persuasion necessary for reaching a particular conclusion and the distribution of the burden of proof are linked to the specific circumstances of the case, the nature of the allegation made, and the Convention right at stake. The Court may also be attentive to the seriousness that attaches to a ruling that a contracting party has violated fundamental rights.”667 In general, for those rights under articles 8 – 11, which permit interference if “necessary in a democratic society”, the onus is on the state to prove necessity.668 The standard of proof is that of “beyond reasonable doubt”.669 This is, however, not to be equated to the standard under the same description in the national criminal or civil law system. “A reasonable doubt is a doubt for which reasons can be drawn from the facts presented and not a doubt raised on the basis of a mere possibility or to avoid a disagreeable solution.”670

Based on the results of Arai-Takahashi’s detailed study, it would appear that the standard of proof varies according to the same factors which influence the margin of appreciation. For example, in the case of sex discrimination, where the margin of appreciation is so narrow as to become
667 668 669 670

Harris et al (n 650 above), p 849. Ibid, p 850. Ibid. Ibid.


meaningless, a high burden is placed on the state, which has to prove the existence of “very weighty” or “compelling” justification for any differential treatment based on sex.671 At the other end of the spectrum, when it comes to the right of transsexuals to private and family life, the Court gives a wide margin to national authorities because of the absence of common ground among the Member states. It exercises restraint on the standard of proportionality and shift the burden to the applicants “to provide hard evidence that … medical scientists have conclusively settled doubts on the causes and conditions of transsexuality”.672

In Singapore, the courts specifically rejected comparison with the ECtHR’s jurisprudence because the wording of the ECHR differed from that of the rights provisions in the Constitution of Singapore and because of the principle of proportionality and margin of appreciation.673 The latter reason is difficult to understand. One would have thought that the two doctrines, especially the margin of appreciation, would give the judiciary flexibility in deciding whether or not to interfere with a particular act by the legislature or executive. The peremptory rejection of the two doctrines appears to amount to an outright abdication of the judicial role, under the separation of powers, to maintain check and balance vis-à-vis the political branches.

As discussed in section above, part IV of the Constitution of Singapore contains express provisions to the effect that the individuals’ rights guaranteed therein are to be exercised “in accordance with law” or subject to restriction imposed by “law”. In strict textualism, the courts have interpreted “law” to include any enactment, regardless of its content. “There is a strong
671 672 673

Arai-Takahashi (n 633 above), p 224. Ibid, p 73. See notes 544 and 604 and accompanying texts.


presumption of constitutional validity of written law. The [citizens who allege unconstitutionality] bear the burden of placing all relevant materials before the court to show that a statutory provision or the exercise of the power under it is arbitrary and unsupportable (see the Court of Appeal’s decision in PP v Taw Cheng Kong [1998] 2 SLR 410 at [60]).”674

The accessibility and foreseeability tests do not apply, not to mention the principle of proportionality. Hence, the existence of an enactment is already a sufficient condition for the constitutional rights to be restricted. The only exception is that for a law impinging on equality, “the factor which the legislature adopts as constituting the dissimilarity in circumstances is not purely arbitrary but bears a reasonable relation to the social object of the law”. 675 This is a low standard of rationality, similar to the Wednesbury unreasonableness, which can be easily satisfied. The result of the textualist interpretation of the word “law”, the rejection of the proportionality test and placing on the citizens the onus of proving the unconstitutionality of legislation is that the repeated judicial pronouncements that the court may strike down any legislation inconsistent with the Constitution empty words.

are just

It is true that the bill of rights in the Singapore Constitution differs in structure from the ECHR. In particular, art 14(2) specifically empowers the Parliament to enact laws to impose “such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interests of …” (emphasis added) various objectives. However, for the abovementioned judicial pronouncements to mean anything, the least the judiciary should do is to require “laws” to pass the foreseeability test and to require the government to adduce evidence on the grounds and allegations of fact to prove to the court that the Parliament’s decision was in
674 675 676

Johari bin Kanadi v Public Prosecutor [2008] 3 SLR 422, para 10. Ong Ah Chuan (n 443 above), 673H – 674A and n 447 above. See n 421 above.


fact based on national security or other objectives specified in the Constitution. Such burden of proof is what Chua J said, in Teo Soh Lung v Minister for Home Affairs & Others, 677 the executive had to discharge in order for its discretion to be held intra vires. Logically, the same requirement should apply to render an enactment constitutional. The proposed standard is not higher than that mentioned in the preceding paragraph in respect of legislation affording differential treatments to different classes of citizens.678


7.3.1 Leading case on meaning of “law”
Hong Kong embraces the ECtHR’s jurisprudence in respect of the meaning of “law”, proportionality test and burden of proof. The leading case applying the accessibility and foreseeability tests is Shum Kwok Sher v HKSAR, which held the common law offence of misconduct in public office to be “law” for the purpose of restricting constitutional rights. 679 Bokhary PJ echoed Sir Anthony’s words that “the degree of certainty required will depend on the context of the law in question”.680 He emphasised that his view that the offence was sufficiently certain was “crucially influenced by the fact that it is not the type of offence which criminalises conduct in such a way as to limit the exercise of a fundamental freedom eg free speech”.681 Though there was no direct reference to the proportionality test, the dicta show that the Court, in answering the question about certainty, had balanced the nature and degree of rights restricted against the importance of regulating the conduct of public officers in a clean government.
677 678 679 680 681

Note 333 above, p 507. Note 675 above and accompanying texts. [2002] 2 HKLRD 793. Ibid, para 4. Ibid.


7.3.2 Proportionality test and onus of proof
The proportionality test has been an essential feature of constitutional review since the enactment of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance in 1991.682 After 1997, the CFA applied the proportionality test in the flag case without making direct reference to its ECtHR origin. 683 It was common ground that the Government bore the burden of proving that the restriction of freedom of expression was justified.684 The CFA elaborated the test and its origin in Leung Kwok Hung & Others v HKSAR.685 Any restriction to the right to public assembly must be “necessary in a democratic society in the interests of … public order (ordre public)”. 686 The ECtHR has interpreted a similar phrase in the ECHR to mean that any restriction must correspond to a “pressing social need” and be “proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued”.687 In contrast, the CFA repeated its ruling in Ng Kung Siu (which applied the Privy Council’s decision in Ming Pao Newspapers Ltd & Others v AttorneyGeneral of Hong Kong [1996] AC 907) that “the word ‘necessary’ in this requirement should be given its ordinary meaning and no assistance is to be gained by substituting for ‘necessary’ a phrase such as ‘pressing social need’ ”.688 The Court formulated the proportionality test in these terms:

“(1) the restriction must be rationally connected with one or more of the legitimate purposes; and (2) the means used to impair the right of

R v Ng Po Lam (1991) 1 HKPLR 25 appears to be the first case in which the court (the

District Court in that case) invalidated a legislative provision (a presumption clause in the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance) for failing the proportionality test
683 684 685 686 687 688

Ng Kung Siu (n 631 above), pp 921A – 922E and 925F – 926H. Ibid, p 922D. [2005] 3 HKLRD 164 BOR art 17. Arai (n 644 above), p 340. Leung Kwok Hung (n 685 above), para 31.


peaceful assembly must be no more than is necessary to accomplish the legitimate purpose in question.”689

The CFA’s decisions in both Ng Kung Siu and Leung Kwok Hung have attracted criticisms, which will be discussed below. It has been firmly established in numerous precedents that where a constitutional right is restricted, the government or the decision-maker bears the burden of proving that the restriction is justifiable and proportionate.690 “Flag case”
In Ng Kung Siu, the CFA held that the offences of desecrating the national and regional flags and anthems to be constitutional.691 Wacks opines that the CFA was retreating from the libertarian position it took in Ng Ka Ling. He disagrees with the Court’s conclusions that the desecration of the national and regional flags may undermine public order and the restriction posed by criminalising desecration is de minimis. His objection is summarised in his rhetorical question: “Why this omission [of any flag desecration offence in any of the leading common law jurisdictions] if a burning flag constitutes so powerful an invitation to violence?”692 Yap also sees the case as a retreat in the CFA’s judicial power. A piece of national legislation was involved. The Court wished neither to refer the question to the NPCSC nor to risk its decision being reversed again by another NPCSC interpretation. “Given that flag desecration is symbolic and its message could be communicated in many alternative ways, the CFA, in the interests of safeguarding its long term

689 690

Ibid, para 36. For example, Hung Chan Wa & Another v HKSAR [2005] 3 HKLRD 291, Secretary for

Justice v Yau Yuk Lung Zigo & Another [2007] 3 HKLRD 903 and Kwok Hay Kwong v Medical Council of Hong Kong [2008] 3 HKLRD 524.
691 692

For more details of the case, see section above. Raymond Wacks, “Our Flagging Rights” (2000) 30 HKLJ 1, p 2..


autonomy and independence, probably chose the wiser option of allowing flag-burning rights to go up in smoke.”693

The above comments serve to show that for all the praises Beatty has heaped on the principle of proportionality,694 a degree of value judgment is inevitable in the test. What is the degree of deleterious effect to the ordre public required to justify restricting the right to freedom of expression to the extent of making flag desecration an offence punishable up to a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for three years? There is no doubt reasonable disagreement in the community and the above commentators’ judgment differs from that of the five judges in the CFA.

To answer Wacks’s rhetorical question, it should be noted that even in the United States, where the freedom of expression probably receives greater constitutional protection than in any other country in the world, similar law was only held by the Supreme Court to be unconstitutional by a bare majority of five to four.695 In Europe, German and Italian laws protecting the national flags were held to be constitutional. 696 Nationalism is stronger in China, including Hong Kong, than in the leading common law jurisdictions owing to the humiliation suffered by China in the hands of the foreign powers during the Qing Dynasty.697 National unity is still an unachieved target in the political agenda of China. In Hong Kong, a riot in 1956 was caused by the removal of the Nationalist flags and emblems (ie flags and emblems of the then Republic of China based in Taiwan and until 1971, occupying China’s seat in the


Po Jen Yap, “Constitutional Review under the Basic Law: The Rise, Retreat and

Resurgence of Judicial Power in Hong Kong” (2007) 37 HKLJ 449, p 459.
694 695 696 697

See n 654 above and accompanying text. Ng Kung Siu (n 631 above), p 930F – H. Ibid, p 931D – F. See Peter Hays Gries, China’s New Nationalism: Pride, Politics and Diplomacy (Berkeley:

University of California Press, 2004), Ch 3: “A ‘Century of Humiliation’ ”.


United Nations) pasted on walls.698 The people of Hong Kong have become much more dispassionate in the last fifty years. Still, much emotion is attached to the national flag. Defiling, if unchecked, could trigger off ugly incidents.

These factors could have influenced the judges though it would not be politic to mention them in the judgment. Anyway, in a borderline case of such sensitivity arising less than a year after the reversion of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China – the offences were committed on 1 January 1998 – the judiciary should, on ground of the margin of appreciation, defer to the legislature’s judgment. “If in doubt, defer to legislative determinations.” 699 This is the suggestion made by three American jurists, in regard to the South African Constitution, to alleviate the counter-majoritarian difficulty. Admittedly, the Provisional Legislative Council which enacted the impugned legislation was far from democratically elected. The Court, of course, could not possibly regard this as a valid factor. Legally, the CFA had already held, in Ng Ka Ling, that the formation of the PLC was consistent with the Basic Law.700

Many, including myself, would share Yap’s suspicion that the CFA’s decision was politically motivated. The more pertinent question is whether the decision can be justified on legal ground. As argued in the preceding paragraph, I do think it is justified on ground of proportionality. Yap apparently intends his comment to be a description, and not an indictment, of the decision. After all, to safeguard the court’s “long term autonomy and

During the riot on 10 and 11 October 1956, “approximately 6,000 persons [were arrested]

many of whom were subsequently brought before the courts on serious charges connected with the rioting, including 5 persons charged for murder”: Hong Kong Government, Hong Kong Annual Report 1956, p 191.

Dennis Davies et al, “Democracy and Constitutionalism: The Role of Constitutional

Interpretation” in Dawid van Wyk et al (eds), Rights and Constitutionalism: The New South African Legal Order (Kenwyn: Juta & Co. Ltd, 1994), p 19.

Ng Ka Ling (n 363 above), p 357B – H.


independence” is not a selfish objective. Such calculation, another form of Bickel’s “passive virtues”, is not a legally justified consideration. However, it is not morally wrong for it to go into the proportionality test. The safeguarding of judicial autonomy and independence, and hence the maintenance of public confidence in the administration of justice, is to protect the “public order (ordre public)”, as held by the CFI701 and CA.702 Notification scheme for public assemblies
The Public Order Ordinance (Cap 245) prescribed a notification scheme for the holding of public processions.703 A person who organised or

701 702 703

S for J v Oriental Press Group (n 614 above). Wong Yeung Ng (n 624 above). The Ordinance provides that where such a procession participated by more than thirty

persons is to be held in a public highway or thoroughfare or in a public park, the organiser has to notify the Commissioner of Police at least one week in advance (sections 13 and 13A(1)). The CP has discretion to accept shorter notice and must do so if he is reasonably satisfied that earlier notice cannot have been given (section 13A(2)). Upon such notification, the CP may object to the event “if he reasonably considers that the objection is necessary in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public) or the protection of the rights and freedom of others” (section 14(1)). He must notify the organiser in writing as soon as practicable, and in any event within the time limit specified in the Ordinance, whether or not he objects to the event (section 14(2), (3) and (4)). If he does not issue any notification within the time limit, he is deemed to have issued a notice of no objection (section 14(4)). He is obliged not to object if the relevant legitimate objective can reasonably be met by imposing conditions (sections 14(5) and 15(2)). If he objects, the notification must set out the reasons for the objection (section 14(2)). The organiser, if aggrieved by the CP’s objection or the conditions imposed by him, may appeal to an Appeal Board (section 16(1)). Members of the Board – a Chairman, two Deputy Chairmen and thirteen other persons – are appointed by the Chief Executive (section 43(1) and (2)). The Chairman must be a retired Judge of the High Court or District Court or a former Magistrate with more than ten years’ experience as a magistrate (section 43(2)). Each appeal will be considered by four persons: the Chairman (or a Deputy Chairman) plus three persons (section 44(1)). The Chairman (or Deputy Chairman)


assisted in organising a public procession of more than thirty persons on a public highway or thoroughfare or in a public park committed an offence if he did not comply with the notification requirement (section 17A(3)(b)(i)). An activist Leung Kwok Hung was convicted of the offence. When the case reached the CFA, the main issue was whether the notification scheme was constitutional. The CFA held that section 13(2), which empowered the Commissioner of Police (“CP”) to object to a public procession on ground of, inter alia, “public order (ordre public)” did not pass the foreseeability test because the term “ordre public”, when used in a statute instead of a constitution, did not give an adequate indication of the scope of CP’s discretion.704 For the provision to pass the test and be regarded as “law”, the CFA read down “public order (ordre public)” to mean purely public order, which was sufficiently certain.705 The CFA accepted that the notification was required for the Government to discharge its duty of taking reasonable measures to ensure that public assemblies could take place peacefully. Following the reading down, the CP might object to or impose conditions on a public procession only when the restriction was no more than necessary to protect public order. Taking into account the positive duty, the limited discretion and the other main features of the notification system (in particular, the notification requirement applied only to public processions of more than thirty persons), the CFA concluded that the notification scheme passed the proportionality test. The conviction of Leung and others for refusing to comply with the notification requirement was upheld.

Yap comments that “(t)he reasoning of the CFA was unfortunately seriously flawed” because “no where in the judgment did the CFA explain why it was necessary and proportionate for the Commissioner to possess the
has a casting vote in case of a tie (section 44(2)). The Appeal Board’s decisions are, under the common law, subject to judicial review.
704 705

Leung Kwok Hung (n 685 above), para 77. Ibid, para 84.


powers of prior restraint. Nowhere in the judgement did the Court explain why ‘public order’ in the law and order sense was constitutionally certain and clear. It merely asserted as being so. In fact all the various statutory grounds for prohibiting notified processions were wide and vague.”706

In response, it should be noted that Leung Kwok Hung dealt with a very narrow issue: whether the relevant sections in the Public Order Ordinance requiring the Commissioner of Police to be given advance notification of any public procession participated by more than thirty persons were constitutional. Leung and others were convicted for failing to comply with the requirement even though the police officer at the scene invited him to go through the statutory notification procedure on the spot.707 On conviction, which they appealed against, they were each bound over on own recognisance for $500 for a period of three months.708

Once it was established that the Government had a positive duty to take reasonable and appropriate measures to enable lawful assemblies to take place peacefully,709 prior notification was obviously necessary. Without prior notification, there is no way in which the Government can discharge such a duty by making the necessary arrangements in the interests of “various facets of public order such as traffic conditions and crowd control”. 710 Except by making non-notification an offence, there appears to be no other practicable means to ensure that the notification requirement will be complied with.

It should be noted that the penalty meted out in the present case was indeed a light one and proportionate to the need to ensure compliance with the

706 707 708 709 710

Yap (n 693 above), p 466. Leung Kwok Hung (n 685 above), para 6. Ibid, para 5. Ibid, paras 22 – 24. Ibid, para 92(3).


notification requirement. Brabyn suggests that the maximum penalties of three years’ imprisonment or a fine of HK$5,000, which are comparable to those for serious crimes such as inflicting grievous bodily harm, “are much in excess of maximum penalties for comparable offences in any democratic society anywhere in the world”. 711 However, as she has also noted, the maximum penalties are reserved for the worst case scenarios. Since the courts have discretion on the actual penalties in individual cases, it is submitted that in administering the proportionality test, little weight need be attached to the statutory maximum penalties. If necessary, the courts may read down the statutory provisions to render them proportionate and constitutional.

In saying so, I am conscious of the CFA’s view in HKSAR v Ng Po On that “a relatively low level of penalty is merely a negative factor in the proportionality assessment … and does not provide any positive justification for the encroachment ”.712 The CFA’s view was expressed in the context of the presumption of innocence: whether the legitimate objective of combating corruption was so important as to warrant transferring to a suspect the burden of proving his innocence. The difference between guilt and innocence is one of quality, which cannot be changed by a relatively low penalty. In Leung Kwok Hung, if it is accepted that criminalisation is the only way to prevent non-compliance with the notification requirement, the level of penalty becomes a matter of degree. A relatively low penalty amounts to less restriction of the freedom of expression. In the absence of any mandatory minimum penalty, any deterrence effect of the offence lies more in the level of actual penalties than in that written in the statute.

The need for the police to possess the power of prior constraint is in fact implicit from the factors, set out in paragraph 92(3) of the judgment, the

Janice Brabyn, “Leung Kwok Hung & Others Through the Hong Kong Courts” (2006) 36

HKLJ 83, p 113.

[2008] 4 HKLRD 176, para 58, per Ribeiro PJ.


police should consider. It is easy to think of circumstances in which such prior constraint may be necessary, eg two opposing political groups both propose to hold rallies involving tens of thousands of participants in the same place and at the same time in order to promote emotionally contested causes. In any case, rather than considering the notification requirement or the police discretion in isolation, the CFA examined the notification scheme as a whole and concluded that it was proportionate to, and hence necessary for, the purpose of public order.713 The approach was similar to that taken by the House of Lords in R v Shayler.714 In considering whether a requirement for a retired member of the security service to obtain approval for disclosure of official information was a justified interference with the right to freedom of expression, the HL looked into the scheme as a whole, and not the approval requirement in isolation, to arrive at the conclusion that there was sufficient protection of the right.

In examining aspects of the scheme other than the notification requirement, the CFA in fact did more than necessary to dispose of the appeal against conviction. The notification requirement and the offence of noncompliance are independent of the discretion to be exercised by the police and other parties. The question whether the statutory provisions empowering the police and other parties to impose restraint was constitutional was irrelevant to the constitutionality of the notification requirement. The constitutionality of
713 714

Leung Kwok Hung (n 685 above), paras 90 – 94. [2003] 1 AC 247, [2002] UKHL 11. Shayler was a former member of the UK security

service who was convicted under the Official Secrets Act for disclosing documents and information to newspaper. He appealed on the ground that the disclosure was in the public interest and the ban on disclosure was incompatible with the right to freedom of expression. The HL held that he could have applied, under the Act, for official permission to disclose the information and if permission was denied, he could have sought judicial review. The Act, therefore, already contained sufficient protection for the public interest and the right to the freedom of expression. On that ground, the HL dismissed the appeal. .


those provisions need be considered in a judicial review of the restraint imposed and not in a criminal charge for breaching the notification requirement. The CFA said as much in its paragraph 97: “The offences for which the appellants were convicted did not relate to the statutory provisions conferring on the Commissioner the discretion to object or to impose conditions on a public procession where he considers it reasonably necessary in the interests of ‘public order (ordre publc)’ ”. Subject to more detailed research, which would go beyond the scope of this thesis, it appears that this line of argument is consistent with the Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Secretary for Justice v Ocean Technology Ltd & Others. subsequently refused to give leave to appeal against the decision.
715 716


On Yap’s comment that the CFA did not explain why “ ‘public order’ in the law and order sense was constitutionally certain and clear”, there should be no dispute that those matters mentioned in paragraph 92(3) of the judgment relate to “public order”. An elaboration of the meaning of the expression was unnecessary because, as discussed above, the case was not about the police’s exercise of discretion. It was an example of Sunstein’s minimalism for the Court to make a narrow and shallow decision which was sufficient to dispose of the dispute in the case. Minimalism – to decide no more than required by

[2009] 1 HKC 271: Several activists, whose application for a broadcasting licence under

the Telecommunications Ordinance was unsuccessful, went ahead with radio broadcast without a licence. For that, they were prosecuted for broadcasting without licence, an offence created by the Ordinance. The magistrate dismissed the charge after holding that the licencing scheme was unconstitutional. The Court of Appeal considered that “(t)he key question raised by this appeal is whether the constitutionality of the statutory licensing scheme prescribed by the Telecommunications Ordinance has any bearing on the constitutionality of the offencecreating provisions” (para 5). The CA held, based on the construction of the relevant provisions in the Ordinance, that in a prosecution for broadcasting without licence, “it is not open to the defendant to raise by way of defence the legality of a licensing decision or of the licensing scheme” (para 95).

Secretary for Justice v Ocean Technology Ltd & Others, unreported, FAMC 1/2009, Court

of Final Appeal, 19 May 2009


the facts in the instant case – is, incidentally, also the answer to Brabyn’s comment that “the constitutionality of the POO bottom line … did not receive that full and express scrutiny from the CFA majority in this case”.717 Despite the CFA’s conclusion about the constitutionality of the notification scheme as a whole, the problems mentioned by her, eg the police’s exercise of its prior restraint powers, can – and should – be addressed in appropriate cases in future.

The literal meaning attached to the word “law” and the use of the rationality or reasonableness test instead of proportionality mean that in Singapore, if ever a statute could be struck down on ground of infringement of constitutional rights, it would have to be Wednesbury unreasonable or a case of “clear mistake”718 Even if such an extreme case does arises, a citizen who wishes to challenge bears the burden of proof and the result may depend on what proof or argument is required for the court to be satisfied of unreasonableness or “clear mistake”.

Hong Kong adopts all the ECtHR’s – and potentially universal – principles as regards the restriction of entrenched rights. The proportionality test, while injecting common grounds and objectivity in assessing whether a restriction is “necessary in a democratic society”, does not foreclose debates.

717 718

Brabyn (n 711 above), p 116. Under James Bradley Thayer’s “rule of clear mistake”, the Court could strike down a

statute as unconstitutional only “when those who have the right to make laws have not merely made a mistake, but have made a very clear one, – so clear that it is not open to rational question.": James Bradley Thayer, “The Origin and Scope of the American Doctrine of Constitutional Law” in Legal Essays (Boston: Boston Book Co., 1908) – accessed via on 14 June 2008 – pp 1-40, at p 21. See also n 86 above and accompanying text.


With evidence and arguments based on commonsense and social science, such debates would facilitate resolving reasonable disagreements in the society.



As can be seen from Chapters 5 to 7, the Singapore courts are more restrained – to the extent of deferential – than their Hong Kong counterparts in striking down the legislature’s decisions. In theory, this would not necessarily result in lower human rights standards in Singapore. For argument’s sake, the political branches may be fully committed to rights in all their decisions and hence, an equally rights-committed judiciary subscribing to Cross’s and Fallon’s theories 719 might have no cause to exercise its veto power. In reality, the human rights standards in Singapore do fall below those in Hong Kong and for that matter, in the major common law jurisdictions. This is shown in the comparisons below. Far from being a comprehensive account of all constitutional rights, the comparisons represent a summary of those rights engaged in the cases discussed in Chapters 5 to 7.

8.1.1 Freedom of expression Jehovah’s Witnesses compared with Falun Gong
The differences are most significant in the freedom of expression – including freedoms of speech, assembly and association. In Singapore, the


See sections 3.4.6 and 3.4.7.


adherents of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Singapore, simply because of their religious beliefs to refuse military service and salutation of the national flag, were subject to the following treatments: all their publications were banned regardless of the contents720 and even possession of such publications constituted an offence;721 and



their organisation was deregistered and hence, became an unlawful society. As a result, it was an offence to be a member of the organisation722 or to be engaged in a worship and bible study meeting in a private home.723

Further, an adherent who was a teacher lost his job because he refused to take the National Pledge and sing the National Anthem in the school’s morning assemblies.724

In contrast, the Falun Gong, a group declared by the mainland authorities as an evil cult in the mainland, has been operating freely in Hong Kong. Its members regularly and frequently distribute leaflets and display placards and banners accusing Chinese national leaders of committing atrocities towards Gong members in the mainland. A search of the Judiciary’s database suggests that no criminal or civil action has ever been taken against the publication of such information. Unlike the Undesirable Publications Act in Singapore, there is no pre-censorship of information published on paper .
720 721

Chan Hiang Leng Colin v M for I & A (notes 481 and 484 above and accompanying texts) Chan Hiang Leng Colin v PP (notes 464 and 483 above and accompanying texts), Liong

Kok Keng v PP (n 485 and accompanying text) and Quak Siew Hock David v PP (n 488 above).
722 723 724

Chan Cheow Khiang v PP (n 486 above). Kok Hoong Tan Dennis v PP (n 487 above). Nappalli Peter Williams v I of TE (n 489 above).


The Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (Cap 390) prohibits the publication (but not mere possession) of “obscene” articles to any member of the public and prohibits the publication of “indecent” articles to persons aged under 18.725 “Obscenity” and “indecency” “include violence, depravity and repulsiveness”726 which, though vague, are never intended or interpreted to control political messages.

Though the Falun Gong is illegal in the mainland and resented by certain sectors in Hong Kong, its right to public assembly is protected by the court. When members of the group demonstrated outside the office of the Central Government’s representatives in Hong Kong and were arrested by the police for obstructing a public place in contravention of sections 4A and 4(28) of the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap 228), the CFA quashed all convictions because such obstruction did not necessarily constitute an offence. Taking into account the members’ constitutional right to freedom of demonstration, a proper construction of the relevant statutory provisions was that “while exercise of the right to demonstrate must not cause an obstruction exceeding the bounds of what is reasonable in the circumstances, such bounds must not be so narrowly defined as to devalue, or unduly impair the ability to exercise, the constitutional right”.727

While the refusal to salute the national flag and sing the national anthem led to the banning of all publications of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the de-registration of its organisation in Singapore, it is unthinkable in Hong Kong for the residents’ freedoms to be restricted for similar reason. The offences of burning and defiling of the national and regional flags were held to be constitutional in Hong Kong only after careful consideration of the

725 726 727

Sections 21 and 22 of Ordinance. Section 2(3) of Ordinance. Yeung May Wan & Others v HKSAR [2005] 2 HKLRD 212, para 44.


implications for ordre public and a review of foreign jurisprudence.728 Such restriction of the freedom of expression is considered to “lie just within the outer limits of constitutionality”.729 Public assembly
In Singapore, a licence is required for the holding of a public rally.730 In Hong Kong, mere notification is required, the purpose of which is to enable the Government to discharge its positive duty to make reasonable and appropriate arrangements for the residents to exercise their right to public assembly in a peaceful manner. The CFA held the notification requirement to be constitutional only after being satisfied that there were sufficient safeguards in the scheme as a whole to ensure that the authorities would follow the principle of proportionality when deciding whether to object, to impose conditions or raise no objection.731 Protection of public figures
Singapore courts are more concerned about protecting public figures from criticism than protecting the citizens’ right to free speech. This is manifested in the laws on scandalising the court732 and on defamation. The court rejected requiring proof of “real risk” in prejudicing the administration of justice. Instead, it held that the test was “inherent tendency to interfere with the administration of justice” and “the right to fair criticism is exceeded and a contempt of court is committed so long as the statement in question
728 729 730 731 732

Ng Kung Siu (n 631 and accompanying text). Ibid, para 98, per Bokhary PJ. See Chee Soon Juan (notes 457 and 458 and accompanying texts). Leung Kwok Hung (notes 685, 688, 704 and 707 to 710 above and accompanying texts). The effect, though not the rationale, of the offence of scandalising the court is to protect

the reputation of judges: see n 562 above.


impugns the integrity and impartiality of the court even if it is not so intended”. 733 In Hong Kong, the “real risk” test was adopted, which compensated for not requiring the mens rea of intentionally undermining public confidence in the administration of justice as an ingredient of the offence.734

Singapore is infamous for the number of defamation suits launched by members of the People’s Action Party against opposition politicians. As a result of substantial damages awarded by the courts, several opposition politicians became bankrupt and hence, ineligible to stand for election.735 The defamation laws in the major common law jurisdictions afford protection to debates on political and public affairs. 736 Singapore courts have rejected expanding the scope of qualified privilege to provide for similar protection.737

In Hong Kong, even though government officials up to the Chief Executive are criticised and ridiculed by the media on a daily basis in the last ten years or so, none has ever – at least there has not been any reported case – responded with defamation suits against the critics. An interesting phenomenon in the “minor epidemic of defamation litigation” referred to by Cottrell 738 was that it included quite a number of cases with media

733 734 735

AG v Chee Soon Juan (n 574 above and accompanying text). Wong Yeung Ng (notes 624 and 626 to 630 and accompanying texts). International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, Prosperity versus Individual Rights?

Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law in Singapore (London: International Bar Association, July 2008), pp 26 – 39.
736 737

See notes 585 to 589 above. JBJ v Lee Kuan Yew (n 592 above and accompanying text), Lee Hsiang Loong v SDP (n

598 above and accompanying text) and Lee Hsien Loong v Review Publishing (n 601 above and accompanying text).

Jill Cottrell, “Fair Comment, Judges and Politics in Hong Kong”, (2003) 27 Melbourne

University Law Review 33, p 34


organisations as the plaintiffs.739 In any case, the kind of hazards faced by J. B. Jeyaratnam and others from allegedly compliant judges can, in Hong Kong, be addressed by the defendants’ applying under section 33A(1) of the High Court Ordinance (Cap 4) for the case to be tried by jury. The jury will decide whether the statement is defamatory,740 whether any defence is successful741 and also, the quantum of damages.742 (In Singapore, there is no jury trial even in criminal cases.) 743 In contrast to Singapore courts’ resistance to foreign jurisprudence protecting political speeches, Hong Kong courts applied the Reynolds factors744 almost as a matter of course.745

The best evidence that the CFA leans on the side of free speech rather than the right to reputation is its breakthrough decision on the meaning of “malice” which can defeat the defence of fair comment. In the past, it was

“Recently everyone might notice that solicitors’ letters are flying everywhere among the

media – makes people think whether there is not a trend of treading on each other.” This statement, made by the presenter in a television programme broadcast on 11 March 1995, indicated the proliferation of potential defamation suits among the media. It led to the presenter being sued by a newspaper for defamation: Eastern Express Publisher Ltd & Another v Mo Man Ching & Another [1999] 3 HKLRD 530, p 532H.

Rick Glofcheski, Tort Law in Hong Kong (Hong Kong; Singapore; Malaysia: Sweet &

Maxwell Asia, 2nd edn, 2007), para

See, for example, Tse Wai Chun Paul v Albert Cheng & Another, unreported, CACV

170/1998, Court of Appeal, 19 October 1999, para 9.
742 743

Glofcheski (n 740 above), para In Singapore, jury trial was abolished, except for the capital cases, on 13 Feb 1960. The

Minister for Labour and Law said, when introducing the relevant amendment bill, that “the jury system is time consuming and expensive”: Singapore Parliamentary Reports for 2 Sep 1959, Column 558. Jury trial for capital cases was abolished on 22 Dec 1969. Moving the second reading of the relevant bill, the Minister for Law and National Development said the system was unworkable, there being evidence from former jurors about wrong verdicts being reached in the jury room: Singapore Parliamentary Reports, 22 Dec 1969, Columns 193 – 196.
744 745

See n 589 above. Yaqoob v Asia Times Online Ltd [2008] 4 HKLRD 911, paras 17, 29 and 121 to 134.


believed that: “(w)hether a defendant can be regarded as having malice depends on … [among other things] whether he honestly believes in the truth of what he says, whether he has any motive to serve other than expressing an honest opinion, whether that other motive is the dominant motive for saying what he says.”746 In Cheng & Another v Tse Wai Chun, the CFA opined that “(t)he courts should adopt a generous approach so that the right of fair comment on matters of public interest is maintained in its full vigour”. 747 Delivering the consensus of the Court, Lord Nicholls, who incidentally also delivered the House of Lords’ decision in Reynolds, set out five objective limits of fair comment: first, “the comment must be on a matter of public interest”; 748 second, “the comment must be recognisable as a comment, as distinct from an imputation of fact”;749 third, “the comment must be based on facts which are true or protected by privilege”;750 fourth, “the comment must explicitly or implicitly indicate, at least in general terms, what are the facts on which the comment is being made”;751 and finally, “the comment must be one which could have been made by an honest person, however prejudiced he might be, and however exaggerated or obstinate his views”.752 “A comment which falls within the objective limits of the defence of fair comment can lose its immunity only by proof that the defendant did not genuinely hold the view he expressed.” (Emphasis added). 753 Proof that the defendant had ulterior motives – eg “(a)ctuation by spite, animosity, intent to injure, intent to arouse controversy or other motivation” – would not defeat the defence though it

746 747 748 749 750 751 752 753

Tse Wai Chun Paul (n 741 above), para 23. [2003] 3 HKLRD 418, p 422H, per Li CJ. Ibid, p 424F. Ibid, p 424G. Ibid, p 424J. Ibid, p 425A. Ibid, p 425B. Ibid, p 438C.


would constitute evidence from which his lack of genuine belief could be inferred.754

8.1.2 Liberty of the person
Capital punishment and caning, still carried out in Singapore, were abolished in Hong Kong in 1993 755 and 1990 756 respectively. The capital

punishment in Singapore is mandatory for certain offences such as drug trafficking 757 or possession of controlled drug exceeding a specified quantity,

except that it shall not be passed on any person committing the relevant

crime when under the age of 18 or on pregnant women.759 In Hong Kong, the only mandatory and the heaviest penalty is life sentence, which shall only be passed on a person convicted of murder.760 The CFA endorsed the mandatory life sentence because it would only be passed in respect of the most serious of all crimes, was enacted by the legislature as a compromise of divergent views in the community and individual cases would be reviewed by the statutory Long-term Prison Sentences Review Board.761
754 755

Ibid, p 438C – D. For the history on the abolition of capital punishment, see Lau Cheong & Another v

HKSAR [2002] 2 HKLRD 612, paras 75 – 92.

Ordinance No 72 of 1990. When introducing the relevant bill into the Legislative Council,

the Secretary for Security said that corporal punishment was used by the court sparingly presumably because the court considered the punishment to be unnecessary and outdated, there being other sentencing options which achieved the penal objectives of punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation. The Administration was of similar view. According to a public opinion poll, most respondents thought corporal punishment was less effective than imprisonment and other forms of punishment: Official Report of Proceedings of the Hong Kong Legislative Council 1989 – 1990, pp 2019 – 2020 (for sitting on 11 July 1990).
757 758 759 760 761

For example, Nguyen Tuong Van (n 447 above). For example, Ong Ah Chuan (n 443 above). Sections 213 and 214 of the Criminal Procedure Code. See Lau Cheong (n 755 above). Ibid.


8.1.3 Retrospectivity of criminal law
“It is a principle of general policy that a person should not be penalised except under clear law …”762 The principle is embodied in art 11(1) of the Constitution of Singapore and was invoked by the Court of Appeal to rule against the executive.763 One doubts whether the Court would have done the same if the act being complained of was a legislative decision. After all, “greater deference is to be paid to an Act of Parliament than to a decision of the executive or subordinate measure”.764 In Hong Kong, the CFA invalidated, on ground of inconsistency with art 15(1) of the ICCPR, a retrospective statutory provision which would have adverse consequences for the persons concerned.765

8.1.4 Presumption of innocence
Another basic principle of English law is the presumption of innocence. The Constitution of Singapore does not expressly provide for the principle. However, in Ong Ah Chuan, the Privy Council held it to be taken for granted by the makers of the Constitution that the word “law” in articles 9(1) and 12(1) referred to a system of law which included such a principle for protection of the individuals’ fundamental liberty.766 The relevant presumption clause in the

762 763

Bennion (n 353 above), p 825. Public Prosecutor v Manogaran S/O Ramu [1997] 1 SLR 22 and Abdul Nasir bin Amer

Hamasah v Public Prosecutor [1997] 3 SLR 643.

International Transport Roth GmbH v Home Secretary [2002] 3 WLR 344, at p 376, per

Laws LJ (dissenting). This is one of the four principles endorsed by the House of Lords in Regina (ProLife Alliance) v British Broadcasting Corporation [2004] 1 AC 185, para 136.
765 766

Ng Ka Ling (n 363 above), pp 350G – 352D. The principle is that “a person should not be punished for an offence unless it has been

established to the satisfaction of an independent and unbiased tribunal … that all the physical and mental elements of the offence with which [the accused] is charged, conduct and state of


Misuse of Drugs Act complained of in that case was per se unlawful 767 but was held to be constitutional only because the specified quantity of controlled drugs, the possession of which gave rise to a rebuttable assumption that the accused possessed it for the purpose of trafficking, was “many times greater than the daily dose taken by typical heroin addicts in Singapore”.768

Michael Hor observes: “In Singapore, apart from the one bright flash of discussion by the Privy Council in Ong Ah Chuan, courts have been making decisions impinging on the presumption of innocence without much analysis of constitutional principle.”769 Ong Ah Chuan, Hor says, failed “to provide any adequate (or any) framework” for the application of the presumption of innocence.770 In the absence of such a framework and since Ong Ah Chuan in fact upheld the constitutionality of the presumption clause, the principle mentioned above may be regarded as purely obiter. Adding this to the absence of an express constitutional provision, the result is that there appears to have been no constitutional challenge against the reverse burden of proof provided for in section 107 of the Evidence Act.771

In Hong Kong, art 14(2) of ICCPR, incorporated as art 11(1) of the BOR, has grounded quite a number of constitutional challenges against statutory provisions which have the effect of transferring part of the burden of
mind as well where that is relevant, were present on the part of the accused”: Ong Ah Chuan (n 443 above), p 671B – C.
767 768 769

Ibid, p 671G. Ibid, p 672A. Michael Hor, “The Presumption of Innocence – A Constitutional Discourse for Singapore”

[1995] Singapore Journal of Legal Studies 365, p 367.
770 771

Ibid, p 369. Section 107(1) reads: “When a person is accused of any offence, the burden of proving the

existence of circumstances bringing the case within the general exceptions in the Penal Code (Cap 224), or within any special exception or proviso contained in any other part of the Penal Code, or in any law defining the offence, is upon him, and the court shall presume the absence of such circumstances.”


proof to the defendants in criminal cases. While Hor opines that “no court would wish to be labelled ‘soft’ and obstructionist by banishing all presumptions from drugs legislation in the face of an alarming increase in the use of illicit narcotics in modern society”, 772 the Court of Appeal in Sin Yau Ming, despite “abhorrence for the evils inherent in the narcotic trade”,

invalidated provisions in the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance which facilitated enforcement by transferring the burden of proof to the accused. This and other decisions were based on the principle that for a mandatory presumption of fact to be constitutional, the onus was on the prosecution to adduce “cogent and persuasive” evidence

to prove “on the preponderance of probability” 775

that “the fact to be presumed rationally and realistically follows from that proved and also … the presumption is no more than proportionate to what is warranted by the nature of the evil against which society requires protection”.776

Hor’s 1995 plea for his country to embark on a new discourse on the burden of proof has yet to produce any significant changes in this area of the law in Singapore. His suggestion that evidential burden would be the proportionate response in most cases accords with decisions made by the Hong Kong courts. To tackle smuggling, sections 18A(2) and 35A(2) of the Import and Export Ordinance (Cap 60) provide that a person proved to be engaged in such activities “in circumstances that gives rise to a reasonable suspicion that there is intent … will be presumed to have such intent in the absence of evidence to the contrary”. In 1992, the Court of Appeal held the provisions to impose merely an evidential burden on the accused and hence,

772 773 774 775 776

Hor (n 769 above), p 372. Note 355 above, p 113, lines 41 – 42. Ibid, p 113, line 31. Ibid, p 113, line 30. Ibid, p 113, lines 24 – 27.


be consistent with art 11(1) of the BOR.777 That case appeared to be one of purely statutory interpretation. A recent example of a statutory provision being read down to render it constitutional was HKSAR v Lam Kwong Wai & Another, in which the CFA interpreted the expression “satisfies the magistrate” in section 20(3) of the Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance to impose merely an evidential burden on the accused, though the legislature did intend persuasive onus.778 Another recent example is HKSAR v Ng Po On, in which the CFA read down the relevant provisions in the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance such that they imposed on the accused evidential burden only. 779 “So read down, the accused would be required to raise the issue of reasonable excuse, supported by sufficient credible evidence to engender a reasonable doubt as to the prosecution’s case, but the prosecution would retain throughout the persuasive burden of proving non-compliance, encompassing a burden of negativing any purported reasonable excuse.”780

Despite their common British legal heritage, Singapore and Hong Kong have parted ways as far as constitutional interpretation is concerned. Notwithstanding the existence of a written constitution, Singapore has, in practice, retained parliamentary supremacy in the Westminster political system. The ruling political party has used its dominance in the Parliament to amend the Constitution at will.781 The judiciary has declined to take a stand on whether there is any constitutional limit as to how far such amendments may

The Queen v Wong Hiu Chor & Another, unreported, HCMA 484/1992, Court of Appeal, 4

December 1992.
778 779 780 781

[2006] 3 HKLRD 808. [2008] 4 HKLRD 176. Ibid, para 77. Note 322 above and accompanying text.


depart from the values, such as the separation of powers, embedded in the British system.

While the Singapore courts have rejected foreign

constitutional law on ground of the city-state’s unique political and economic circumstances – which however have not been elaborated in their judgments – the Hong Kong courts have opened up to the world right from the enactment of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance in 1991. Through the generous interpretation of the rights enshrined in the Basic Law and a narrow interpretation of the permissible restriction, the courts have contributed to human rights standards which, except for the absence of truly democratic election to the legislature and the executive, are comparable to those enjoyed in the most liberal countries in the world.

Based on a research on six common law jurisdictions including Singapore, Thiruvengadam has formulated two models of constitutionalism to explain transnational judicial influence. He locates Singapore within the National Formalism model.

If so, Hong Kong appears to fit into the

Cosmopolitan Pragmatism model.784
782 783

See notes 337 to 341 above and accompanying texts. Thiruvengadam (n 556 above), p 128: “ … judges of the National Formalist persuasion

share, apart from their scepticism towards trans-judicial influence, the following traits: i) a preference for rules because of their tendency to limit judicial discretion while enhancing the values of certainty, stability and predictability; ii) a preference for the interpretive strategies of textualism and originalism; iii) a reluctance to overrule settled precedents; iv) a belief in the superior representative capacity (or democratic legitimacy) of the legislative and executive branches, leading to a deferential attitude towards them coupled with a general reluctance to second-guess their decisions; v) a preference for rules over standards; vi) a belief in the ‘limited domain’ of the law and a corresponding privileging of forms of legal reasoning in their opinions; and vii) avoidance of judicial policy-making.”

Ibid, pp 132 – 133: “In summary, the broad features of the Cosmopolitan Pragmatism

model, apart from its embrace of trans-judicial influence, can therefore be summarised as follows: i) a belief that judges should use the power of judicial review in a manner befitting the status of judges as partners (and not subordinates) of other constitutional actors; ii) a focus upon context-specific, inductive modes of reasoning which are sensitive to the facts at hand,


In real life, all judges are positivists. They differ only in degree. Singapore judges are positivists among the positivists, leaving almost all moral reasoning to the legislature and the executive. Hong Kong judges are at the other end of the naturalism / positivism continuum. They play a supervisory role vis-à-vis the political branches to ensure that the human rights standards in Hong Kong stay close to those enjoyed in democratic countries in the world. In terms of Bobbit’s six modalities of constitutional interpretation,785 the Singapore judges’ preference for rules over standards – and more specifically their avoidance of the proportionality test – means that prudential modality is not used. In Hong Kong, the prudential modality features in tackling probably all the highly contested constitutional issues.

Finally, at a higher level of abstraction, if there were a social contract between the state and the citizens – a concept rejected by Karthigesu JA in Taw Cheng Kong

– Singapore’s government would resemble Thomas

Hobbes’s sovereign. To Hobbes, the sovereign holds centralised and unlimited
and a scepticism towards approaches which hold that correct outcomes can be deduced from overarching principles; iii) an openness to all forms of authority (including conventional authorities such as text, precedent, structure, etc) but the absence of an unduly deferential attitude towards them, and a readiness to jettison them in favour of other authorities that advance what they perceive as the ‘best results’; iv) a preference for interpretive strategies that advance a ‘living constitution’ model; v) an acceptance of purposive interpretive strategies; vi) a preference for standards over rules and for balancing approaches over categorical ones; vii) the rejection of ‘autonomous’ conceptions of the law and an openness to interdisciplinary perspectives.”

The six modalities are: “the historical (relying on the intentions of the framers and ratifiers

of the Constitution); textual (looking to the meaning of the words of the Constitution alone, as they would be interpreted by the average contemporary ‘man on the street’); structural (inferring rules from the relationships that the Constitution mandates among the structures it sets up); doctrinal (applying rules generated by precedent); ethical (deriving rules from those moral commitments of the American ethos that are reflected in the Constitution); and prudential (seeking to balance the costs and benefits of a particular rule).”: Philip Bobbit, Constitutional Interpretation (Oxford; Cambridge, Massachusetts:1991), pp 12 – 13

Note 343 above, paras 52 – 55.


powers.787 In Singapore, the People’s Action Party controls the legislature and the executive. Given the judiciary’s interpretation of the Constitution, the Parliament may enact any laws, including those taking away a person’s life. That is wider than the Hobbessian sovereign’s authority because to Hobbes, men’s right to life is inalienable. 788 As far as the individuals’ rights are concerned, the only limit to the Singapore Parliament’s law-making power is that it may not derogate from the right not to be held in slavery, there being no express provision in art 10(1) for such derogation.

In contrast, the situation in Hong Kong is in some ways similar to that advocated by Locke: separation of legislative and executive powers, 789 legislative power to be limited to those necessary for the public good;790 “the end of Law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge Freedom” 791 and the government holding powers as trustee. 792 The social contract, if the Basic Law is one, is between the sovereign of China and the people of Hong Kong. Under the contract, the people do not yet have the equal right to elect the legislature and executive in Hong Kong, let alone the sovereign ruling from the Mainland. Without a fair election, the SAR

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, edited with an introduction by J.C.A. Gaskin (Oxford and

New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), Ch XVIII, paras 16 – 18 and Ch XX, para 18.

Ibid, Ch XIV, para 8. Jean Hampton argues that given the people’s self-defence right,

Hobbes’s social contract argument is invalid and the people cannot have instituted an absolute sovereign – see Jean Hampton, Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition (Cambridge, et al: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp 197-206, reproduced in Richard E. Flatman and David Johnston (eds), Leviathan: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Interpretations (New York; London: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997), pp 348-359.

John Locke, “The Second Treatise of Government: An Essay Concerning the True Original,

Extent and End of Civil Government” in Two Treatises of Government, edited with an introduction and notes by Peter Laslett (Cambridge, New York, New Rochelle, Melbourne and Sydney: Cambridge University Press, Student edition, 1988), Ch XII.
790 791 792

Ibid, Ch XI Ibid, para 57. Ibid, para 149. See also Laslett’s introduction at pp 113 – 117.


Government is holding powers on trust from the sovereign in Beijing more than from the people of Hong Kong, despite the promises of “one country, two systems” and “high degree of autonomy” promised in the Basic Law.



In recognition of the representative role of the elected legislature in a democratic society, to ameliorate the counter-majoritarian difficulty and to avoid foreclosing a constitutional debate prematurely, Bickel advocates the passive virtues, to be exercised by the judiciary, of deciding neither to validate nor strike down contested legislation until the principle involved is ripe for adjudication. For similar reasons and also taking into account the more resources available to the legislature, Sunstein argues for minimalism – the judiciary should make a constitutional decision not broader or deeper than required by the facts of the case at hand. Both scholars contend that their theories are both descriptive and prescriptive of the US judiciary over a certain period. This chapter will discuss whether there is evidence of the passive virtues, minimalism or other avoidance canon being practised by the courts in Singapore and Hong Kong and if so, whether the practice is justified.


In Singapore, judicial minimalism is nowhere to be seen. What we have seen in Part II – the literal meaning attached to the word “law” in Part VI of the Constitution, the four-walled approach to foreign jurisprudence and the rejection of the proportionality test in favour of the Wednesbury rationality test – are all maximalist approaches, ie reasoning so broad that it effectively


bar, across the board, any judicial scrutiny of legislation. Bars, they are, erected by the judiciary itself. The Singapore approaches illustrate Sunstein’s point that minimalism does not mean judicial restraint and hence, by implication, maximalism does not mean judicial activism. The maximalist judicial decisions in Singapore belong to the category of “rule-bound decisions that broadly validate possible practices”.

In the name of

democracy and the counter-majoritarian difficulty, they provide the legislature with a carte blanche to do what it will with the individuals’ rights.

To be fair, the Singapore judiciary’s maximalism extends to cases which do not favour the state. In Abdul Nasir bin Amer Hamasah v Public Prosecutor,794 the CA could have disposed of the appeal against sentence on the narrow and shallow ground that there was no mitigating factor to warrant interfering with the trial judge’s sentence. Instead, apparently of its own accord, it went into the question of whether the reference to “life imprisonment” meant imprisonment for the duration of a personal’s natural life or alternatively – as had been accepted by the courts including the CA, the Prison Department, police officers and other law enforcement officers – imprisonment for 20 years. It decided the former was the correct interpretation, which however did not affect the instant case pursuant to the principle against retroactivity. Also, in Chng Suan Tze v Minister of Home Affairs, the CA, instead of striking down a preventive detention order on a narrow technical ground, chose to do so on the additional ground that the subjective test adopted by the court in the more than fifteen years before should be replaced by the objective test, under which the executive had to satisfy the court that such an order had in fact been based on grounds of national security.795 The CA, to its credit, made such a decision based on stare decisis instead of

Case R. Sunstein, One Case At A Time: Judicial Minimalism on the Supreme Court

(Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: Harvard University Press, 1999), p 28.
794 795

Note 550 above and accompanying text. Notes 324 - 327 and 558 above and accompanying texts.


dodging the issue and leaving it to the Privy Council, the then court of final appeal, to confront the executive. The constitutional amendments subsequent to Chng Suan Tze led to the only constitutional case, among those in the last twenty years or so, in which the court avoided a constitutional issue. In Teo Soh Lung v Minister of Home Affairs, the CA refrained from taking a view on the potentially explosive question of whether there was any limit to the Parliament’s power of constitutional amendment.796

Teo Soh Lung was a Singaporean version of the passive virtues. However, while Bickel intends the court to play an educational role and generate a public debate despite refusing a decision one way or the other, the CA gave no clue as to what would be its preliminary, advisory opinions on the question. The silence, when viewed against the maximalist stand taken by the Singapore judiciary in nearly all other constitutional cases, led one to speculate on the judges’ opinion in their heart of hearts.


While Sunstein regards minimalism as “the most striking feature of American law in the 1990s”,797 Hartmann J (as he then was), referring to the US Supreme Court case Ashwander v Tennessee Valley Authority (1935) 297 US 288 as an example, opined that it “must be an almost universal rule of the common law that courts should not anticipate a question of constitutional law in advance of the necessity of deciding it”.798 Accordingly, he refused to come to “a broad and definitive interpretation of the nature and effect, for all

796 797 798

Note 337 to 341 above and accompanying texts. Sunstein (n 793 above), p xi. Leung Kwok Hung v President of Legislative Council [2007] 1 HKLRD 387, para 43.


purposes, of art 74 [of the Basic Law]” 799 and disposed of the case by confining to the declaration that the rule being challenged was not unconstitutional. There are numerous other examples of the courts refusing to make broader or deeper decisions than required by the facts of the case at hand.

In Bahadur, the CFA refrained from ruling whether the right to enter and leave Hong Kong, guaranteed by BL 31 without any express provision as regards restriction, could be subject to restriction.800 Even assuming the right to be subject to restriction, the CFA held, section 11 (10) of the Immigration Ordinance (Cap 115), 801 when applied to a non-permanent resident whose permission to enter had not yet expired, was unconstitutional because the denial of entry amounted to destruction of his status as non-permanent resident and not merely the restriction of his BL 31 right.802 The Court ruled the section constitutional after reading down the provision to mean that it was not applicable to a non-permanent resident (during the period when his limit of stay had not yet expired) whose right to enter was guaranteed by BL 31.803 In Democratic Party v Secretary for Justice, the CFI adopted a “remedial interpretation” of section 98(4) of the Companies Ordinance (Cap 32) to the effect that the court might refuse to compel compliance with a request to inspect a company’s register when the request amounted to an abuse of the register.804 The host of “presumed innocent” cases discussed in section 8.1.4 above are also examples of the courts using narrow interpretation to save otherwise unconstitutional statutes.
799 800 801

Ibid, para 44. [2002] 2 HKLRD 775, para 38. Section 11(10) reads: “Any permission given to a person to land or remain in Hong Kong

shall, if in force on the day that person departs from Hong Kong, expire immediately after his departure.”
802 803 804

Bahadur (n 800 above), paras 37 – 38. (2002) 5 HKCFAR 480, paras 38 – 42. [2007] 2 HKLRD 804, paras 69 – 75.


There are, however, exceptions. In the famous Ng Ka Ling v Director of Immigration,805 the CFA could have decided the case in favour of Ng Ka Ling and others, who arrived in Hong Kong before Immigration (No 3) Ordinance (which required a valid one-way permit issued by the mainland authorities to be a pre-requisite for mainlanders to claim the right of abode in Hong Kong) was enacted, on ground of the principle against retrospectivity.806 If it had done so, it would have avoided the broad and controversial constitutional issue of whether the CFA could interpret BL 22(4) without reference to the NPCSC. However, “(t)he applicants’ attack was not confined to the retrospectivity issue”.807 Furthermore, the writing was on the wall that other mainlanders entering Hong Kong illegally would likewise challenge the constitutionality of the legislation. Since the CFA had heard full legal arguments of the issue in Ng Ka Ling, it would save future resources for the CFA to announce its decisions without another round of submissions in another case.

In Mok Tai Kei v Constitutional Affairs Bureau of the HKSAR & Others, the CA could have dismissed the application for judicial review on the ground that the applicant did not have sufficient interest in the matter. Yet, it went on to hold that the automatic election system, when there was only one

805 806

[1999] 1 HKLRD 315. See also section 4.2.2 above. Albert H. Y. Chen, “The Interpretation of the Basic Law – Common Law and Mainland

Chinese Perspectives” (2000) 30 HKLJ 380, pp 428 – 429. Denis Chang, “The Reference to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress under Article 158 of the Basic Law: The Question of Methodology” in Johannes M. M. Chan, H. L. Fu and Yash Ghai (eds), Hong Kong’s Constitutional Debate: Conflict over Interpretation (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2000), pp 143 – 150, at pp 146 – 147.

Chang (n 806 above), p 146. “Another ground was that the applicants could not validly be

deprived of their constitutionally protected right of abode which had already been conferred on them by article 24(3) of the Basic Law on 1 July 1997.”: Ibid.


candidate, did not infringe the right to vote; nor was it unfair.808 In Secretary for Security v Sakthevel Prababar,809 the CFA could have struck down the Secretary’s decision not to grant refugee status on administrative law ground, namely, she had not taken into account all relevant factors. Furthermore, by the time the case was decided, the applicant had already been accepted by Canada. However, the Court decided on a list of matters to be taken into consideration and also the steps to take in assessing any torture claim. 810 While the decisions in the two cases were broader than required by the facts of the cases, they appeared to be necessary to avoid similar disputes from reaching the court in future. In the latter case, the two sides were both represented by teams of high calibre counsel, including two UK Queen’s Counsel. It would be a waste of resources not to lay down general rulings which would help the executive to deal with similar future applications in a lawful manner.

If Bickel’s passive virtues amount to “the 100% insistence on principles, 20% of the time”, 811 what is practised in Singapore is “100% insistence on principle, 99% of the time”. The principle involved is the separation of powers without check-and-balance, resulting in unqualified respect for the elected representatives’ decision. The remaining 1%, where the principle was not applied, is represented by Teo Sok Lung (“deciding neither” on the question of limit to constitutional amendment)812 and Taw Cheng Kong (the only striking down case). 813 If Bickel’s prudence is signified by his
808 809 810 811 812 813

[2005] 1 HKLRD 861 [2005] 1 HKLRD 289 Ibid, paras 52 – 60. Gunther (n 133 above and accompanying text). Note 796 above and accompanying text. Note 422 above and accompanying text.


prevailing on judges not to move too far ahead of public opinions, Singaporean judges display their prudence by adhering to what they see as the elected representatives’ majority’s decisions. If Bickel believes in juricentrism, Singaporean judges presumably side with the polycentrism of the New Minimalism,814 except that while the New Minimalists preserve the political branches’ prerogative to make constitutional decisions by making minimalist decisions, Singaporean judges do so by making no constitutional decision other than the maximalist principles purportedly based on democracy. As Siegel observes and Sunstein tacitly admits,815 minimalist decisions cannot always be identified. Minimalism / maximalism constitutes a continuum. Before a decision can be labelled as minimalist, it will be necessary to identify all possible grounds on which the court can dispose of the case, list them in order of minimalism / maximalism and decide whether it is closer to one end or the other of the spectrum. In practice, the litigating parties may, instead of pursuing all lines of arguments, confine themselves to the one or two which would give them the best chance of success. In the Hong Kong cases discussed in section 9.3 above, minimalism or otherwise can be identified because, from the judgments, other possible grounds for decision have been argued but not adopted. The description minimalism / maximalism as applied to the actual decision in a case is merely relative to the other possible ground.

Hong Kong judges resort to the passive virtues and minimalism not so much because of any counter-majoritarian difficulty or fear of reprisal but apparently, simply because of the “almost universal rule of the common law” alluded to by Hartmann J. 816 The rule – which reflects the prudence of avoiding unnecessary decisions rather than the prudence of waiting for a
814 815 816

For juricentrism and polycentrism, see section 3.2.5 above. See section above. See n 798 above and accompanying text.


principle to ripe – is applied discriminately. The exceptions discussed in section 9.3 suggest that occasionally, the courts do take broader decisions than required by the facts of the instant case but they do so only in some of the circumstances in which, even Sunstein would agree, maximalism is preferred to minimalism.817

Lisa A. Kloppenberg, who is critical of the US Supreme Court’s use of the avoidance techniques in general, 818 is particularly concerned about narrowing statutory interpretation. She opines that when the court applies the narrowing statutory interpretation, it in effect rewrites the legislation and decides “constitutional issues on the merits without a full airing of the issue, without sufficient reasoned elaboration, and without purporting to rule on the merits at all”.819 The relevant cases discussed in section 9.3 above suggest the concern to be unjustified. Far from judicial legislation, they illustrate that narrow or remedial interpretation merely rectified the legislation concerned in a speedy manner which would incur no further cost and minimise the disruption to law enforcement.


See notes 129 and 130 above and accompanying text for Sunstein’s view on such


Lisa A. Kloppenberg, Playing It Safe: How the Supreme Court Sidesteps Hard Cases and

Stunts the Development of the Law (New York: New York University Press, 2001).

Lisa A. Kloppenberg, “Does Avoiding Constitutional Questions Promote Judicial

Independence?” (2006) 56 Case Western Reserve Law Review 1031, p 1038.



As discussed in Part II, the constitutional review of legislation does not, in practice, exist in Singapore. Citing reasons essentially the same as the counter-majoritarian difficulty and Waldron’s process-based argument, the judiciary does not question the propriety of any statute enacted by the Parliament. In contrast, the Hong Kong judiciary does conduct rigorous review of the constitutionality of legislation. As discussed in section 3.4.5, the core of Waldron’s case against judicial review is that in a society where four conditions are satisfied – democratic political institutions, independent judiciary administering rule of law, government official and most society members committed to rights and disagreement about rights – decisions made through the democratic institutions are more politically legitimate than those made by appointed, non-representative judges regardless of the contents of the decisions. Based on the same four assumptions made by Waldron –

especially assumptions (1) and (3), which appear to be the operative ones in Waldron’s argument – Fallon borrows the multiple-veto theory from Cross and justifies judicial review on the ground that it is “more morally troublesome for rights to be underenforced than overenforced” and “better to err on the side of too much rather than too little protection of rights under conditions of reasonable disagreement”. 820 In this chapter, I shall examine whether the four conditions assumed by Waldron and Fallon exist in


Richard H. Fallon, Jr, “The Core of An Uneasy Case for Judicial Review” (2008) 121

Harvard Law Review 1693, p 1708. See also sections 3.4.6 and 3.4.7 above.


Singapore and Hong Kong and if not, whether constitutional review in the two places can be justified by other arguments.


10.2.1 Waldron’s argument applied? Political institutions democratic?

On the first condition, Waldron, like Bickel, accepts that in the real world, democracy is not perfect and democratic decisions are not perfectly fair (ie all individuals have equal participation in the decision-making process) and only reasonably fair.821 Even with this qualification, Singapore does not satisfy Waldron’s first assumption. True, Singapore’s political system possesses most of the features mentioned by Waldron: universal adult suffrage, regular election, legislature accustomed to dealing with difficult issues including those relating to justice and social policy, elaborate and responsible procedures for lawmaking, legislators thinking themselves as representatives and the existence of political parties. 822 However, the system is not, as required by Waldron, in “good working order”. He does not elaborate on what the phrase means except to say that it “goes to process values rather than outcome values”.823 It would be safe to take it that he means, by that phrase, that the system will be implemented in such a way that every member of the society has an equal opportunity to elect and be elected. Otherwise, the system and the decisions coming out of it can hardly qualify as being fair.

Jeremy Waldron, “The Core of the Case Against Judicial Review” (2006) 115 Yale Law

Journal 1346, pp 1386 – 1389.
822 823

See ibid, p 1361 for Waldron’s description of “democratic institutions”. Ibid, p 1362.


Singapore’s legislature has been dominated by the People’s Action Party since the city-state’s independence in 1965. This is, no doubt, due mainly to the party’s success in running an efficient, corruption-free government which solves the problems of a heterogeneous, multi-racial society and raises the place with no natural resource (except a deep-water harbour located strategically in international commerce) to one of the most affluent societies in the world. The party’s dominance, however, has come about partly because of its suppression of the opposition politicians through defamation proceedings (sections and above).824 In addition, the PAP government uses its overwhelming majority in the Parliament to introduce “electoral innovations”

to gain unfair advantage over the

opposition political parties. Certain single-member constituencies have been merged to form Group Representation Constituencies (“GRC”). For a GRC, a political party has to field a three-, five- or six- person team, which must include a designated minority (Malay, Indian, or Eurasian). Under the arrangement, which is for the express purpose of ensuring minority representation, the other smaller parties would have difficulty in finding sufficient competent and suitable candidates to form a team and also, difficulty in securing the number of votes required to win any seat. 826 Electoral boundaries are redrawn at short notice, creating time pressure on the other parties to change their plans. 827 In the government’s programme for upgrading of public housing estates, which provide homes to 90% of the

See also Chris Lydgate, Lee’s Law: How Singapore Crushes Dissent (Melbourne: Scribe

Publications, 2003).

Diane K. Mauzy and R. S. Milne, Singapore Politics Under the People’s Action Party

(London and New York: Routledge, 2002), Ch 11: “Elections, Electoral Innovations, and the Opposition”.

Ibid, pp 145 – 146. See also Sylvia Lim, “The Future of Alternative Party Politics: Growth

or Extinction?”, Ch 14 in Kenneth Paul Tan (ed), Renaissance Singapore? Economy, Culture and Politics (Singapore: NUS Press, 2007), p 242.

Lim (n 826 above), p 242.


population, priority was tied to electoral support for the PAP.828 There have also been complaints about voting arrangements which handicap the opposition parties.829

Fairness and equal participation in decision-making entails the freedom of expression, especially on political affairs. It appears that even PAP members may have little influence over the government.830 In any case, even if an adequate network of tapping grassroots opinions did exist, it would not be an adequate substitute for free, public debates. The government may genuinely wish to hear dissenting views and “(p)rovided a criticism is honestly made and backed by convictions, [it is doubtful] that the sky will come tumbling down on the commentator”.831 However, the fine line between criticising a policy (which is tolerated) and criticising the government or government officials (which is not tolerated) can easily be crossed inadvertently.832 Preventive detention under the Internal Security Act (section 4.1.2 above), censorship of books, licensing requirement for public assemblies (sections and above), laws of contempt and defamation (sections and above) and less formally, the use of “out of


Cherian George, Singapore: The Air-conditioned Nation (Singapore: Landmark Books,

2000), pp 89 – 90.

Diane K. Mauzy, “Electoral Innovation and One-Party Dominance in Singapore”, Ch 11 in

John Fuh-sheng Hsieh and David Newman (eds), How Asia Votes (New York: Chatham House Publishers of Seven Bridges Press, 2002).

See Mauzy and Milne (n 825 above), Ch 4: “The People’s Action Party: The Structure and

Operation of a Dominant Party”, pp 42 – 43 and 49 – 50.

Warren Fernandez, Thinking Allowed? Politics, Fear and Change in Singapore (Singapore:

SNP International, 2004), p 11.

For an attempt to determine the government’s toleration level, see Tan Chong Kee, “The

Canary and the Crow: Sintercom and the State Tolerability Index”, Ch 9 in Renaissance Singapore? (n 826 above).


bound markers” since 1994 833 all add up to create a strong chilling effect. In a forum organised by the Feedback Unit of the government, many of the 150 participants agreed that “(w)hether real or perceived, … the climate of fear is a root cause for political apathy in Singapore”.834

We may sum up the seeming democracy in Singapore by borrowing Tan’s observation: “The consensus in Singapore does not equate with the legislative view, which may not be representative of the majority opinion in a one-party-dominant state like ours, and in which the party whip may not be lifted and all members may be compelled to vote in a particular manner.”835 In the absence of democratic institutions “in good working order”, the countermajoritarian difficulty does not arise. That in itself would mean the judicial restraint in Singapore cannot stand on Waldron’s objection to judicial review. For the sake of completeness, I shall examine whether the other assumptions in Waldron’s case are satisfied.


The PAP government opines that persons who do not openly join and support a political

party should not comment on political affairs. When such persons express any views against the government, it responds with “out of bounds markers”, ie stinging public rebuttals aimed at making the persons lose face. “The OB markers represent a trial-and-error approach that allows for more political commentary and gradually increasing openness, and the approach is certainly less severe than using some of the tough laws that are on the books.”: Diane K. Mauzy and R. S. Milne, Singapore Politics Under the People’s Action Party (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), p 142. See also Kirpal Singh, “Keeping Vigil: Openness, Diversity and Tolerance”, Ch 7 in Renaissance Singapore? (n 826 above), pp 115 – 116.
834 835

“ ‘Climate of fear’ a hot feedback topic”, The Strait Times (Singapore), 15 October 2004. Tan Seow Hon, “Constitutional Jurisprudence: Beyond Supreme Law – A Law Higher

Still?”, Ch 3 in Li-ann Thio and Kevin Y. L. Tan (eds) Evolution of a Revolution: Forty Years of the Singapore Constitution (Milton Park, Abingdon; New York, N.Y., 2009).

229 Rule of law administered by politically independent judiciary?
Peerenboom divides the conceptions of rule of law into two general types: thin and thick. “A thin conception stresses the formal or instrumental aspects of rule of law – those features that any legal system allegedly must possess to function effectively as a system of laws, regardless of whether the legal system is part of a democratic or non-democratic society, capitalist, liberal or theocratic.”836 The constitutive elements of this thin conception 837 overlap with Fuller’s internal morality of the law 838 and with Dicey’s rule of law

except that Dicey’s reference to judicial protection of the personal

liberty, freedom of discussion and freedom of public meeting do not form part of Peerenboom’s thin conception. Peerenboom’s thick or substantive conception consists of the thin concept plus “elements of political morality such as particular economic arrangements …, forms of government … or


Randall Peerenboom, “Varieties of Rule of Law: An Introduction and Provisional

Conclusion”, Ch 1 in Rendall Peerenboom (ed), Asian Discourses of Rule of Law: Theories and Implementation of Rule of Law in Twelve Asian Countries, France and the U. S. (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), p 2.

Ibid, pp 2 – 3. The elements are: meaningful restraints on state actors; rules and norms

determining the institutions with authority to make laws; laws to be made public and readily accessible; laws to be generally and equally applicable to different people; laws to be clear, consistent, stable and generally prospective; narrow gap between the laws on the book and those actually applied; laws to be reasonably acceptable to those affected.

Lon L. Fuller, The Morality of Law (New Haven and London: Yale University Press,

Revised Ed, 1969), Ch II: “The Morality That Makes Law Possible”: law to be general, promulgated, prospective, clear, consistent, possible to comply with, constant through time and congruent between official action and declared rule.

A. V. Dicey, An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (London:

Macmillan, 10th edn, 1959), Ch IV: “The Rule of Law: Its Nature and General Applications”: supremacy of the law; man not punishable except for breach of law established in the ordinary legal manner before the courts; equality before the law; and judicial protection of personal liberty, freedom of discussion and freedom of public meeting.


conceptions of human rights …”.840 Waldron apparently intends the rule of law in his second assumption to refer to the thin conception since he has included the rights commitment as a separate condition on which judicial review is not justified.

It appears that this thin conception of the rule of law does exist in Singapore. Putting aside what we have seen in Chapter 4 about the de facto lack of limit to the Parliament’s legislative power, the state actors – including elected politicians and appointed officials – are restrained by the criminal and civil laws, when they act in their private or public capacities. Silverstein suggests that Singapore satisfies Fuller’s internal morality of law, which appears to be all that required to win international investors’ confidence in its adherence to the rule of law.841 We may conclude from Part II of this thesis that some laws in Singapore are less than just but it cannot be denied that they “(a)t minimum, … [promise] some degree of predictability and some limitation on arbitrariness, and hence some protection of individual rights and freedoms”.842

Accepting that the thin rule of law does exist in Singapore, is it administered by an independent judiciary as required by Waldron? Explaining judicial independence, Vanberg identifies two dimensions. “At the broadest level, the ideal of judicial independence expresses the aspiration that judicial decisions should not be influenced in an inappropriate manner by

840 841

Peerenboom (n 836 above), p 4. Gordon Silverstein, “Singapore: The Exception That Proves Rules Matter”, Ch 3 in Tom

Ginsburg and Tamir Moustafa, Rule by Law: The Politics of Courts in Authoritarian Regimes (New York: Cambridge University Press 2008).

Peerenboom (n 836 above), p 6.


considerations judged to be normatively irrelevant.” 843 To insulate judges from such possible inappropriate influence from the policy makers requires the safeguard of a formal, institutional dimension, such as security in tenure of office.844 In Singapore, the appointment on three-year contract terms of Chief Justices beyond the normal retirement age of 65, the transfer from the bench a Senior District Judge who acquitted Jeyaratnum in a criminal trial and the substantial damages awarded in PAP leaders’ defamation proceedings against their political rivals do give rise to reasonable suspicion about judges being subject to undue influences.845

However, this is not the place to conduct a normative appraisal of the Singapore judiciary’s performance. Here, we are merely addressing the question whether the Singapore judiciary is, descriptively, that referred to in Waldron’s second assumption, which includes: the judiciary is capable of conducting judicial review of executive acts and constitutional review of legislation, acts in response to claims brought by particular litigants, adjudicates in adversarial proceedings, practises staire decisis and is manned by experienced lawyers. 846 The Singapore judiciary does answer such descriptions. By “politically independent”, Waldron means merely that the judges are appointed and not elected. It would appear that for the purpose of his second assumption, the requirement of being “politically independent” is satisfied so long as the judiciary interprets and enforces the legislature’s decisions faithfully according to legal “consideration judged to be normatively relevant” and at the same time, refuses to enforce any rule which is not “the

Georg Vanberg, “Establishing and Maintaining Judicial Independence”, Ch 7 in Keith E.

Whittington, Keith E., R.Daniel Kelemen, and Gregory A. Caldeira (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Law and Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2008), p 100.
844 845

Ibid. International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, Prosperity Versus Individual Rights?

Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law in Singapore (London: International Bar Association, July 2008), pp 49 – 62. See also Silverstein (n 841 above), pp 83 – 86.

“The Core of the Case Against Judicial Review” (n 821 above), pp 1363 – 1364.


law” in the positivist sense of that term.847 The case analyses in Part II above contain nothing to show that the Singapore judiciary is not “politically independent” in this particular sense. The literalism, textualism and judicial deference revealed in the analysis appear to represent what, according to Waldron’s second assumption, the judiciary is doing and should do.

Singapore’s judicial and legal system consistently occupies very high positions in international rankings,

which presumably reflects its

predictability, limited arbitrariness and efficient and decision making. The ranking is much lower when it comes to participation in selecting the government and enjoyment of free speech.849 That relates not to Waldron’s second assumption but to the third one concerning the society’s rights commitment. Officials and most members of society committed to rights?
Waldron’s third assumption consists of a rights-committed society with three elements: (1) a written bill of rights; (2) awareness of the worldwide consensus on human rights; and (3) officials and members of the society take rights seriously: keep views of rights under constant debate and alert to issues of rights when making social decisions.850 The first element is satisfied by Part IV of the Constitution of Singapore. The restriction of press freedom and control of the media

appear to inhibit criticisms of the

847 848 849 850 851

See Vanberg (n 843 above and accompanying text). IBA’s July 2008 Report (n 845 above), pp 21 – 22. Ibid. “The Core of the Case Against Judicial Review” (n 821 above), p 1365. IBA’s July 2008 Report (n 845 above), pp 39 – 45. See also Garry Rodan, Transparency

and Authoritarian Rule in Southeast Asia (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), Ch 4 “Keeping Civil Society at Bay: Media in Singapore After the Crisis”.


Singapore government only. The media publishes world news freely. Singaporeans have wide international contacts. The second element, therefore, is also satisfied.

Not the third one, however. It has been shown in Chapter 8 that the civil rights, in particular the right to freedom of expression, fall well below the standards enjoyed in the major common law jurisdictions. It suggests that the legislature and the executive either do not care or are not alert to issues of rights in their decision-making. The laws impinging on the freedom of expression and the government’s harshness towards criticisms have apparently resulted in such a chilling effect as to cause political apathy among ordinary members of the society. 852 Singh observes that the “heartlanders”, ie 90% of the population who are living in public housing estates situated in the heartland of the residential areas, seem to agree with Lee Kuan Yew that the US and European kinds of freedoms, particularly the freedom of expression, are not yet ripe for Singapore.853 Tan’s observation is that “(i)n the popular imagination, the dominant image of the Singaporeans has been one who remains interested in ‘politics’ not to pursue the larger ideals that govern questions of public concern, but to secure maximum material benefit for the self”.854 Given the attitude of the officials as well as most members of the society, Singapore belongs to Waldron’s “non-core cases societies in which the commitment to rights is tenuous and fragile”.855

852 853 854

See note 834 and accompanying text. Singh (n 833 above), p 115. Kenneth Paul Tan, “New Politics for a Renaissance City?”, Ch 2 in Renaissance Singapore?

(n 826 above), p 21.

“The Core of the Case Against Judicial Review” (n 821 above), p 1366.

234 Disagreements about rights?
Waldron’s fourth assumption is that within a general commitment to rights, there exist disagreements about the central applications, and not just marginal applications, of rights. Examples in the United States include abortion, affirmative action and regulation of speech and spending in electoral campaigns. 856 Given the absence of a general commitment among the government officials and most members of the society, one is tempted to conclude that the fourth assumption is not satisfied. However, such a conclusion does not do justice to those Singaporeans – notably the opposition politicians, academics and journalists – who have been frequently publishing dissenting views about the human rights situation in Singapore. These are influential people, whose views will no doubt be taken into account – though not necessarily adopted at the end – by the government when deciding on policies. Waldron’s purpose of his fourth assumption is to make the point that the eventual legislative decisions already strike a right balance among the reasonable disagreements in the society and hence there is no place for the appointed judiciary to interfere with it. For that purpose and without implying that judicial restraint is justified, I would regard the fourth assumption to be satisfied in Singapore. However, if Waldron’s point is that the disagreements would result in pluralism in the decision-making process, this does not appear to have happened in Singapore so far.

10.2.2 Fallon’s argument applied?
Since Singapore does not satisfy Waldron’s first and third assumptions, it belongs to what he refers to as a non-core society, to which his argument against judicial review does not apply. That does not mean that the institution is necessarily justified. Let us see whether such justification can be provided


Ibid, p 1367.


by Fallon’s argument. The answer, I am afraid, is in the negative. Fallon’s argument is also based on the same four assumptions. In particular, since the third assumption concerning a general commitment to rights is not satisfied, there is no ground for believing that it is morally better to err on the side of overenforcement than underenforcement in the protection of rights.

10.2.3 Case for judicial review
If it is agreed that Singapore’s present legislature and executive are not democratically elected because of the PAP’s manipulating the election system and suppressing the freedom of expression, the government’s moral legitimacy is in doubt. So are the decisions made by the government, including the appointments to the judiciary. The government as a whole cannot be regarded to have received the consent of the people. However, to invalidate all the existing governmental institutions would mean the place reverting to the state of nature described by Hobbes and Locke. As the two thinkers argue, the people would rather sacrifice part of their natural freedoms in exchange for security and stability. The doctrine of necessity dictates that as a transitional arrangement, all existing institutions should continue. The ultimate aim is to modify them to the extent that the government can be genuinely regarded to be the people’s representatives.

The work involved cannot be fully entrusted to the existing legislature because it may, and probably will, act on its members’ self-interest. The Elected Presidency, created primarily for the purpose of checking the possible mismanagement by an “irresponsible government” of the country’s reserve, does not fit into such democracy building work. First, the functions on which the President may act in his own discretion 857 does not cover most of the matters referred to in section above as impeding democracy. Secondly, the stringent requirements for a person to become a candidate “not

Art 21(2) of the Constitution of Singapore.


only make the office of president fundamentally elite, but are also likely to fail its objectives”.858 Thirdly, the pre-qualification of candidates conducted by the Presidential Elections Committee under art 19(2) of the Constitution and section 8 of the Presidential Elections Act 1991 “appear(s) to enhance the likelihood of selecting candidates who are most unlikely to fulfill these objectives of [the candidates being politically neutral and fiercely independent]”.859 As a result, “in the guise of the separation of powers, the institution provides merely the semblance of an additional safeguard” 860 and the aura of legitimacy from the elective element “masks the concentration of power and the perpetuation of the political status quo”.

In the

circumstances, the judiciary, being the “least dangerous to the political rights of the constitution … because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them” and having “no influence no influence over either the sword or the purse” and “neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment”, 862 appears to be the only appropriate party to monitor the political branches during this transitional period and to contribute to democracy building by striking down any legislative or executive act which inhibits the people from exercising their right to elect their representatives in compliance with the principle of fairness.

During this transitional period, the judiciary should exercise its invalidating power in respect of the democracy-impeding measures only. The idea is that when the reform is completed and truly democratic institutions are

Kevin Tan, “The Presidency in Singapore: Constitutional Developments”, Ch 3 in Kevin

Tan and Lam Peng Er (eds), Managing Political Change in Singapore: The Elected Presidency (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), p 70.
859 860

Ibid, p 72. Thio Li-ann, “The Elected President and the Legal Control of Government: Quis Custodiet

Ipsos Custodes?”, Ch 5 in Tan and Lam (eds) (n 858 above), p 134.
861 862

Ibid. Alexander Hamilton, “Federalist 78” in Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay,

The Federalist, edited with Introduction and Historical Commentary by J. R. Pole (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co., 2005), pp 411 – 418, at p 412.


in place, the people can, through deliberative democracy, decide on the priority of the individuals’ rights (not only those conducive to democracy) visà-vis other values in a democratic society. In case the democratic decision were reached that such rights are trumps, it would provide the justification for judicial review to continue and extend beyond the representation-reinforcing rights. That should not, however, preclude the people from dropping the strong judicial review in favour of a weak one or even non-judicial means, such as bi-cameralism to police the constitutional limits of the democratically elected legislature.


10.3.1 Waldron’s argument applied? Political institutions not democratic
The political structure in Hong Kong during the colonial days was undemocratic. 863 When sovereignty reverted to China on 1 July 1997, the Chief Executive replaced the Governor as head of the executive authorities of the HKSAR Government. The English title of the legislature remained


The Governor, being the head of the executive and until 1988 also the President of the

Legislative Council (“LegCo”), was appointed by the British government. The first elections to the LegCo – being indirect elections through electoral colleges and functional constituencies – were held in 1985 to fill twenty-four of the fifty-seven seats, the remainders being either government officials or appointed by the Governor. The first direct elections on geographical basis, which filled eighteen of the sixty seats, were conducted in 1991. By 30 June 1997, directly elected members occupied only one-third of the sixty LegCo seats, the remaining two-thirds being elected indirectly through electoral colleges (10 seats) and functional constituencies (20 seats): see Norman Miners, The Government and Politics of Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 5th edn, 1998), Ch 8: “The Legislative Council: Composition and Passing of Ordinances”.


unchanged. The respective methods for selecting the first two CEs are prescribed in Annex I of the Basic Law and the respective methods for forming the first three terms of the LegCo respectively are prescribed in Annex II. These methods are undemocratic too. However, BL 45(2) 864 and BL 68(2),

read in conjunction with the two annexes, mean to many,

including the author of this thesis, that “the ultimate aim” of democratic election “by universal suffrage” to both institutions would be achieved in 2007 and 2008 respectively. The “principle of gradual and orderly progress” stated in the two provisions, it is thought, is satisfied by the gradual and orderly changes set out in Annexes I and II respectively. That, unfortunately, turned out to be wishful thinking. On 26 April 2004, the NPCSC decided, by way of interpretation of Annexes I and II, that:


the election of the third CE to be held in 2007 “shall not be by means of universal suffrage”;866 and


the election of the fourth term of the LegCo to be held in 2008 “shall not be by means of an election of all the members by universal suffrage” and “the ratio between members returned by functional constituencies and members returned by


BL 45(2): “The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of

the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.”

BL 68(2): “The method for forming the Legislative Council shall be specified in the light

of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the election of all the members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage.”

Article 1 of “Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on

issues relating to the methods for selecting the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the year 2007 and for forming the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the year 2008”.


geographical constituencies through direct election, who shall respectively occupy half of the seats, is to remain unchanged”.867

The NPCSC also decided that subject to the above constraints, “appropriate amendments that conform to the principle of gradual and orderly progress may be made” to the CE election in 2007 and LegCo election in 2008.868 In 2005, the Government proposed a limited reform package to the election methods but failed to gain the votes of two-thirds of the legislators, as required under BL 159 for amendment of the Basic Law, for it to be adopted.

On 29 December 2007 the NPCSC decided that universal suffrage would

not be introduced in the two elections held in 2012. However, universal suffrage for CE election “may be implemented” in the year 2017, to be followed by universal suffrage for election of all LegCo members.870 In June 2010, the LegCo passed by two-thirds majority the HKSARG’s proposals to

867 868 869

Ibid. Article 2 of NPCSC’s Decision (n 866 above). The package included an increase of five directly elected seats in the LegCo, which would

be matched by five additional functional constituency seats to be elected by the District Councillors. Also, the 800-member Election Committee stated in Annex I for CE election would be expanded to 1,600 members. Twenty-three pro-democracy legislators voted en bloc against the proposal after the Government rejected their demands for (a) the abolition of appointed District Councillors and (b) a roadmap and timetable for full democracy: see Ma Ngok, “Democratic Development in Hong Kong: A Decade of Lost Opportunities”, Ch 1 in Joseph Y. S. Cheng, The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in Its First Decade (Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press, 2007) and Carine Lai and Christine Loh, From Nowhere to Nowhere: A Review of Constitutional Development: Hong Kong – 1997 – 2007 (Hong Kong: Civic Exchange, 2007), Ch 6; “The Fifth Report (2005)”.

“Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on issues relating

to the methods for selecting the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and for forming the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the year 2012 and on issues relating the universal suffrage”.


amend the methods to elect the CE and form the LegCo in 2012. 871 The amended methods, which will have to be approved by the NPC pursuant to BL 159, represent a step forward but are still some way short of full democracy.

The existing method for CE election is undemocratic because there is very limited elective element in the 800-member Election Committee. Though some of them are elected based on “one person one vote” (eg representatives of teachers, lawyers and accountants), the vast majority of adults in Hong Kong have no vote in the formation of the Committee. For LegCo, half of the sixty seats are directly elected by universal suffrage on geographical basis through proportional representation. The election of the remaining thirty functional constituency seats suffers from similar inequalities as the Election Committee.872

There is also the procedure in enacting legislation. Under BL 74, the CE’s consent is required for a LegCo Member to introduce any bill relating to government policies. Hence, from the legal point of view, the CE elected by the “small circle” may block any proposed legislation relating to government policies even if it is supported by all the LegCo Members. For a bill introduced by the executive, rule 57(6) of the LegCo’s Rule of Procedure, made under BL 75, provides that a Member has to obtain the CE’s written consent before proposing any committee stage amendment (“CSA”) which has a charging effect on the public funds. 873 Furthermore, under Annex II, the passage of any CSA proposed by a Member requires a simple majority vote of each of the two groups of members present: those returned by geographical constituencies through direct election and those returned by functional

Hong Kong (China) Official Record of Proceedings for sitting from 23 to 25 June 2010, pp

9727 – 10339.

See Simon N. M. Young, A Critical Introduction to Hong Kong’s Functional

Constituencies (Hong Kong: Civic Exchange, 2004), pp 54 – 55 for the systematic inequalities arising from the functional constituencies.

Leung Kwok Hung v President of Legislative Council [2007] 1 HKLRD 387


constituencies. Hence, a Member’s proposed CSA can be defeated even if it receives the support of all thirty members in the first group and fourteen of the thirty members in the second group.

It is true that for any contested legislative proposal, the executive as well as the legislature conduct wide public consultations and the people do speak up through the print media, radio phone-in programmes, internet and public demonstrations. That, however, does not adequately compensate for the structural inequalities in the CE and LegCo election methods and in the legislative procedure. Hence, Hong Kong cannot be regarded to satisfy the first assumption behind Waldron’s objection to judicial review. Rule of law administered by politically independent judiciary
The judicial decisions discussed in Part II will, it is hoped, constitute sufficient evidence that thick rule of law exists in Hong Kong and is administered by a politically independent judiciary. There have been several cases which cause commentators to suspect that the CFA is being deferential to the Central Government or HKSAR Government, namely the rulings concerning the NPCSC’s power of interpreting the Basic Law (section 4.2.5), the constitutionality of the legislation making flag desecration an offence (sections and ) and the constitutionality of the notification scheme for public assemblies (section ). I hope the defence I have mounted in those sections has shown that there are sound legal reasons for those rulings. Or, even if my defence has been unsuccessful, there is certainly nothing to suggest that the Hong Kong judiciary, in particular the CFA, has been “influenced in an inappropriate manner by considerations judged to be normatively irrelevant”.874 After an appraisal of constitutional review in the


Vanberg (n 843 above).


HKSAR’s first decade, Professor Johannes Chan concludes that “by and large, fundamental rights have been upheld in the last decade. The judiciary is conscious of its role of being the guardian of human rights, and has adopted a liberal approach to constitutional interpretation”.875

As regards the institutional dimension, BL 85 provides that the courts “shall exercise judicial power independently, free from interference”. “Judges … shall be appointed by the Chief Executive on the recommendation of an independent commission composed of local judges, persons from the legal profession and eminent persons from other sectors.” (BL 88). The commission for this purpose is the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission established under the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission (Cap 92). Chaired by the Chief Justice, the Commission’s membership consists of the Secretary for Justice, two judges, one barrister, one solicitor and three persons not connected with legal practice (section 3(1) of Cap 92). The CE shall consult the Bar Council of the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Council of the Law Society of Hong Kong regarding the appointment of the barrister and the solicitor respectively and the two bodies may recommend other persons than those proposed by the CE (section 3(1A) and (1B) of Cap 92). Regular judges from the CFA down to the District Courts are appointed until retirement age.876 They may only be removed for inability to discharge their duties or for misbehaviour in accordance with the procedure laid down in BL 89 and in the case of the Chief Justice and regular judges of the CFA, in accordance with section 14(6) to (10) of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal Ordinance (Cap 484).


Johannes Chan, “Basic Law and Constitutional Review: The First Decade” (2007) 37

Hong Kong Law Journal 407, at p 445.

Peter Wesley-Smith, “Individual and Institutional Independence of the Judiciary”, Ch 5 in

Steve Tsang (ed), Judicial Independence and the Rule of Law in Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2001), p 109.


The above provisions apply to the regular judges. The Hong Kong judiciary includes some non-permanent judges giving rise to unsatisfactory aspects. The CE may appoint eligible lawyers to be recorders of the Court of First Instance for regular periods, for example one month per year. They will return to their private practice afterwards. A perceived, even if not real, problem arises over the possibility of their being pressured by their clients in private practice to decide, as a recorder, an issue in a particular manner. There is doubt as to whether they can constitute an independent and impartial tribunal.877 The CJ may, on his own, appoint Deputy Judges of the Court of First Instance (section 10(1) of High Court Ordinance (Cap 4)) and the practice for District Court judges to act as Deputy Judges before confirmation as CFI Judge creates the possibility – though, again, only perceived – of their being influenced by the CJ in their judicial decisions.

A special feature which contributes to judicial independence is that as permitted by BL 92 and section 16(1)(c) of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal Ordinance (Cap 484), the court hearing a final appeal may include a non-permanent judge from other common law jurisdictions. The list of such non-permanent judges include highly respected judges in the House of Lords and the High Court of Australia.

Judicial independence also entails financial security. In the past, judges’ pay scales were linked to – and adjusted annually on the same line as – those for the civil service. The judiciary’s recommendation in 2008 to enact legislation to prohibit absolutely the reduction of judges’ pay was declined by the government. Instead, it was decided that the annual review of judicial pay scale be conducted by the existing Standing Committee on


Ibid, p 117.


Judicial Salaries and Conditions and Service.878 In 2009, for the first time, the government, based on the Committee’s recommendation, decided to freeze the judicial pay scale though, for the civil service, an about 5% reduction was contemplated to take account of pay trend in the private sector.879

In a book chapter published in 2001 which reviews also the financial security and resources for the judiciary and other aspects of judicial independence (such as occasional critical comments by quasi-government officials), Wesley-Smith concludes:

“The judicial branch of government, it might be concluded, enjoys a high degree of autonomy in an arrangement of ‘one public service, two systems’. Judicial independence, in both its individual and institutional manifestations, seems largely secure; there are deficiencies, certainly, but regular judges are in general well protected from interference from outside in their exercise of judicial functions. … [However,] (w)hen the position of some non-regular judges is taken into account it seems that the constitutional requirement of judicial independence has not been fully implemented. The practical consequence is that in some cases judicial decisions could be subject to challenge under Art 10 of the Bill of Rights.”880

For the purpose of Waldron’s case against judicial review, he assumes merely “a well-established and politically independent judiciary … in reasonably good working order”. 881 While Wesley-Smith assessment shows

Chief Secretary for Administration’s Office, “System for the Determination of Judicial

Remuneration and Interim Arrangement for the 2008 – 09 Judicial Service Pay Adjustment Exercise”, Legislative Council Brief reference CSO/ADM CR 6/3221/02, 20 May 2008.

“Judicial independence cited in decision not to cut judges’ pay”, South China Morning

Post, 23 September 2009.
880 881

Wesley-Smith (n 876 above), pp 125 – 126. “The Core of the Case Against Judicial Review” (n 821 above), p 1363.


certain aspects of judicial independence in Hong Kong to leave room for improvement, his conclusion on the overall situation, coupled with the case analyses in Part II, leaves no doubt that Waldron’s second assumption is satisfied in Hong Kong. Officials and most members of society committed to rights

Chapter III of the Basic Law, the BORO, the various rights protecting legislation

and the fact of Hong Kong being a party to the major

international human rights conventions

speak for the officials’ rights

commitment. It is true that deficiencies are always identified in the Concluding Observations issued by the relevant Treaty Monitoring Bodies in response to regular reports submitted under the international conventions. However, if the absence of such comments on areas requiring improvement were the deciding criterion, probably no society in the world could count as committing to rights. Speeches in the LegCo show strong consciousness of the individuals’ rights. In particular, more than one-third of the legislators, labelled by the media as “pro-democracy”, would not hesitate to voice strong views on any public affairs in which rights infringement is suspected. The legislative and executive acts judicially reviewed in the cases discussed in Part II, for example, those concerning public assemblies (sections and, show that the principle of proportionality is very much in the officials’ minds.


Including the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (Cap 48), Family Status Discrimination

Ordinance (Cap 527), Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Cap Cap 487), Race Discrimination Ordinance (Cap 602) and Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (Cap 486).

These include the ICCPR, ICESCR, Convention on the Rights of the Child, International

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.


The fact that twenty of the thirty directly-elected geographical constituency seats are occupied by legislators of the pro-democracy camp reflects clearly the rights commitments on the part of most members of the society. In Hong Kong, there is not only a free and vigorous press but also, a proliferation of interest groups and dedicated social workers. As a result, even minority groups’ rights receive full airing in the media. For example, in the last couple of years, the enactment of the Race Discrimination Ordinance has resulted from the lobbying of not just the ethnic minorities, but also of interest groups and social welfare agencies made up of mainly local Chinese. Also, after a couple of sex workers were robbed or killed, social workers assisted them to air their grievances and the police had to face them in a LegCo panel to explain what police measures could or could not be taken to prevent similar incidents. There is also that famous peaceful and orderly demonstration on 1 July 2003 participated by about half a million people for multifarious causes: to protest against the government’s proposed legislation to implement BL 23 concerning national security, to demand democracy and to underline their grievances about the government’s various inadequacies. It is the clearest indication that when it comes to fundamental rights, the people will stand up and be counted. Disagreements about rights

Again, the LegCo, despite the unfair element in its composition, is an epitome of the society at large. Issues which require the balancing of the individuals’ rights against the collective interests are always fiercely debated between the pro-democracy and pro-establishment camps. For example, the support for the proposed legislation under BL 23 was so evenly balanced that eventually, the CE had to “postpone” the bill after the chairman of the Liberal Party resigned from the Executive Council and withdrew his party’s support. The Interception of Communications and Surveillance Ordinance (Cap 589)


was enacted after a Second Reading debate which lasted four days and took up more than 2,300 pages of the Hansard.884

10.3.2 Fallon’s argument applied
Owing to the absence of a democratic decision-making mechanism, Hong Kong, like Singapore, is Waldron’s non-core society, to which his process-based argument against judicial review does not apply. However, unlike Singapore, Hong Kong has a rights-commitment culture, which justifies Fallon’s multiple-veto argument that “it is more morally troublesome for rights to be underenforced than overenforced” and “better to err on the side of too much rather than too little protection of rights”.885 That judicial review in Hong Kong does contribute to the government’s legitimacy is indicated by the positive media response which nearly always meets a judicial decision declaring a legislative or executive act to be unconstitutional.

The counter-majoritarian consideration – or democracy as relied on by the Singapore judiciary – cannot justify the de facto non-existence of constitutional review of legislation in Singapore. Given the hurdles created by the ruling political party to free debates and political participation and the low standards of fundamental rights enjoyed by the people compared with those enjoyed in the democratic countries, the legislature’s decisions do not satisfy Dworkin’s principles, discussed in section, of participation, stake and independence for democracy. Presumably even Waldron would not support the extent of judicial restraint as witnessed in Singapore. The human rights decisions validated by the courts are morally illegitimate because they fall

Hong Kong (China) Legislative Council Official Record of Proceedings 2006, pp 9989 –


See n 820 above.


below the minimum standard of justice, legally illegitimate because the legal principles adopted depart from the norm in the common law world but arguably, socially legitimate because the majority of the citizens have signified their acceptance through the ballot box – though it is a Hobson’s choice in the absence of any other political party capable of running the country.

While the counter-majoritarian difficulty does not justify judicial restraint in Singapore, the lack of such difficulty in Hong Kong is one of the justifications – the other being the existence of a pro-rights culture – for vigorous judicial review. Even so, as we have seen in Part II, the principles adopted by the court and the standards of substantive rights emerging from the review merely follow, and are not more activist than, those in the democratic countries. Hence judicial review is a legitimate institution in Hong Kong from the moral, legal and social point of view even though owing to the lack of democracy – more specifically, the unfairness resulting from inequality in political participation – the government as a whole lacks moral and social legitimacy.




In Chapter 10, I argue that the governments of Singapore and Hong Kong lack moral legitimacy. Bickel suggests that judicial review performs a legitimating function in respect of the government as a whole. He appears to have in mind both moral and social legitimacy.

Despite the low standard of human rights and the virtual non-existence of constitutional review, election results in Singapore show that its government as a whole enjoys social legitimacy. If the number of demonstrations against government actions is a reliable indiciator of social illegitimacy, the Hong Kong government, despite more committed to rights and the existence of vigorous constitutional review, has a social legitimacy way below that of its Singapore counterpart. The political structure is obviously an important reason for the difference in social legitimacy of the two governments. Another no less important reason is what may loosely be referred to as the cultural difference, namely the political apathy of the Singapore people versus the Hong Kong people’s demand for human rights.


The word “culture” has many meanings.


Cultural relativism

involves several dimensions. 887 When the Singapore School argues that human rights are Western values and should not be imposed on the Asian countries because of the cultural and ethical differences there, 888 it is apparently attaching to “culture” a meaning similar to that used by some sociologists: “the total lifestyle of a people, including all the ideas, values, knowledge, behaviours and material objects that they share”.889 It is in the same sense that I refer to Waldron’s third assumption – the existence or otherwise of rights commitment on the part of the officials and most members of the public – 890 as the “rights culture” in this thesis. The term is neutral. A “pro-rights culture” is one where such commitment is prevalent, the antithesis being “political apathy”.

By using cultural differences as the reason for not following the Western standards of human rights, the cultural relativists seem to imply that culture evolves from race, history, religion etc and therefore, cannot be changed by the government at will. The claim is difficult to sustain. In sociology, a culture includes three types of norms which influence human

A list compiled in 1952 contains 164 definitions: A.L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn,

Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (New York: Vintage Books, 1952), available on on 10 August 2010.

For a chronological account of the debate on cultural relativism, see Randall Peerenboom,

“Beyond Universalism and Relativism: The Evolving Debates about ‘Values in Asia’ ” (2003) 14 Indiana International and Comparative Law Review 1. For a discussion of Singapore’s view on the “Asian values”, see Simon S.C. Tay, “Human Rights, Culture, and the Singapore Example” (1996) 41 McGill Law Journal 743.

Eva Brems, Human Rights: Universality and Diversity (The Hague; Boston; London:

2001), p 41.

Thomas J. Sullivan, Sociology: Concepts and Applications in a Diverse World (Boston;

Hong Kong: Pearson Education/ Allyn and Bacon, 7th edn, 2007), p 39, which refers to C. Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973) and Kroeber and Kluckhohn (n 886 above).



behaviours: legal, moral and social. The third one is purely descriptive – a statistical account of the frequency of particular conducts or behaviours. The three norms influence each other. Some moral norms are to be enforced through legal norms. While legal norms are not necessarily moral norms, no legal norm should be created which is morally wrong. Through enacting a legal norm, a government using the coercive power conferred by the relevant legislation can create a social norm. The existence of a social norm, especially if it is long established, can be an obstacle to – or even a valid reason against – the creation of a legal norm which conflicts with the social norm. However, occasionally, that a social norm (for example, discrimination) is rampant may constitute the very reason why it must be changed by law. A legal norm will change not only a social norm but also, may in time be regarded as a moral norm. The creation of a legal norm is not the only way open to a government to change the social and moral norms. Education and publicity will in some cases be equally, if not more, efficient as they avoid the negative effects which will result from the use of coercive measures.

It is beyond the scope of this thesis to explore in depth the development of the rights culture in Singapore and Hong Kong respectively. This chapter will merely take a brief look at the historical, economical, political and social factors which appear to lead to the difference between the two places. Another question to be addressed is what, given political reality and the existing rights culture, the two judiciaries can do to enhance the moral legitimacy of their respective governments.


11.2.1 Formation of heartlanders’ political apathy

When Singapore became independent in 1965, after a Malay-Chinese race riot the year before, it was a small, poverty-stricken third-world country

which had little resources other than a deep-water harbour and a

heterogeneous, multi-racial but hard-working workforce. Internally, tension existed between the Chinese, the largest race in the population, and the Malays. Externally, it was under threat from two much larger countries – Malaysia and Indonesia. The British forces, which contributed to Singapore’s economy as well as security, would withdraw by 1972. 892 The PAP was formed in 1954 and had been successful in election first held in 1959, when Singapore was part of Malaysia. It decided that the country’s economic future lay in international commerce. “Singapore had found that good government, a developed infrastructure, and an attractive workforce were necessary draws to foreign investment. With its exit from Malaysia, Singapore had to convince investors that this new country was a safe place to put their money and that it was stable politically and socially.”893

For national defence, Singapore built up a sophisticated military service, including a high-tec airforce. Conscription for males was introduced in 1967 and encountered little resistance as the government succeeded in portraying Singapore as a small state under siege.894 In diplomacy, Singapore mended fences with Malaysia and Indonesia, cultivated a friendly relation

This description is used in Lee Kuan Yew, From Third World to First – The Singapore

Story: 1965-2000” (New York: HarperCollins, 2000)

Jim Baker, Crossroads: A Popular History of Malaysia and Singapore (Singapore; Kuala

Lumpa: Times Books International 2000), p 365.
893 894

Ibid, p 367. Mauzy and Milne (n 825 above), p 170.


with China and through participation in multi-lateral organizations, developed its international influence.895

Internally, “(c)entral to the PAP leaders’ thinking on the role of government was their view that the compulsion to achieve economic progress and ethnic harmony made it imperative that the government in Singapore controlled all instrument and centres of power and did not allow the growth of political pluralism.”896 This was achieved partly by the Barisan Sosialis’s (the Malay for Socialist Front) decision to withdraw from the 1966 election and partly by the use of preventive detention under the Internal Security Act, left over from the colonial days, against the radicals. 897 In the 1968 general election, fifty-one PAP candidates were returned unopposed and the remaining seven seats also went to PAP candidates who beat their opponents.898 The party also won all the seats in the parliament in 1972, 1976 and 1980. 899 Economically, commercial activities were carried out through state-owned enterprises operating on free market principle.


concentration of economic power facilitated the concentration of political powers in the government.

In view of the heterogeneous and multi-racial nature of the population, social cohesion was to be achieved – and a distinct national identity developed – through “civil values [which] are the embodiment of common norms, shared values and expressive symbols which citizens of a state identify

895 896

Ibid, Ch 13: “Deterrence and Diplomacy”. Selvaraj Velayutham, Responding to Globalisation: Nation, Culture and Identity in

Singapore (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asia Studies, 2007), p 27.
897 898

Ibid, p 369 Alex Josey, Lee Kuan Yew: The Crucial Years (Singapore; Kuala Lumpa: Times Books

International, 1980), p 67.
899 900

Baker (n 892 above), p 370. Velayutham (n 896 above), pp 27 – 28.


with”.901 Instead of waiting for such values to evolve, the PAP adopted a topdown approach.902 The western, liberal values would not serve the country. Instead, Confucianism and the Asian values were the right ones to adopt: “a set of ideals which include an emphasis on the community rather than individual, the privileging of social order and harmony over individual freedom, an insistence on hard work, a particular emphasis on saving and thriftiness, a respect for political leadership, a belief that government and business need not necessarily be natural adversaries, and an emphasis on family loyalty”.903 Compulsory military service was introduced, which had the effect of fostering the people’s sense of unity.904 For the people to fight for their country, they must have their own homes to protect.905 To address the acute housing shortage, the PAP embarked on a massive public housing programme. Through a quota system based on race, the programme also helped to promote racial harmony by mixing different ethnicities in the same estate.906

The Letters Patent granted by the British government in 1826, referred to as the Second Charter of Justice (the First being the Letters Patent granted in 1807) formally applied English law to Singapore.907 The Second Charter, which provided for modifications to be made in the light of local circumstances, formed the foundation for the development of an

Hussin Mutalib, “Singapore’s Quest for a National Identity: The Triumphs and Trials of

Government Politics”, Ch 4 in Ban Kah Choon, Anne Pakir and Tong Chee Kiong (eds), Imagining Singapore (Singapore: Eastern University Press, 2nd edn, 2004), p 54.
902 903 904 905 906

Ibid, p 55. Velayutham (n 896 above), p 54. Lee Kuan Yew (n 891 above), p 27. Ibid, p 96. Beng-Huat Chua, Communitarian Ideology and Democracy in Singapore (London and

New York: Routledge, 1995), Ch 6: “Not Depoliticised but Ideologically Successful: The Public Housing Programme”, pp 140 – 141.

Connie Carter, Eyes on the Prize: Law and Economic Development in Singapore (The

Hague; London; New York: Kluwer Laws, 2002), p 45.


autochthonous legal system.908 Carter observes that “Singapore’s legal system crossed the Rubicon [and stood on its own] when the PAP leadership committed itself irrevocably to a development, nation-building course of action (by 1965), and opted for pragmatic state intervention as the way of orchestrating the desired results”.909 The umbilical cord connecting the British and Singapore legal systems was cut when Singapore abolished appeal to the Privy Council in 1994. 910 In many areas, the laws seem to facilitate and legitimise government policies, which might or might not have been implemented effectively without law.911

Thus, economic development entails universalism in commercial law to facilitate business operations. 912 For the sake of law and order, the individuals’ liberties are sacrificed. Instead, strict controls backed by stiff penalties are imposed. To uphold the authority of those who wield the concentrated powers and also, to avoid persons of the right calibre being deterred from entering public service, the laws on defamation and contempt of court are tilted in favour of those in power. “(T)he need to maintain the integrity of the system and the leaders triumphs over the individuals’ freedom of expression.”913

The PAP’s success in raising the people’s livelihood from the third world to the first, combined with the stiff laws, reinforces the heartlanders’ political apathy referred in section above. Jolene Lin observes:


Andrew Phang Boon Leong, From Foundation to Legacy: The Second Charter of Justice

(Singapore: Singapore Academy of Law, 2006).
909 910 911 912

Carter (n 907 above), pp 59 – 60. Ibid, p 57. Ibid, p 162. Eugene Kheng-Boon Tan, “Law and Values in Governance: The Singapore Way” (2000)

30 Hong Kong Law Journal 91, pp 109 – 114.

Ibid, p 107.


“Because economic and social regulation in Singapore is almost entirely oriented toward the development agenda, which has been successfully promoted as a shared national aspiration for all sectors of Singaporean society, there has not been that demand for external checks on the regulatory machinery. Instead, it appears to be conceded that the executive branch needs all the powers, discretion, and flexibility it can have to pursue economic development for Singapore. Within this paradigm, the overarching goal of regulation is economic survival and progress.”914

11.2.2 The judiciary’s role in the formation of the rights culture
Politicians in the United States appoint to the bench people of their own political inclination. This can also be expected to be the case in Singapore. Even though the top judges are appointed by the elected President915 who must not belong to any political party,916 the appointments are made on the Prime Minister’s advice. Since the PAP has been the only ruling party since independence, it can safely be assumed that the bench is filled by judges sharing the PAP’s philosophy. That is evident from the judicial decisions discussed in Part II of this thesis.

The literal, textual approach to constitutional interpretation – and consequently, the de facto impossibility for any legislation to be invalidated


Jolene Lin, “The Judicialisation of Governance: The Case of Singapore”, Ch 13 in Tom

Ginsberg and Albert H. Y. Chen, Administrative Law and Governance in Asia (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), pp 288 – 289.

Article 95(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore provides: “The Chief Justice,

the Judges of Appeal and the Judges of the High Court shall be appointed by the President if he, acting in his discretion, concurs with the advice of the Prime Minister.”

Article 19(1)(f) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore.


on ground of breaching constitutional rights – means the executive as well as the legislature have “all the powers, discretion, and flexibility [they] can have to pursue economic development for Singapore”.917 It also means certainty, which contributes to administrative and judicial efficiency though at the expense of justice. Pragmatism, regarded by Yeo et al to be the first of the PAP’s ruling strategies, in fact also permeates in the other three strategies: “ensuring economic progress”; “racial harmony, social stability and national identity”; and “elitism”.918 The harsh treatment of the Jehovah’s Witnesses,919 simply because its doctrine prohibits its adherents from saluting the national flag and joining military service, reflects Singapore’s utmost concern for the slightest perceived threat to national identity and national security. National security and national identity are no doubt of top priority to any country. In the case of Singapore, one should not underestimate the precariousness of a small country surrounded by much bigger, potentially hostile neighbours. There was also evidence of the religion’s adherents actually refusing to perform military service or salute the national flag.920 However, is it not already a sufficient response to criminalise such refusal, instead of banning all the publications and activities of the religion?

When holding the banning of the religion to be not unconstitutional, the court said “it was not for this court to substitute its view for the minister’s as to whether the Jehovah’s Witnesses constituted a threat to national security”. 921 The counter-majoritarian difficulty applies to the legislature’s acts and not the executive’s as in this case. The decision can, however, be
917 918

Note 914 above. Yeo Lay Hwee, Tan Hsien Li and Joanne Lin, Governing Singapore: How, Why, and

Where Are We Heading? (Hong Kong: Civic Exchange, 2005).
919 920 921

See section Notes 465 and 477 above and accompanying texts. Chan Hiang Leng Colin v PP [1994] 3 SLR 662, 685H.


defended on the ground that matters relating to national security should best be left to the executive’s judgment. However, even so, to follow Bickel’s passive virtues, the court could have at least floated the question why less draconian measures, short of banning the religion, had not been considered.

Chief Justice Yong revealed a little more his own views when ruling the licensing requirement of public rally to be constitutional. “In any society, democratic or otherwise, freedom of speech is not an absolute right. Broader societal concerns such as public peace and order must be engaged in a balancing order exercise with the enjoyment of his personal freedom”.922 His reference to the balancing exercise was not backed up by any explanation on why the right balance had been struck in the instant case. The mere mention of “public peace and order” was regarded to have settled the issue. That also explains why capital punishment and caning, which have been abolished in most “first world” countries, are still being practised in Singapore despite Lee Kuan Yew’s not unjustified claim that he has brought his country from the third world to the first.923

If the above judicial decisions allowing the collective interest to trump the individuals’ rights are merely due to the counter-majoritarian difficulty, the same defence is not available for the common law decisions. By making the offence of scandalising the court one of strict liability “which is committed so long as the statement in question impugns the integrity and impartiality of the court, even if it is not so intended” and as it is sufficient for the words complained of to have the “inherent tendency to interfere with the administration of justice”, 924 the judiciary inhibits public discussion of any judicial decisions. While the rationale of the offence is to protect the public interest, its side effect is to protect the judges’ reputations. That coincides with
922 923 924

Notes 457 and 458 and accompanying texts. Note 891 above. AG v Chee Soon Juan [2006] 2 SLR 650, para 31.


the PAP’s strategy of elitism, which goes hand in hand with upholding the authority of those who wield public powers.

Elitism means, to the PAP, that not only the best people should run the country but also, people with “ideas which are threatening to the harmony of Singapore” should be kept away from the Parliament. 925 Conceivably, any opposition politicians who openly criticise the government will fall into the latter category, which explains the PAP’s numerous defamation suits against opposition politicians.926 There can be more than one explanation as to why the court has decided all cases in favour of the PAP leaders and awarded hefty damages against their political opponents. One which does not impugn the judges’ integrity is that they simply share the PAP’s philosophy and strategies as regards what is in the country’s best interests. This is understandable. After all, Singapore is a small country. Given Mr Lee’s charisma and the PAP’s control over the political as well as economic organs, those who make their way to the bench are likely to have internalised the PAP’s ideas on their way up the ladder even if they did not subscribe to them in the beginning.

The political apathy in Singapore results, on the positive side, from the government’s ability to satisfy the material needs of the people and, on the negative side, from the disproportionate suppression of dissenting view in order to protect national security and law and order. The latter is implemented


J. B. Jeyaretnam, The Hatchet Man of Singapore (Singapore: Jeya Publishers, 2003), p 118.

The book contains an account of the defamatory proceedings instituted by PAP leaders against Jeyaretnam. Goh Chok Tong, then Prime Minister, said under cross-examination: “I thought it as my duty to prevent unsavoury characters from entering Parliament. So, it’s my duty to check the opposition members who could do harm to the whole system of a government in Singapore.” When pressed whether “unsavoury characters” means “people with unsavoury ideas” or “unsavoury behaviour”, he replied, “Unsavoury behaviour, character. And in some cases, ideas which are threatening to the harmony of Singapore”.

See n 737 above.


through the legal norms. The judges are as much a party as the politicians to the creation and maintenance of those norms.

11.2.3 What can the judiciary do in the interests of the government’s moral legitimacy?
Bickel’s passive virtue is intended to be a self-preservation technique by the judiciary to forestall the interference of judicial independence by the executive and the legislature. In Singapore, the decision in Teo Suk Lung not to rule whether there is any limit to constitutional amendment (section 4.1.3) appears to be the only incidence of the avoidance technique being used. Indeed, the courts have been making maximalist but deferential decisions. The most maximalist one is that of interpreting the word “law” in Part IV of the Constitution to include any law enacted by the legislature regardless of substance. To regard this as a self-preservation technique would probably be unfair to the judges concerned, who may believe, from the bottom of their hearts, that such judicial restraint is the right one under Singapore’s autochthnous legal and political systems. Under art 95 of the Constitution, the Chief Justice, Justice of Appeal and High Court judges are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. As discussed in section 10.2.3 above, the President is likely to be an elitist like the PAP leaders. The appointment procedure would no doubt produce judges who share the PAP’s ideology. Even if somehow the Supreme Court is filled by reformist judges who subscribe to the argument in section 10.2.3 above and wish to raise the human rights standards by reforming constitutional review, there is probably not much they can do on their own.

For one thing, they are bound by stare decisis. The literal interpretation of the word “law” in Part IV of the Constitution has been firmly established. The smallest step to take by way of reform is to adopt the ECtHR’s tests of accessibility and forseeability. The latter would have wide implications for all


legislation restricting constitutional rights. Most if not all such laws would have to be revised. It would be irresponsible for the judiciary to make such a change before the review and revision are completed. Such review and revision can only be undertaken by the executive and the legislature.

There is perhaps one area in which reform is possible while its implications are within judicial control. That relates to the presumption clauses transferring the burden of proof to the accused. As Hor suggested back in 1995, it would be appropriate for the accused to bear the evidential and not persuasive burden. 927 The change, being a matter of statutory interpretation only, is well within the judiciary’s constitutional power. The judiciary can look at each presumption clause separately as it comes along. The propriety of each clause depends very much on the circumstances in which it may be invoked. One clause can easily be distinguished from another. Another reason for choosing this as a priority area for reform is that many such presumption clauses relate to offences which carry severe punishment up to the death penalty, for example, drug trafficking. The grave consequence for the individuals concerned underlines the argument that it would be morally better to err on the side of acquittal than on the side of conviction.

Politically, however, the judiciary is unlikely to win with such a move. Given the importance attached by the PAP to law and order and given the grave social evils which can be caused by drug trafficking and other illicit activities targeted by such presumption clauses, the PAP legislature and executive will not accept such narrow statutory interpretation lying down. The political branches refrain from interfering with judicial independence only because of the adverse consequence which would follow. When the PAP introduced constitutional amendments after Chng Suan Tze to oust judicial


Michael Hor, “The Presumption of Innocence – A Constitutional Discourse for Singapore”

[1995] Singapore Journal of Legal Studies 365. See also section 8.1.4 above.


review in preventive detention cases, 928 there appeared to be little adverse public reaction.929 That was an indication of the heartlanders’ political apathy. It was probably merely coincidental that the percentage of votes won by the PAP in the first general election held after the incidence happened to be the lowest it has won among all elections.930 When it comes to illicit activities like drug trafficking, the PAP would probably have little difficulty in garnerning public support against any liberalisation by the judiciary, which would be vulnerable to accusation of judicial legislation.

Perhaps the PAP would take into account the possible effect on international investors’ confidence in judicial independence if it were to resort to similar action as that after Chng Suan Tze? The fact, however, is that the post-Chng interference with judicial independence and restriction of press freedom – which other governments, the HKSAR Government for one, would refrain from out of concern for investors’ confidence – do not appear to affect investors’ confidence in Singapore.931 There are hypotheses that a free market economy and the emergence of a strong middle class would result in liberal institutions and convergence with the world as far as human rights are concerned. “Singapore’s experience does not support these postulated causal links between economic development and the emergence of laws and liberal institutions.”932
928 929

See section 4.1.2 above. When the relevant constitutional amendment bill was debated in the Parliament, Chiam

See Tong, an opposition MP, said, “I believe the majority of the people will oppose it”: Singapore Parliament Reports, 25 January 1989, Column 485. He then mentioned the detainees and their relatives as the persons who would object. This seems to show that not even the legal profession, who should be sensitive to any erosion of judicial independence, raised any objection.

In the 1991 general election, the PAP obtained 61% of the votes, which is the lowest

percentage of votes it won in the ten general elections from 1968 to 2006: see, last accessed on 24 November 2009.
931 932

Silverstein (n 841 above). Carter (n 907 above), p 259.


Fortunately, the sign is that the political branches do see the need for liberalisation. In a 2004 speech, Lee Hsien Loong, then Deputy Prime Minister and now Prime Minister, said that in order to cope with the challenge posed by the increasingly unpredictable market and to meet the aspirations of the better educated and more informed Singaporeans, Singapore “must open up further”. “We will promote a political culture which responds to people’s desire for greater participation, in a manner which supports Singapore’s growth as a nation.” However, he also said, in the same breath, apparently with reference to the western culture, “that we will not ape others blindly and do something simply because it appears fashionable”. “Rigorous debates” of policies are encouraged “(b)ut a criticism that scores political points and undermines the government’s standing, whether or not this is intended, is another matter altogether”.933

Hopefully, it is not wishful thinking that the political branches will wish the judiciary to become less self-restrained as part of the intended opening up. If it is agreed that the judiciary has a role to play in the “rigorous debate” of policies, a minimalist approach is to adopt the ECtHR’s concept of “law” and principle of proportionality initially, in respect of the democracy-impeding measures referred to in section 10.2.3 above only. Far from eroding the de facto parliamentary sovereignty practised in Singapore, the foreseeability test merely entails the parliament stating its intentions in more specific terms to facilitate the people’s compliance. The principle of proportionality amounts to a form of cost-benefit analysis which a rational government should and does conduct in policy-making in any case. The principle goes hand in hand with the margin of appreciation, which gives the judiciary flexibility to


Lee Hsien Loong, “Building a Civic Society”, Speech by Deputy Prime Minister at the

Harvard Club of Singapore’s 35th Anniversary on 6 January 2004, available on http://unpan1.unorg/intradoc/groups/public/documents/apcity/unpan015426.pdf, last accessed on 24 November 2009.


determine the standard of review taking into account the particular social, economic and political situations in Singapore.

One of Waldron’s arguments against judicial review is that the legalistic language inhibits public participation in the deliberation of the subject matter. The proportionality test can be conducted in languages easily understood by non-lawyers. Its adoption in policy-making and judicial review, coupled with a relaxation of the existing state control over the freedom of expression, would promote deliberative democracy and enhance the government’s legitimacy.


11.3.1 Formation of rights culture
In the colonial days, Hong Kong was, until the last governor Chris Patten, ruled by UK civil servants, whose general attitude has been described as “benevolent paternalism”. 934 There was no democracy but there was no lack of freedom. The paternalistic benevolence was due, in large part, to the fact that ultimately, the colonial government was accountable to the liberal, democratic legislature in Westminster. Like Singapore, Hong Kong after the Second World War had no natural resources other than a deep-water harbour. Unlike Singapore, the sort of racial tension existing in 1965 Singapore did not exist here. A high proportion of the population was migrants from the China mainland after the Communist Party had gained power. While there was no racial tension, there were conflicts between those who were pro-Kuomintang and those who were pro-Communist Party. Some of the migrants remained in Hong Kong because they had no other choice; others did so because of the

Steve Tsang, Governing Hong Kong: Administrative Officers from the Nineteenth Century

to the Handover to China, 1982 – 1997 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2007), Ch 3: “Benevolent Paternalism”.


freedoms enjoyed here. The British government ruled out the introduction of representative government on the claim that the Communist government in China would not tolerate political reform.935

Like Singapore, Hong Kong had to rely on international trade and foreign investments for its economic survival. The government’s policy was one of laissez-faire. Economic freedom was supplemented by civil liberties. It was thought, especially when Hong Kong aspired to be an international financial centre, that the rule of law, judicial independence and personal freedom were essential in maintaining Hong Kong’s international image and investors’ confidence. Unlike Singapore, the government did not take part in commercial activities, leaving them entirely to the private sector. Hence, the colonial government wielded only political powers while the economic powers were in the hands of the businessmen. Up to the 1970s, the economy and material well being were uppermost in the people’s minds. There was little demand for democracy. Freedoms were taken for granted. In 1976, the British Government extended the ICCPR and ICESCR to cover Hong Kong subject to reservations concerning democracy and immigration control.

In the early 1980s, as the Chinese and British government were negotiating on the future of Hong Kong after 30 June 1997, the possibility of Hong Kong reverting to China – where there had been disastrous political movements but no civil liberties – became a distinct possibility. People were worried about the loss of freedom after a change in sovereignty. To prevent the exodus of people, the Sino-British Joint Declaration contained guarantees of “one country, two systems”, “high degree of autonomy”, “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” and various fundamental rights, including those enshrined in the ICCPR and ICESCR.


Leo Goodstadt, Uneasy Partners: The Conflict between Public Interest and Private Profit

in Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009), p 31.


All these assurances became insufficient after 4 June 1989. To address the people’s fear about possible tyranny after 1997, the colonial government enacted the BORO and amended the Letters Patent such that all laws must comply with the ICCPR as applied to Hong Kong. To pave the way for Britain’s “glorious retreat” in 1997, the colonial government enacted in its last years in Hong Kong several anti-discrimination statutes. 936 The publicity concerning all the human rights protection measures resulted in a strong prorights culture when Hong Kong reverted to China as a Special Administrative Region in 1997. It has since been reinforced by the human rights stand taken by the CFA and the lower courts.

11.3.2 The judiciary’s role in the formation of the rights culture
The judiciary was a key player contributing to the pro-rights culture mentioned in the preceding section. For many years, most members of the bench were recruited or transferred from the United Kingdom or its colonies and dependent territories.937 The Privy Council remained as the final appellate court up to 30 June 1997. Until the mid-1970s, nearly all the barristers practising in Hong Kong were trained and qualified in the United Kingdom. All these factors ensured that the British concepts of rule of law, judicial independence and respect for the individuals’ rights took root firmly in the judiciary, the legal profession and also, the community – the social norms being influenced by the legal norms.

The judiciary’s role became even more prominent after 8 June 1991, when judges acquired the power to invalidate legislation inconsistent with the

936 937

See note 882 above. The Race Discrimination Ordinance was enacted after 1997. Yang Ti-liang was the first ethnic Chinese, called to the bar in England in 1954, to become

the Chief Justice in 1988 after joining the judiciary as a magistrate in 1956.


core provisions of the ICCPR.938 Accessibility to the court was encouraged by the relative ease to obtain legal aid in any case where breach of the BOR or inconsistency with the ICCPR is an issue.939 The media attention invariably attracted by each human rights case, especially one in which a statutory provision or a long established practice was declared unconstitutional, heightened the people’s awareness. The court’s use of foreign precedents as persuasive authorities, which coincides with the government’s advertising Hong Kong as a “world city”, means the court will probably follow such precedents unless there are cogent reasons for not doing so. 940 The judicial reasoning in all sensitive human rights cases comes under the scrutiny of not only the counsel for the litigating parties but also the vocal, rights-committed Hong Kong Bar Association.

A study in the United States suggests that “judges care more about evaluations of their work by other lawyers than they do about the approval of more diffuse groups”.941 This is perhaps true of Hong Kong judges too. In addition to being the evaluators, the legal profession also provides the judiciary with moral support when judicial independence comes under threat. On 30 June 1999, after the NPCSC’s reversal of part of the CFA’s decisions in Ng Ka Ling, 942 several hundred lawyers dressed in black mounted a silent protest march. 943 On the other hand, when any judicial decision appears to attach insufficient weight to human rights, one group of activists or another can be counted upon to voice their disapproval in the street or appeal, with
938 939

See section 4.2.1 above. Under section 5AA of Legal Aid Ordinance (Cap 91), the Director of Legal Aid may waive

the means test in such cases such that for legal aid to be granted, an applicant has to pass the merit test only.
940 941

See section 6.3 above. Lawrence Baum, Judges and Their Audiences (Princeton and Oxford: Oxford University

Press, 2006), Ch 4: “Social and Professional Groups”, p 98.
942 943

Note 379 above. “600 lawyers in silent protest march”, South China Morning Post, 1 July 1999, p 2.


legal aid financed by the public fund or assistance of lawyers acting pro bono, all the way up to the CFA. Though judicial dependence requires judges to uphold justice without fear or favour, it is humanly impossible – and arguably, even a breach of the people’s trust – for them to ignore such public opinions. The effect of the pro-rights culture, therefore, is that the judges would, as Fallon defends that they should, err on the overenforcement, rather than underenforcement, of constitutional rights.

11.3.3 What can the judiciary do in the interests of the government’s moral legitimacy?
As discussed in section 10.3.1 above, the absence of a democratic political structure renders Hong Kong Waldron’s non-core society and his case against judicial review does not apply here. On the other hand, the rights commitment by the official and the people justifies judicial review based on the multiple-veto argument by Cross and Fallon. Politically, judicial review has been performing the legitimating function, mentioned by Black and agreed by Bickel, in the midst of the fragmentation of powers in Hong Kong.

Powers are fragmented because, as from 1 July 1997, the executive has no vote in the legislature while the legislators who hold the vote cannot introduce any proposal relating to public expenditure or government policies without the CE’s consent.944 In view of the nature of functional constituencies (the representatives of which may be elected because of their social status in the sectors concerned regardless of their political affiliation) and the proportional representation system in the election of the geographical constituencies, even the largest political party commands only about ten votes in the 60-member LegCo. In terms of political inclination, roughly about 30 members have been labelled as “pro-government”, about 25 “pro-democracy”


BL 74. See also section above.


and the remainders “independent”. The “pro-democracy” members take a libertarian stand on any proposal which may have the effect of restricting the individuals’ rights. The executive cannot take the “pro-government” members’ support for granted because the latter will have to consider the possible adverse effect which an “anti-right” vote may have on their chance of re-election.

Now and then, heated public disagreements continue after a contested legislative proposal is bull-dozed through the LegCo with the “progovernment” members out voting the “pro-democracy” members. Matters which should have been resolved through the political process occasionally reach the court by way of judicial review. 945 The judiciary in Hong Kong enjoys much higher legitimacy than the executive and the legislature. Had it not been for the legitimating function of judicial review, the public dissent could have been prolonged and become violent. Such legitimating function was indeed relied upon by the executive in the Bills Committee on the proposed legislation under BL 23 to resolve disagreements. The “prodemocracy” members insisted on adopting the “direct and immediate connection” test in Principle 6 of the Johannesburg Principles to define the offence of sedition. The executive rejected the suggestion on the ground that it was too restrictive. In support, it stated that “(t)he prevailing tests as are now applied by the courts in respect of the ICCPR and European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) are that of balancing competing interests” 946 and “(t)he fact that Principle 6 may not in all cases be satisfied would not prevent

For example, harbour reclamation, rent increase in public housing and privatisation of

commercial units in public housing estates: see Johannes Chan, “Administrative Law, Politics and Governance: The Hong Kong Experience”, Ch 8 in Tom Ginsburg and Albert H. Y. Chen (eds), Administrative Law and Governance in Asia (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), pp 161 – 163.

Security Bureau, “Proposals to Implement Article 23 Broadly Consistent with Principles”, March 2003, para 13 – available on

Johannesburg on 26 May 2009.


a court from upholding these offences as being consistent with the Basic Law or ICCPR”. 947 This is a non-reason. Whether the “direct and immediate connection” test should be enacted is a policy decision to be made by the legislature. If the legislature had so enacted, the court, acting as a multiple veto point, would not tamper with it. On the other hand, the non-inclusion of the test in the legislation would not prevent the court from adopting it when applying the principle of proportionality to assess the constitutionality of the legislation.

The Hong Kong judiciary has been contributing to the government’s social legitimacy not only through the multiple-veto and legitimating function but also through educating the executive on future actions. For example, the police’s handling of demonstrators is always a delicate and controversial subject. In the Falun Gong demonstration case,948 the CFA clarified the legal basis of the police’s power of arrest and in doing so, provided guidelines which would enable the police to draw up instructions to be observed by frontline police officers, thus avoiding similar conflicts between the police and demonstrators in future. However, since the root cause of the Hong Kong government’s moral and social illegitimacy is the lack of a democratic political structure, it cannot be cured by the judiciary no matter how independent it is and how just its decisions are. Indeed, with the wide range of social issues settled through judicial review, there is a danger of the judiciary being perceived as politicised, 949 in which case the social legitimacy of the judiciary itself would be at stake. That appears to be the reason why in his speeches at Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Years 2005 and 2006, 950 the

947 948 949

Ibid, para 14. Yeung May Wan & Others v HKSAR [2005] 2 HKLRD 212 Johannes Chan, “Basic Law and Constitutional Review: The First Decade” (2007) 37

HKLJ 407, at pp 434 – 445.

Last accessed via the Judiciary’s website on 21 January 2010.


Chief Justice had to state the limit of judicial review and appeal for social, political and economic problems to be addressed through the political process.

In a study comparing how Singapore and Hong Kong rulers cope with political opposition, Ortmann concludes:

“While Hong Kong experienced a rising opposition movement in the 1970s and 1980s, Singapore’s leaders have successfully contained nearly all contentious politics in the city-state. This occurred in a climate in which ruling elite and oppositional groups both share similar goals. While the oppositional groups usually stress reform goals over revolutionary demands, Singapore and Hong Kong’s leaders prioritise economic growth and government efficiency … The main difference between these two states can be found in the tactics of the oppositional and ruling elite groups. While Hong Kong leaders opted most often for co-option and the opposition relied mostly on non-institutionalised tactics, such as protests, sit-ins, or strikes, Singapore’s rulers have been much more willing to resort to repression when necessary and opposition has been largely resigned to remaining within the institutional framework.” (Emphases added).951

The social norms of political apathy and pro-rights culture in Singapore and Hong Kong respectively are both the results of the legal norms instituted by the legislature and the judiciary, with the former playing the leading role. In Singapore, repression by the PAP is possible because the judiciary appears to share the party’s philosophy and strategy that an iron fist is required in the interests of harmony, law and order and national security.

Stephan Ortmann, Politics and Change in Singapore and Hong Kong: Containing

Contention (Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge, 2010), p 179.


Political apathy develops partly because of the chilling effect of the disproportionate legal sanctions and partly because the PAP has been able to satisfy the people’s material demands. The colonial government in Hong Kong was restrained from resorting to repression partly by its democratic political master in Westminster, partly by the Chinese government’s possible intervention to protect its nationals and partly, by an independent judiciary administering the thick rule of law. When repression is not available, the tactics of co-option means the opposition’s reform demands which have gathered some – though not majority – public support have to be acceded to. This, coupled with the British government’s desire for a glorious retreat, explains the colonial government’s various human rights initiatives in the runup to 1997. A strong pro-rights culture, therefore, was formed. After 1997, it was fortified by an equally independent judiciary interpreting liberally the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Basic Law.

Thus, the political apathy in Singapore is largely the result of the political leaders’ actions while in Hong Kong, the pro-rights culture has developed owing to the political branches’ initiative. Without the political branches’ support or at least forebearance, there is little the judiciary in either place can do to cultivate a pro-rights culture. Similarly, to enhance the moral legitimacy of the two governments would require the political branches to take the lead. No matter whether one believes in juricentrism or polycentrism, it cannot be denied that the judiciary can only play a support, supplementary role.


In view of the significant difference between Singapore and Hong Kong in terms of the rights culture, the Asian Values often cited by Singapore leaders to justify cultural relativism are just a myth. The much higher degree of human rights enjoyed in Hong Kong, despite its similarities with Singapore in economic and social conditions, suggests that such a culture can be cultivated by the state if it has the will to do so. Neither an entrenched bill of rights nor a democratic political structure is a necessary or sufficient condition for the formation of such a culture. A democratic political structure which does not satisfy Dworkin’s principles of participation, stake and independence may just provide the judiciary with the rationalisation to defer to the political branches in the name of the counter-majoritarian difficulty. The rule of law is then liable to become rule by law.

In the name of autochthony, Singapore has parted way with its legal mother and also its legal brothers and sisters in the common law world as far as the protection of fundamental rights is concerned. In contrast, in Hong Kong, it is exactly because of the absence of a democratic political structure that for the sake of their social legitimacy, the political branches have to respect, protect and promote rights. That creates a pro-rights culture, which constitutes a solid moral as well as political foundation for the judiciary to conduct judicial review in a manner no less vigorous that that practised in the democratic juridictions.

Like Waldron and Fallon, Bickel no doubt predicates his theory on a rights-committed society. The passive virtues, as self-preservation techniques, mean the judiciary has to balance between the risk of reprisals from the political branches against that of frustrating the people’s rights expectation. In

Singapore, the people’s low rights expectation weakens the moral justification as well as the people’s political protection which are required for the judiciary to counter the purportedly majority decisions by the elected legislature. In Hong Kong, the risk of reprisal by the HKSAR Government probably does not exist since it requires a truly independent judiciary to bolster the social legitimacy of the government’s decisions. The threat, perceived or real, comes from the north because “judicial independence, though to some extent recognised in constitutional and statutory provisions in China today, is by no means an established practice in the operation of the legal and political systems [there]”. 952 If ever the judiciary has to resort to deference or avoidance for the sake of self-preservation, it will be in relation to matters highly sensitive to the Central Government, such as those with implications for the principle of “one country, two systems”. Before doing so, for the sake of its own social legitimacy, it will have to weigh very carefully the likely reaction of the rights-committed people of Hong Kong. The distancing of the appointment of judges from the political process contributes to, rather than detracts from, the social legitimacy of judicial review.

Economic incentives and foreign investors’ confidence were cited by Hong Kong’s colonial government before 1997 when pushing any human rights legislation in the face of possible protest from the Chinese Government. Singapore’s experience – and now China’s too – shows that investors care more about profit, certainty and stability. The local people’s rights and freedoms, such as the right of political participation which does not affect the foreign investors personally, carry little, if any, weight in their commercial decisions. The impetus for developing a rights culture has to be sought internally.


Albert Hung-yee Chen, An Introduction to the Legal System of the People’s Republic of

China (Hong Kong; Singapore; Malaysia: LexisNexis, 3rd edn, 2004), p 151.


To be fair to Singapore, it has been facing difficulties not existing in Hong Kong: the internal tension arising from a multi-racial population and security threats from neighbouring, much larger countries. A concentration of political powers and a population committed to the collective interest were considered, not without justification, to be necessary for the country’s survival. The rapid improvement in the people’s livelihood provides the economic justification for the sovereign’s illiberal means. The threat faced by Hong Kong from its neighbour, now its sovereign, is the loss of freedom. The maintenance of a world standard in the rule of law, judicial independence and human rights is probably the only safeguard against that threat. Economically, the rule of law and freedoms enjoyed in Hong Kong also constitute competitive advantages for it to face the economic challenge from the mainland, where much cheaper land, much cheaper labour and abundance of capital are in supply.

The present systems in both Singapore and Hong Kong are unsustainable, probably more so in Hong Kong. Owing to the fragmentation of powers in Hong Kong, essential but controversial measures proposed to meet the long-term needs – notably a sales tax to widen the tax base and the future financing of medical services – have been shelved, apparently indefinitely. The political parties, which hold the votes in the legislature but can never become the government under the present political system, has no political incentive to oppose the negative public opinions. The executive, on the other hand, does not have the social and moral legitimacy to influence public opinions and force the legislators’ hands. As a result of freedom without democracy, Hong Kong is on the verge of becoming ungovernable. The introduction of a democratic political structure which complies with the management principle that whoever carries the responsibility must be granted the necessary power is urgently required. Despite the NPCSC’s decision that the election of the Chief Executive and the election of all members of the LegCo “may be implemented” by universal suffrage in 2017 and 2020


respectively,953 the prospect of a truly democratic political structure emerging in Hong Kong in ten years’ time is dim given the distrust between the Central Government and the “pan democrats” among the politicians.

In Singapore, as its present Prime Minister admits, the country needs, for its economic development and the aspirations of its people, greater public participation and “rigorous debates” in policies and national issues. However, though that was said more than five years ago, the case laws covered in this thesis show no sign that the judiciary is moving in the direction of enhancing the freedom of expression. Presumably, being the branch which has neither purse nor sword – and more importantly, nor the necessary support from a rights-committed people – it is waiting for the initiative and clearer signals from the political branches.

Singapore is a modern real-life rendition of Hobbes’s absolute sovereign exercising unlimited powers. It works but at the expense of Chia Thye Poh,954 Jeyaratnam, the adherents of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Emran and many others. 955 Put a person in Rawls’s original position. Would he / she
953 954

NPCSC’s decision adopted at its 31st Session on 29 December 2007. A member of the Barisan Sosialis who was detained, under the Internal Security Act

without trial, for 32 years since 1966: “Singapore’s gentle revolutionary”, South China Morning Post, 28 November 1998, p 15.

Mohamed Emran Bin Mohamed Ali v Public Prosecutor [2008] 4 SLR 411. Emran was a

drug addict in the process of weaning himself from Subutex. Subutex was a legally consumable drug up to 14 August 2006: Johari bin Kanadi v Public Prosecutor [2008] 3 SLR 422. The judgment in Emran v PP contained nothing to suggest that Emran had any previous conviction or was in any way under reasonable suspicion to be a drug trafficker. In about the first week of November 2006, he was introduced to Kechik. One week after the introduction, Kechik began to phone him two or three times a day claiming himself to be in desparate need of the drug to relieve his withdrawal symptoms and asking to be supplied with the drug. One week after Kechik’s first request, Emran, who empathised with Kechik’s withdrawal symptom, obtained two tablets of Subutex. Kechik sent Ijat, an undercover Central Narcotics Bureau officer, to collect. Emran was arrested when he passed the drugs to Ijat in return for


rather live in Hong Kong, where Locke’s natural freedoms and equality flourish but where, in the absence of a democratically elected sovereign to operate the divided and limited government, there are signs of regressing to the state of nature?

- END -

300 Singapore dollars. The prosecution did not present Kechik as a witness in the trial or disclose his identity to the defence. Emran was sentenced to the minimum five years’ imprisonment and five strokes of the cane. He appealed on the ground that his right under art 12 (equality before the law) had been breached because Kechik was not charged. The court held that Kechik’s identity should be protected regardless of whether he was an agent provocateur or a passive informer. The entrapment was lawful because the government’s conduct did not amount to “particularly egregious conduct” warranting judicial intervention. Emran’s appeal was dismissed.


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