Singapore Court Turns Down Lord Goldsmith QC for Gay Sex Ban Case
Singapore's High Court has rejected the application of Debevoise & Plimpton partner and former U.K. attorney general Lord Goldsmith QC to be admitted to represent a gay couple seeking to overturn Singapore's law banning male homosexual sex.
In his Sept. 18 decision, Justice V. K. Rajah said that, though Lord Goldsmith was clearly well-qualified, there was no "special reason" that would justify the appointment of a foreign counsel in this case.
Lord Goldsmith had sought to argue the appeal of Kenneth Chew and Gary Lim, who brought a suit last year challenging the constitutionality of Section 377A of Singapore's Penal Code, which criminalizes gay male sex. Though the Singaporean government has said it will not enforce the law, Chew and Lim have argued that its continued existence reinforces other forms of discrimination against gay men.
A trial judge upheld the law in an April decision, stating that "defining moral issues" was the role of the legislature and not the courts.
While Singapore has taken steps in recent years to make it easier for foreign lawyers to appear in commercial cases, it has taken a more restrictive approach to criminal and constitutional litigation.
In his decision turning down Lord Goldsmith's request to be admitted to practice in Singapore, Justice Rajah noted that Chew and Lim were already represented KhattarWong litigation head Deborah Barker SC and that KhattarWong partner Shashi Nathan, who represented Lord Goldsmith in his application had conceded that Barker would be "more than competent" to handle the appeal.
"The main argument seemed to be that Lord Goldsmith would be able to an even better job than Ms. Barker SC," the judge wrote. "Such an argument does not really address the question of necessity. Necessity would imply that there was some chance that the issues in a case would not be properly ventilated or framed without the participation of foreign senior counsel, or that there might be some issue pertaining to the inequality of arms unless foreign senior counsel was admitted."
Justice Rajah did note that there was no restriction on Lord Goldsmith participating in the drafting of the appellants' written submissions and noted that Singapore's appellate system has evolved to be more writing-centered than jurisdictions like the U.K. and Australia.
In a statement, Debevoise said: "Whilst disappointed that the full application to admit Lord Goldsmith QC was not accepted, we are pleased to have already contributed significantly to the written case of Mr Lim and Mr Chee including developing new arguments not deployed in the first instance court."
Lord Goldsmith argued against a similar law in Belize in May. His work on both that case and the one in Singapore was done on a pro bono basis.