NUS LawLink
Elsewhere in this issue

Class Reunions

Freshman Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim ’88 speaks to Adeline Ang ’96 on her history-making election victory, and her aspirations for the future.


On 7 May 2011, Sylvia Lim ’88 made Singaporean history by being elected the first female non-People’s Action Party MP in Singapore. As a member of the Workers’ Party team contesting the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC), she also became a member of the first ‘opposition’ team to win a GRC seat in Parliament. Says Sylvia, “It was an immensely satisfying victory for our Aljunied team, given the significance of it, and we are greatly encouraged by the voter support.”


Sylvia is no stranger to ground-breaking roles. LawLink first interviewed Sylvia when she was elected Chairman of the Workers’ Party in June 2003, thereby making her the very first female Chair of any political party in Singapore. (You can view the article here: at page 12-13)


However, she is the last person to assign any particular significance to her ‘first female’ position. Nor does she feel any that these roles put any unique pressure on her. “The label of ‘first female’ is over-rated. I would expect to compete on equal terms with men."


As a party which campaigned on the slogan ‘Towards a First World Parliament’, we know that the spotlight will be on how the Workers’ Party performs in Parliament.  There will always be pressure - that's politics!”


Life for Sylvia has changed drastically since she was elected into office. She made the difficult decision to give up her 12-year teaching career at Temasek Polytechnic, and applied for a Practising Certificate. As of 4 July 2011 she returned to legal practice as a Senior Associate with M/s Peter Low LLC, a firm set up by former Law Society President Peter Cuthbert Low ’77.  


She explains: “Given the task ahead, it would not have been possible to continue as an employee in an organisation with strict working hours. Peter has been very accommodating and given me some flexible terms due to my other commitments. I have the flexibility of planning the week and juggling duties with a much freer hand.”


It has been a steep learning curve for the freshman MP for the past few months. As the Chairman of the new Aljunied-Hougang Town Council having responsibility for both Hougang SMC and Aljunied GRC public estates, Sylvia is getting to grips with the ‘micro’ aspects of constituency and Town Council work.


As an MP, there are some ground challenges such as building grassroots.  The Workers' Party MPs remain open to working with anyone and any organisation, if it benefits residents."

 “Talking to residents now is different - when I used to do house visits in the past, I focused more on residents' concerns about national policies rather than estate or environment matters. As an incumbent MP, residents' views on the estate or surroundings matter equally and can even be more urgent, as we are now in a position to act upon them."

There are many details to pay attention to - from roof top water tank security to financial management, upgrading projects and tenders for term contractors.  The other day I was given some technical specifications relating to proposed new electrical sub-stations - even though the specs were in English, I had to ask for a translation!”


In the midst of engaging in the nitty-gritty details of constituency work, Sylvia has not lost sight of the big picture. Nowhere is this more evident than at her Meet the People sessions: “By far the biggest issue is housing.  There are many who are homeless, due to having sold their flats at some point due to divorce or financial difficulties, who do not qualify for public rental housing or for concessionary loans to buy flats.  Families are squatting with relatives, living in shelters, or just roaming around."  


The nature of Singapore society has changed rapidly and drastically in the last five years due to the injection of foreign labour.  Infrastructure is strained; there is a housing supply crunch leading to escalation of prices – including that of rental properties.  The knock-on effects include couples being unable to secure their first home and postponing having children.”


With her legal training, and after more than a decade teaching criminal justice and procedure, Sylvia is of course still very much focused on issues relating to criminal law in Singapore. “In the last session of Parliament, I had opportunity to review and canvass views due to the amendments to the Penal Code in 2007 and Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) in 2009."  


While the government has taken some positive steps such as introducing some pre-trial discovery in criminal cases via the CPC amendments, it still falls short of some best practices such as having the prosecution disclose unwanted or unused material it has gathered.”


Sylvia cites the recent Court of Appeal judgment involving Ismil bin Kadar (Muhammad bin Kadar and another v Public Prosecutor [2011] SGCA 32) as a prime example. Kadar was convicted of murder and robbery in 2005 and spent six years in prison and two years on death row before his conviction was overturned in early July 2011. Presiding Judge V. K. Rajah ’82, wrote in his judgment:


“This case amply illustrates the profoundly disturbing consequences that the wrong exercise by the Prosecution of its perceived unfettered discretion on disclosure could have on the administration of justice. Even if there was indeed some genuine doubt about his reliability entertained by the Prosecution … disclosure of his statements was not an option but, plainly, an obvious necessity. It was for the court and not the Prosecution to have made that assessment.” (To read the judgment in full, click here: )


Says Sylvia, “The prosecution should have been under a duty to disclose the statements made by the victim's husband that a sole assailant entered the flat that fateful day.  While the Court of Appeal has laid down a code of practice for the prosecution, I hope the government does not undo it via legislation.”


So what lies ahead for this ground-breaker? She is not resting on her laurels. To her, getting elected into office is not the measure of success, but rather a first step. “I believe that having WP in Parliament gives the people bargaining power with the government, and we intend to use our increased presence to foster a culture of accountability.” She is also looking towards the next elections, with the intention of not only being re-elected, but also to increase WP’s parliamentary presence.


The outcome of General Election 2011 shows that Singaporeans understand how to make their vote work for them.  The Prime Minister has promised to review policies and apologised for the government's mistakes.  Moving forward, no political party including the ruling party can take the people's support for granted.”


So, when will she consider her work to be done? “I would not like to be my own judge as to how the people's interests have been served. The report card is written by the voters.”





Adeline Ang ’96





“The prosecution should have been under a duty to disclose the statements made by the victim's husband that a sole assailant entered the flat that fateful day.  While the Court of Appeal has laid down a code of practice for the prosecution, I hope the government does not undo it via legislation."

- Speaking about the case Muhammad bin Kadar and another v Public Prosecutor