27 Hong Kong L.J. 152 (1997)
An I for an I - Singapore's Communitarian Model of Constitutional Adjudication

handle is hein.journals/honkon27 and id is 160 raw text is: AN 'i' FOR AN T?
SINGAPORE'S COMMUNITARIAN MODEL
OF CONSTITUTIONAL ADJUDICATION
E
Thio Li-ann*
Introduction: cultural values and differing conceptions of the 'I'
At the heart of a constitutional bill of rights which is designed to secure liberties
and to guarantee fundamental human rights is the espousal of a political
philosophy which stands opposed to absolutism. By delimiting an area of
individual autonomy or non-restraint, a bill of rights recognises a dichotomy
between the legitimate and illegitimate extension of government regulation
into an individual's 'sphere of privacy.' It serves primarily to benefit the
individual through providing a measure of protection against possible undue
encroachments by the leviathan state into the sphere of civil liberties. This
constitutes an a priori affirmation of the normative worth of the individual,
harking back to the Judeo-Christian doctrine of personality1 or secularised
versions thereof, for example the Kantian categorical imperative which
advocates treating the individual as the end and never merely the means. Thus,
such 'natural rights'2 inhere in individuals qua human beings and are inalien-
able (pre-governmental); they are 'positivised' as part of the lex scripta through
being given expression in written constitutions such as the Chapter on
Fundamental Liberties found in Part IV of the Republic of Singapore
Constitution.3
This grand concept must be translated into actual realisation, if constitu-
tional guarantees4 of individual liberties are to be more than paper tigers. To the
Lecturer, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore. This article is a truncated and modified
version of a paper 'Constitutional Review: Influences Beyond the Four Walls: Human Rights,
Constitutional Liberties and the Singapore Experience' which was presented at the Third Biennial
LAWASIA Comparative Constitutional Law Conference, 'Constitutions in an Interdependent
World: The Impact of Intemationalisation on Governance in the Asia-Pacific Region,' Macau, 18-
20 November 1996.
Carl J Friedrich writes: 'the insistence upon the individual as the final value, the emphasis upon the
transcendental importance of each man's soul, creates an insoluble conflict with any sort of
absolutism': Limited Government: A Comparison (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1974), pp 12-13.
2 David Sidorsky, 'Contemporary Reinterpretations of the Concept of Human Rights' in Sidorsky (ed),
Essays on Human Rights (1979), p 88 (reproduced in Steiner and Alston, International Human Rights
in Context (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), pp 170-2).
3  On seceding from Malaysia in August 1965, Singapore pragmatically made certain provisions of the
Federal Constitution of Malaysia applicable with notable omissions (exclusion of the right to
property) and modifications (amending the religious liberty clause to reflect the principle of
secularism) through the Republic of Singapore Independence Act (1965). See Kevin Y L Tan, 'The
Evolution of Singapore's Modem Constitution: Developments from 1945 to the Present Day' (1989)
1 Singapore Academy of Law Journal 1.
4  See generally Roscoe Pound, The Development of Constitutional Guarantees of Liberty (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1957).

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