LAW STUDENTS at the Australian National University (ANU) are looking at launching a court challenge to the university’s decision to bestow an honorary doctorate of law on Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Toby Hanson, a third year arts/law student at ANU, and spokesperson for Law Students for Social Justice, said students had engaged a barrister and requested a reason for the decision from the university. Depending on the university’s response, court action may proceed.
“We feel that he’s not a good ambassador — especially given the fact he was given a law degree. Law students have a particular interest in the matter as the law school has a reputation for excelling in public and international law. Lee Kuan Yew’s prime ministership was marked by severe restrictions on many civil rights,” Hanson said.
Lee led Singapore to independence and served as its first prime minister from 1959 until 1990. Under his leadership Singapore became a financial and industrial powerhouse. However, critics argue that Lee achieved this at the expense of social and political freedoms.
Lee, 83, was awarded the honorary degree in recognition of his achievements and “to further the university’s relationship with Singapore” at a ceremony on March 28, which was boycotted by many ANU academics. Prior to the ceremony, senior ANU staff wrote to the university’s vice-chancellor, Ian Chubb, protesting the decision to honour Lee.
A university spokesperson confirmed that the decision to award the honorary degree was made by the ANU Council, following a nomination put forward by the chair of the honorary degrees committee, Chancellor Allan Hawke.
The dean of ANU’s College of Law, Michael Coper, has previously told the media that he was not consulted about the award, and that it did not “sit easily” with the College, which valued human rights and academic freedom.