Goldsmith to challenge Singaporean government on anti-gay laws

Debevoise & Plimpton partner Peter Goldsmith QC is to challenge the Singaporean government over the state’s anti-gay legislation.

The former attorney-general was instructed by Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee in their battle to strike down Singapore’s Section 377A legislation, which criminalises sex between mutually consenting adult men.

Goldsmith has accepted the instruction on a pro bono-basis, and an application has been submitted to Singapore’s High Court to allow him to appear in the jurisdiction. He will learn whether the application has been accepted in August.

Lim and Chee commenced their challenge last year arguing that the legislation was discriminatory and unconstitutional. They argued that the it violates the Constitution, which guarantees equality for all before the law. However, in April, Justice Quentin Loh dismissed threw out the claim, stating that it was a matter for parliament. 

The couple turned to Goldsmith to act for them at the Court of Appeal after the case was lost at the first instance. Peter Low, Choo Zhengxi and Indulekshmi Rajeswari of Singaporean firm Peter Low were instructed in the first instance case for the claimants.

Goldsmith will be joined on the claimant team by Deborah Barker, head of litigation at Singaporean firm KhattarWong, who will lead the local law advice

It is the first time a high-profile English QC has accepted a constitutional law case on a pro bono basis since Singapore amended its laws to allow silks to argue cases before Singapore courts last year (15 February 2012).

“This is not about an English QC going to Singapore to make money. We want to take on the case because we believe this is an important issue,” said Goldsmith, who has recently acted in a similar case in Balize.

“There are still over 70 countries where homosexuality is illegal. Gay men and women are still living in fear of being imprisoned. I am hoping that I will be admitted to act on the case together with the Singaporean counsel, bringing my experience in this area and the international comparison of law.”

Goldsmith added Asia to his leadership portfolio in September 2011, as part of the firm’s initiative to expand its Asian disputes and investigations capabilities (19 September 2011).

Prior to the current instructions, he has previously argued commercial and corporate cases before Singapore courts and already has close connections to clients there. For example, he has represented an auditor in a professional negligent claim and represented a subsidiary of HSBC in its claim against the government in an export credit case.