By: B Goode
First of all, I have to tip-toe carefully on the side of caution.
This article is not questioning the integrity of our Judges because I truly believe that they are honest and simply exercising the powers given to them.
Having said that however, in a democracy, the Judiciary which forms the triumvirate of the government structure together with the Executive and the Legislature, is ultimately answerable to The People. In a democracy, like it or not, The People is King.
And since I am one of The People, I take it upon myself to make some constructive comments.
Lately there has been a lot of unhappiness with some of the courts’ sentencing decisions mostly due to inconsistencies compared to other similar cases. You just have to trawl the comments sections of the internet forums or postings. When even the Minister Of Law couldn’t hide his frustrations and tasked the AGC to lodge appeals after appeals on some of the decisions, you knew that something wasn’t right.
But should the frustrations be directed solely on the Judges? I think not.
You see, the judges are given a set of tools to work with which can be found in the Statutes obviously; and assistance from the prosecution and the defence counsels to allow him to make the best decisions for any given case. The Judges cannot make a ruling outside of this scope.
So before we blame the Judges for the seemingly incoherent decisions, we have to look at the whole legal process.
The process starts with the legislature, or in Singapore’s case, in the hands of the highly paid estate managers Members of Parliament. They make the laws, or to put it in another way, they are the ones who give the toolkits to the Judges. So whatever decisions that the Judges make is simply because the legislature allow them to.
So the first question we should ask is what have our Parliamentarians been doing? Why are they deaf and blind to the issues of the day and aloof to some of the laws which clearly need updating to reflect the changing social landscape.
A good example would be the increasing cases of paedophiles. Our children are being raped and molested left, right and centre but our MPs are busy with chickens, clogged drains and Town Council surpluses. Not one of them tried to change the laws. In fact, if my brain is functioning correctly this morning, the last time a Bill was promulgated by a backbencher was the parents’ maintenance Bill by NMP Walter Woon.
Which brings me to my second point:
The law could also be promulgated by the Executive Branch. In fact, since the Parents’ Maintenance Bill, all laws have gone through that channel.
So the second question is; is the Executive branch so powerful that it causes the Legislative Branch to cower beneath its dominance? It shouldn’t be that way.
Most probably, the MPs are simply being lazy; waiting to be spoonfed by the Executive pertaining to the laws to be approved. This must be the laziest bunch of lawmakers anywhere in the democratic world. So what they do is just to rubber-stamp whatever given to them by the executive.
Dear guys and girls, lest you forget, you are not a member of the National People’s Congress.
My third point is the assistance given to the Judges. I am talking about the prosecution and the defense counsels but mostly the prosecution.
They are supposed to lead the Judges in terms of evidence, mitigations, and past convictions of similar cases.
So the third question is; has the quality of our lawyers dropped? Should we start to allow foreign lawyers to work in the AGC? Maybe.
And lastly, could the reason for the seemingly forgiving and low prison sentences meted out by the Judges due to our Prisons being full? Changi prison was built when our population was less than 1 million. Now that Singapore population including residents and migrant workers have burgeoned to close to 7 million, why is there no new Prisons being built? Either because we are mostly angels or there is a lack of foresight by our government.
In conclusion (yes, I have been busy reading on academic theses lately thus my formality), we shouldn’t be quick to blame the judges for any decisions that they make which is not congruent with our own wishes.