Now that Kho Jabing has been hanged and society is no longer divided between the “we should hang him” and “we should not hang him” camps, the aftermath of finger pointing has begun. This is unfortunate because all this polarisation has distracted us from what I think are the real issues at hand.
Firstly, this turn of events should not have been viewed as just about Kho Jabing at all. He was merely the individual who put a face to the death penalty and its application. I do not want to focus on whether or not Kho was deserving of the death penalty. As far as I am concerned, that is a moot point now. What I would like to draw the readers’ attention to instead is why we should be concerned about the application of justice and how it affects us all.
The Kho Jabing incident highlighted certain fallacies in our justice system. It also brought to light the narrow constraints in which the public understands the role of lawyers and judges.
That Kho Kabing was guilty of a violent crime and should be punished is par of the course. But perhaps much of the appeal for Kho Jabing’s life was not premised upon his lack of guilt, but more on procedural irregularity (such as if Justice Andrew Phang hearing an appeal against his own judgment).
Even if one wasn’t a law lord, the flaws of this scenario is an exercise in common sense. The entire point of an appeal is for the matter to be reconsidered by neutral parties. Wouldn’t having the same person re-hear his own decision negate that purpose?
Besides, it is important to remember that Kho Jabing was not initially sentenced to death and nor was it unanimous on appeal that he should have been hung. This is significant because it does raise the question of why those involved in the case were so determined that Kho Jabing should have to die.
This incident sets a bad precedent for future cases which is why those who view the questioning of this sentence purely within the constraints of Kho Jabing as an individual may need to rethink their stance.
Our justice system affects us all. Even though Kho Jabing did indeed take a life and is a foreigner, the system in which he was convicted and hung is Singaporean and would thus affect every Singaporean who is governed by the exact same system.
With this mind, should we not be disturbed that there appears to be procedural irregularity? Lest we forget, the procedures were put in place in the first instance to ensure that the system is fair. A flouting of these procedures are therefore matters of grave concern.
It is easy to dismiss this as simply a murderer that is not worth any more of our time – good riddance right? But the crux of the issue is not quite so black or white is it?
The reactions that Jeanette Chong–Aruldoss has drawn simply for doing her job as a lawyer also showcases the lack of understanding by the public of what lawyers do. It is the job of the lawyer to ensure that his or her client get the best possible chance. Like what a doctor would do to save his or her patient, the lawyer is charged with doing what he or she can do to save his or her client. This is especially because in this case – the stakes were so high! Literally a question between life and death!
Jeanette tried and although she was ultimately unsuccessful, I have no cause to question her sincerity or her efforts. Remember, it is not the job of the lawyer to decide the outcome or to decide who is wrong or right. The lawyer’s job is to represent the client. It is the judge’s job to decide. With this in mind, it is absurd to blame the lawyer for firstly trying her best to get her client off death row and secondly to act for someone who is guilty. Even the guilty deserve a fair trial and fair legal representation! That is the basic premise in which the legal system is meant to work!
Public figures should also not fan the flames of ignorance by making baseless accusations. In what context is Bilahari Kausikan questioning the motivations of Alfred Dodwell and Jeanette Chong –Aruldoss? Besides, does Mr Kausikan not see the irony in his accusations? He is the one with the government-endowed title. Whose actions are more politically motivated?
While not the point of this article, it is noteworthy to remember that it is also Mr Kausikan who decided to add his two cents worth when the esteemed Dr Ang Swee Chai was not able to return to Singapore to witness her own induction into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame by asserting “what makes her so special that an exception to the policy must be made just for her?”
The reader can decide for himself or herself whether the statements of Mr Kausikan stand up to common sense.
How Kho Jabing affect us all