The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) has issued a statement alleging that lawyers Gino Hardial Singh, Jeanette Chong-Aruldoss and Alfred Dodwell have abused the Process of Court in the Kho Jabing case. (https://theindependent.sg.sg/agcs-media-statement-is-not-gospel-truth-lawyer-alfred-dodwell-hits-back/)
While the AGC is perfectly entitled to issue a statement whenever it wants, as a layperson reading it, it does come across as excessively petty and somewhat contradictory.
Not being a law don, it is not my intention to enter into some detailed debate as to whether any technicalities in legal processes have been breached. Rather, I would like to engage the public and indeed the AGC in an exercise of common sense and reasonable fairness.
Assuming that the public’s expectations of the criminal process is to ensure that criminals receive the punishment that is commensurate with their crimes, I wonder if this end has been served with Kho Jabing and whether the AGC’s statement in this regard stands up to logic.
The AGC statement opens by stating “It is a cherished principle in our legal tradition that a legal practitioner must do his utmost to uphold the administration of justice. He must also conduct proceedings before a court in a manner that maintains the fairness, integrity and efficiency of those proceedings.”
Given that there have been questions raised in relation to procedural irregularity with regards to Justice Andrew Phang hearing the same case twice and the fact that Kho Jabing was not initially sentenced to death, wouldn’t the actions of Chong-Aruldoss, Singh and Dodwell not be in line with the principles declared by the AGC?
To compound matters, this was literally a matter of life and death – can the lawyers be faulted for trying their utmost to save their client from the noose?
The AGC statement went further to accuse Chong-Aruldoss, Singh and Dodwell of “legal opportunism”. If we view this case in context, it is apparent that Kho Jabing was already found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment – hardly a light sentence! If accusations of legal opportunism are being bandied about, isn’t the prosecution just as guilty of the same?
I can understand the mounting of an appeal if Kho Jabing was acquitted or given a paltry jail term. But in this case, a sentence of life imprisonment was already passed! Could the mounting of an appeal on the part of the prosecution not be seen as legal opportunism as well?
Like any process, I am sure that there are certain grey areas in terms of procedure, which are subject to interpretation. Not being intimately acquainted with the nuances of the process and having read both the AGC’s statement as well as the explanations given by Dodwell and Chong-Aruldoss, I have come to the conclusion that both sides have an arguable case.
That said, it is also manifestly clear that it is Chong- Aruldoss, Singh and Dodwell who have the higher stakes in the outcome. Their client was fighting for his life while the worst-case scenario for the prosecution is life imprisonment. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Chong-Aruldoss, Singh and Dodwell had to try everything that was available to them. Is that really something that the AGC is going to take issue with?
As a layperson, I want the laws that govern me to be about the correct punishment for the correct crime. It seems to me in this case that the AGC has lost sight of this goal by focusing pointlessly on the alleged breach of process by the Kho Jabing’s defense lawyers.
The guy has already been hanged! Why are they still flogging the dead horse?
The efforts of Chong-Aruldoss, Singh and Dodwell may well have been futile but where a life is at stake, it was worth a try. What else was there to lose? Is this public “taking them to task” letter by the AGC really necessary?
Besides, the law is never static. It has to evolve with society. What the Kho Jabing case has unearthed are issues that go way beyond him or his hanging. There are clearly areas in our legal process that need to be addressed. In particular, the issue of a judge being able to hear an appeal about his own earlier judgment is one that needs to be examined.
Why is the AGC trying to silence that debate? Why is it so needlessly petty?
Is the AGC also guilty of legal opportunism?