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Post-Parti Liyani: Law Ministry and agencies need to go beyond Ownself Check Ownself

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

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Nine hours is lengthy, as parliamentary debates go. That was the amount of time spent in Parliament on the PartiLiyani case. But it will, by no means, settle the question of whether justice will ever be impeccably served, not if a substantial portion of the proceedings was taken up essentially by a detailed, if well-delivered, self-defence of the current system. Not by a long shot, I am afraid, if the government insists on believing that it can OwnselfCheck Ownself.

As expected, Law Minister K Shanmugam went to great lengths to deal with the obvious as well as unsaid issues – from his end of the debate, that is.

He spoke on all the technical and procedural aspects at every stage (police, Attorney-General’s Chambers, State Courts, High Court), including a broken chain in the evidence’s journey from arrest to prosecution which affected the integrity of investigations. Were there any lapses in the questioning of the accused, Parti Liyani? Did she understand the statement(s) she was asked to sign? Was the proper SOP observed in collecting evidence?  Was the quality and itemising of photographs up to par?

Specifically, among other things, there was a five-week gap between the filing of the police report by Liew MunLeong, Liyani’s employer, and his son, Karl Liew, and police officers visiting the scene. This was a breach of a legal requirement as well as police protocol. Shanmugamsaid disciplinary action is being taken against the officer and his supervisor.

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The delay in the police visit to the crime scene was one of the reasons for the High Court’s decision in September to acquit Parti of stealing from her employers.

Shanmugam also reiterated a problem which he said he had brought up before – that of police officers working under tremendous pressure but which he nevertheless recognised as being part of a larger manpower shortage issue.

More than aware that the lapses in handling the case are only part of what is troubling the public, the Law Minister then dwelt on the government values handed down by the 1G leaders. There shall be no special treatment for anyone in the eyes of the law, should they be corrupt, however powerful they may be. He mentioned some top level corruption cases in the past including those involving former National Development Minister Teh Cheang Wan and ex-CPIB assistant director Edwin Yeo.  I agree with his statement that these were powerful people who, in countries less intolerant of corruption, would be in the position to avoid prosecution or indeed continue life as usual.

Equally important, there shall be no soft, less obvious,corruption where old school ties or family connections will grant one special dispensation. Shanmugam said this requires even more vigilance as Singapore is such a small country where almost everyone knows everyone. This was his way of saying that Singaporeans should never have any doubt that Liew Mun Leong and his family would have been treated any differently by the law agencies. And he was satisfied from the ministry’s investigations that the AGC and police had not veered from their professional impartiality.

And Attorney-General Lucien Wong? Shanmugam: “I can be categorical; there was no influence by Liew MunLeong. It was treated as any other theft case and handled accordingly.”

The relationship between the A-G and Liew came under scrutiny after the AGC announced the A-G would not be involved in the review of the case. Questions on propriety had cropped up after Justice Chan Seng Onnoverturned Parti’s conviction on appeal.

Wong resigned as a director from the board of CapitaLand in 2006 over differences of opinion on some issues with Liew, who was then the president and chief executive officer of the listed real estate group, according to The Straits Times. The A-G recused himself from the AGC’s internal review of the Parti Liyani case.

Will there be an end to the public disquiet? A big No, unfortunately.

Leong Mun Wai (Progress Singapore Party) asked whether Shanmugam will appoint a committee of inquiry consisting of members not affiliated to the government to hold a public inquiry into the conduct of the police and AGC. After some challenges from the minister, the NCMP relented and withdrew his question but returned with a more detailed clarification apparently tagged ontoa motion from Workers’ Party’s Sylvia Lim. He said a system of Ownself Check Ownself is not satisfactory.Only an independent inquiry can do proper justice.

Sylvia Lim called the government to adopt a two-prong approach to tackle shortcomings in Singapore’s criminal justice system. One would be the “low hanging fruit” such as reforms to procedures for composition fines, bailamounts and statement recording.

The other aspect involves more complex issues, including constitutional matters like the question of whether the equal protection of the law under Article 12 of the Constitution is, in practice, being afforded to the poor.

For such issues, she suggested setting up a Constitutional Commission headed by a Supreme Court judge.

The motion, supported by fellow WP MP He Ting Ru(Sengkang GRC), stated: “That this House affirms that fairness, access and independence are cornerstones of Singapore’s justice system, and calls on the government to recognise and remedy its shortcomings in order to enhance justice for all, regardless of means or social status, including facilitating a review of the justice system.”

The keyword is access. Both the Law Ministry and the AGC have this word in their mission statements.

Law Ministry: “Advancing access to justice, the rule of law, the economy and society through policy, law and services.”

AGC: “Serving Singapore’s interests and upholding the rule of law through sound advice, effective representation, fair and independent prosecution and accessible legislation.”

 

Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.

 

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