In a Facebook post early this morning, Law Minister K. Shanmugam expressed how he was troubled by how some people responded to the case involving a married couple inflicting horrific abuse against an intellectually disabled waitress living with them, leading to her untimely death.
The Minister wrote that while he was outraged by what happened to the waitress, Annie Ee, he opined that “we ought to be a civilised society, observing the Rule of Law, while expressing our unhappiness and moral outrage when seeing such conduct as in this case.”
Revealing that he put off sharing his thoughts on the case until after the appeal period in the court case was over, Shanmugam put forth three points in response to the strong public reaction over the case.
The politician, who also serves as Minister of Home Affairs, said that we have to “avoid putting public pressure on judges to impose harsh/lenient sentences.” He added: “We have a well-functioning court system. We must have the confidence that our judges will do the right thing.Many Singaporeans (including me) were outraged by what happened to Annie.”
He further asserted that the sentence a defendant receives must not be dependent on public reaction and also spoke up against the harsh criticism the defense lawyer has received for representing the married couple.
[ Annie Ee ]Many Singaporeans (including me) were outraged by what happened to Annie.What happened to her should not…
In case you cannot read the post above:
Many Singaporeans (including me) were outraged by what happened to Annie.
What happened to her should not happen to anyone. She suffered extensive trauma and hurt – both psychologically and physically – at the hands of her abusers. This went on almost every day for eight months.
I can understand the anger that many feel. At the same time, I am troubled by how some people have expressed their views. An online petition seeking harsher sentences was filed; and aspersions were cast on the defence lawyers’ characters.
This has prompted statements from both AGC and the Law Society, who took issue with the tenor and substance of online criticisms regarding the case. They waited till after the appeal period is over before releasing their statements. I have also held back writing this post, for the same reason.
1. As a society, we have to try and avoid putting public pressure on judges to impose harsh/lenient sentences. We have a well-functioning court system. We must have the confidence that our judges will do the right thing. And if the sentence does not appear right, the Prosecution/ Defence can appeal.
2. The sentence that a defendant gets, in any particular case, must not depend on how the public react during the case. [This is quite different from another point I made elsewhere, that the penalties which our legislation prescribe for offences should in general take into account many factors, including how the public view the gravity of the offences].
3. I also see that some people are criticising the defence lawyer, Josephus, for what he said on behalf of the defendants in this case. The Law Society has indicated that he handled the case pro bono. A lawyer has the duty to put forward the strongest possible arguments, on behalf of his client, in court. It will be a sad day for Singapore, if lawyers are going to be hounded in public, for standing up in court to argue on behalf of their clients.
Every defendant has a right to get a lawyer to defend him. And the Court will rule on what the result should be. A lawyer taking on such a case is in an invidious position. He has to do his best for his client, and yet there will be a lot of public opprobrium, because of the nature of the offence.
We have to remember – someone known to anyone of us could be charged for any offence at any point in time. Rule of Law means that the person is entitled to have his lawyer put forward the strongest possible arguments in his favour. And he is entitled to have a Judge decide his guilt/ innocence and sentence, without the public, or anyone else influencing the outcome.
We ought to be a civilised society, observing the Rule of Law, while expressing our unhappiness and moral outrage when seeing such conduct as in this case.
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