14 September 2005

Mr Wang Is Still Not Satisfied

So here's more about the seditious bloggers.

One of Mr Wang's faithful readers, Singapore Classics, agreed wholeheartedly that hate speech is bad, bad, bad. But he went to ask whether this badness really necessitated the use of the strong arm of the law at all. "Why resort to the law?", he said.

Conceivably, Mr Wang could answer the question with a mini-essay on how freedom of speech is never absolute and always has to come with limits etc. But then you readers already know all that, don't you? So Mr Wang will offer you a different kind of answer. Which gives you an idea of how this case probably proceeded.

1. Someone made a police report about these bloggers.

2. When the police receive a report, they have to investigate. That's their job.

3. When they finish investigating, they have to tell the prosecution. That's their job.

4. When the prosecution is told, it has to decide whether a crime has been committed (a pure legal exercise). That's their job.

5. If the prosecution decides that a crime has been committed, it has to decide what to do next (Drop completely? Ask police to issue warning? Proceed to charge? If so, what kind of charge?). That's their job.

In the present case, the relevant DPP (or DPPs) decided to proceed to charge.

Singapore Classics asked, "Why resort to the law?". The answer is that the DPP is first and foremost a legal creature. His powers reside within the criminal legal justice system. The matter has come to him, he needs to deal with it (that's his job), and he only has the powers to deal with it in the criminal legal justice way.

The DPP isn't the SBA, or a religious leader, or an ISP, or Blogger, or the forum webhost, or the Presidential Council on Minority Rights. Those institutions would have their own ways of dealing with the situation.

The DPP has only the DPP ways of dealing with the situation. And the DPP ways of dealing with this situation are either to charge, or not to charge.

DPPs themselves are a bunch of people with differing views. Given the same case, one DPP may decide to proceed; another DPP may not. Individual views and opinions do play a role. There ARE mechanisms within the Attorney-General's Chambers which seek to prevent individual DPPs' peculiar idiosyncrasies from playing an unduly large role. But by and large, individual DPPs' views and opinions do play a significant role.

In this case, the file most likely would have come to AGC together with 50 other files. All in a routine day's work. The files would have been randomly assigned to DPPs. The sedition case file came to a particular DPP, who studied it and then decided to proceed.

In unusual cases (this sedition case perhaps qualifies, because of the rarity), the decision may be examined at higher levels. It may, for example, be escalated to senior management, or all the way to the Attorney-General/Public Prosecutor himself. However, even the AG/PP himself is just a legal institution. Ultimately he has no non-legal type of measures to utilise. In the end, he either has to proceed to charge, or not. He can't say, "Let's forget about the criminal aspects and just order the bloggers to attend compulsory National Education class for three months." The AG/PP has no such powers.

Right now, the DPP knows everything about the case. He has the police file. He has full details of the investigation results. He knows exactly what those bloggers have written. He probably even knows what is residing in the bloggers' hard disks (most likely, the police would have seized the computers during the investigation). Knowing all this, the DPP decided to proceed.

It may or may not be the best decision (we wouldn't know, and in the end it may be quite subjective anyway). But the DPP did have all the facts he needed to help him in his decision-making process (whereas we simply don't know the facts - yet).

So let's wait and see.


xenoboysg said...

Was wanting to suggest you put this comment as an entry.

Just one question : in your experience, how often does AG himself get involved in the decision-making process?

bez said...

Thanks for all your insightful posts, Mr Wang! They really help in making this easier to understand.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

If things have not changed since the time I was a DPP -

AG is personally involved in the decision-making process for every case that might involve capital punishment;

he is involved in every single corruption case, but one big reason for that is that the Prevention of Corruption Act that no PCA case can be prosecuted unless the AG himself has personally authorised it;

otherwise AG generally is involved when his DPPs come across cases which they consider "sensitive" for whatever reason. AG may not necessarily make the decision, but he would just want to be kept informed and he would step in to intervene if necessary.

some common examples are cases which may have diplomatic implications (think Michael Fay; Australian traffickers; Indonesian maids facing life imprisonment etc);

cases involving lawyers as accused persons (because lawyers can be very sneaky and difficult when they are accused persons);

cases involving high-profile persons, as they may attract a lot of public attention (recall PM Goh's ex-speechwriter who abused her maid).

AG actually has lots of other things to do, apart from criminal work. For example, his portfolio includes advising on Singapore's international treaties with other countries; making sure that new laws are drafted properly; advising the various government ministries on legal issues etc.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Methinks that is an interesting, astute observation. However, it is also largely irrelevant in the present context.

If right now it was Chee Soon Juan or Tang Liang Hong or James Gomez being charged under the Sedition Act in connection with their political activities, then that puts things in quite a different light.

Right now, it is a Mr-Dunno-Who and a Mr-What's-His-Name-Again being charged under the Sedition Act for posting expletives-laden messages about Muslims and Malays. I really find it rather difficult to believe that the criminal proceedings against them are initiated with any deep, underlying grand political strategy in mind.

Methinks that in all likelihood, the case came to the police's attention in the rather humdrum, ordinary way I described; it was investigated in the rather humdrum, routine way I described, and the decision to prosecute was also made in the usual humdrum way I described.