20 October 2005

Suspects and their Lawyers

In Singapore, when the police investigate an accused person for a serious crime, they may arrest him and hold him under custody for some time. During that period of time, they may deny him access to his lawyers. They may allow him to meet his lawyer only when they feel that their investigations are more or less done.

The longstanding debate in the legal community is whether such accused persons in Singapore should have a right to earlier access to their lawyers. Once again this debate has resurfaced, and this time it has made it to the mainstream media. Here's the ST report on it:
ST Oct 20, 2005
Lawyers seek early access for

Law Society awaits minister's response to paper submitted
late last month
By K.C. Vijayan

SEVERAL lawyers have called for more to be done to allow arrested suspects early access to legal counsel.

They said they do not regard this week's government response - which indicated no change is imminent - as a step forward in expediting access to lawyers.

The Law Society submitted a paper to the Minister for Law late last month on the early access issue as well as early disclosure of statements or documents to be used for trial against the accused.

'We are waiting to hear if and how the discussion can move forward,' Law Society president Philip Jeyaretnam said yesterday.

On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng told Parliament that an accused person would have access to legal counsel when police were about to or had wrapped up investigations, but not during the arrest and throughout the interviews.

Mr Jeyaretnam said 'Singapore has become a striking exception internationally on this issue.

'There is absolutely no reason to think our lawyers are less trustworthy or our police less capable than anywhere else so as to justify Singapore's refusal of early access to counsel.'

A check by The Straits Times showed that in Britain, a suspect is allowed one phone call to contact a lawyer at the time of arrest.

The lawyer helps explain to the arrested person his or her legal position when police statements are taken.

Mr Jeyaretnam said early access to counsel would not impede police investigation.

'At the very least, early access should be the general rule, with the exception being made for certain categories of hard-core cases.

'The current practice leads to over-reliance by the police on confessions whose truth may be in doubt as they are taken from an accused before he has seen a lawyer.'

The issue of access also surfaced in the recent case of factory supervisor Leong Siew Chor who was charged with the murder of Chinese national Liu Hong Mei on June 18 but was allowed to see a lawyer only 21 days later.

Former Law Society president Peter Low stressed it was important for a lawyer to see an accused person as soon as possible because whatever statement is made to the police without the presence of a lawyer and not under oath can be used against him in court.

Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore president Subhas Anandan said yesterday that there is now increasing public awareness about the issue of access.

'The authorities should work towards a target to allow access at least within 48 hours, aligning this with the period within which the accused person has to be produced in court from the time of arrest.'

He urged that the practice be reviewed against the backdrop of what other countries with similar legal systems did.....
This is a rather tricky issue for the lay public to understand. There are many layers to the situation. It is difficult even for law students. When Mr Wang was a law student, notwithstanding that he was regularly on the Dean's List for Academic Excellence, Mr Wang was so intimidated that when preparing for his 4th year Law of Evidence exam, he gave up on the topic completely and focused on other topics. Only when Mr Wang became a Deputy Public Prosecutor and started to see this aspect of the law operating in real life, did Mr Wang finally figure out how it really works.

For the purposes of this blog, Mr Wang will have to oversimplify the issues and present them in a way that his lay readers can grasp. Hopefully, Mr Wang will still be able to accurately capture the essence of the issues. A simple factual scenario will be helpful to illustrate:

1. SingaporeClassics, a blogger, has been murdered.

2. The police suspect that Anthony did it. They arrest Anthony.

3. Either Anthony did it, or he did not do it.

4. If Anthony did not do it, he only needs to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as the truth is known to him. No one needs a lawyer to be able to tell the truth.

5. If Anthony did kill SingaporeClassics, Anthony can now do one of two things. He can admit to it, or he can lie and deny it.

6. If he admits to it, good for society. The bad guy is caught. Justice is served.

7. If he lies and denies it, well, the police will either believe it, or they won't, and investigations will continue as the police follow up on other clues.

Why do some people argue that accused persons should have early access to a lawyer? It goes back to Stage 5 above. The concern is always with accused persons who don't understand what's happening and don't have lawyers to advise them. They end up making self-incriminating statements to the police. In other words, they don't lie well and they end up giving themselves away.

Mr Wang's opinion is simply this. If a person really committed the crime and then, due to his lack of legal advice, he fails to lie well and ends up making self-incriminating statements, well, why should we be concerned? The point is that he really did it. He's really guilty. Aren't we glad that the truth came out?

Now, Mr Wang will wait patiently for Anthony to say something.


Merv said...

if Anthony is guilty, and tries to lie about it. The advice of a lawyer could perhaps advice him from doing so, and to plead guilty.

It goes both ways. Depends how you look at it.

We should not preclude the possiblity, however remote, of the police forcing an confession out of an innocent person.

This is where legal assistance may be useful.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

No. The key point is that investigations are underway; police are at the stage when they know little but are quickly accumulating evidence.

If Anthony is guilty, he can lie or not lie. If he lies, and then later he is released, and then he sees his lawyer, his lawyer can still possibly do what you said, and advise him to plead guilty.

However, if while under custody and with no lawyers, Anthony tells the truth, and then he is released, and then he goes to see his lawyer, it would be too late for him to go back to the police and say, "Oh wait, I've decided to change my story, I've now thought up some lies which are quite convincing, I'd like to tell them to you now."

So by denying early access, you cut off that one particular undesirable possibility.

As for your point about the police extracting forced confessions, there are already mechanisms in the law which operate against that. Key point is that the accused can stand up in court and say, "This statement was forced out of me" and then the judge initiates a new stage in the proceedings to examine the circumstances under which the statement was taken (how long? Denied of food? Water? Very cold airconditioning? Boxed in the head? Etc).

Not saying that the system is perfect - it can be improved - for example, I've always liked the idea that police interviews with the accused must be videotaped - this prevents officers from beating up suspects, and prevents false allegations of such events being made.

But I don't really think early access to lawyers is the answer.

Recruit Ong said...

As usual the ST headline is ultra farked up!

"Lawyers seek EARLY access..."

EARLY meh?? Knn makes it sound like the court need to bend backwards for the lawyers' UNUSUAL request. 21 days before seeing a lawyer?! Coerced confession liao lah! Human rights my ass!

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

It is actually a rather complex situation, with many layers. But perhaps let's work on this layer by layer.

What are the assumptions behind your comments? Identify them.

That the police likes to coerce confessions out of innocent people?

That the police likes to coerce confessions out of guilty people?

That the police ought to be able to complete murder investigations well before 21 days?

That the police are not really interested in finding out who the REAL criminal is?

Molly Meek said...

erm... "If Anthony is guilty, he can lie or not lie about it." Molly humbly thinks the complexity of the problem lies here. Can we presume a person "guilty" or "not guilty" before the trial itself--even if we are just making a hypothesis?

Do we mean morally guilty or do we mean legally guilty, when we say that "if Anthony is guilty, ..."

For the case of whether one person killed another), things are probably much clearer (even if, technically, it could be murder, manslaughter, etc).

But what about cases in which it is not all that clear whether a person has violated a particular law or not?

And, it may sound a bit funny, but isn't the role of the lawyer particularly important when things aren't clear-cut? "Evidence" can be very strange sometimes. While one might claim that the immediate access to legal aid might lead to the destruction of critical evidence (proving someone's guilt), could it also not be possible that the time lag makes it harder to gather evidence of the person's innocence?

Molly really doesn't understand the mechanisms of the law. Nevertheless, she thinks certain principles aren't there for nothing.

Or perhaps we have to ask whether we prefer to risk letting someone who has done something wrong off the hook or whether we prefer to risk convicting the wrong person.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Good point, Molly. When legal academics talk about this kind of matter, they use a certain specific type of language -

factually guilty - the person really did commit the crime.

legally guilty - the person has been convicted in court.

This is for convenience of discussion (and more precision). In my case, when I say Anthony is guilty, I mean that in my hypothetical scenario, Anthony has intentionally killed SingaporeClassics (whether the police can prove it or not is another question).

On your next point, about whether a person has violated a particular law or not -

the thing is that police investigations are primarily about gathering facts. Once the facts are in, and established, then the question of whether a particular law or not becomes a pure legal question to be decided by the judge, with prosecution and defence both presenting arguments.

Given an established set of facts, the determination of whether a particular law has been violated or not becomes a very academic, "pure thinking" kind of exercise. It's about legal analysis, looking at statutes etc.

However, the important thing is that the correct facts must be gathered. If the police can give me a complete set of facts, A, B, C, D and E, then I can say with certainty whether the crime was committed or not. However, if the police says, "We know A and B to be true, we don't know about C, we are not sure about D, as for E, the evidence has disappeared", then I can't determine anything. Essentially, you have an unsolved crime. SingaporeClassics is dead, and his murderer has gotten away.

The law as it stands, is geared towards aiding the police in establishing the facts.

As for your point about the time lag making it difficult to gather evidence of innocence -

this isn't quite accurate for various reasons. The first thing is that the police are out to solve the case. They are there to close out all loose ends. If they have three suspects A, B and C,

and A says: "It wasn't me. I was at the community club singing karaoke with ten of my friends at the time when SingaporeClassics was killed."

and B says: "It wasn't me. I was shopping at Metro Singapore for new shoes and a coffee-maker and a sofa set at that time";

and C says: "It wasn't me. I'm sure that my fingerprints will be totally different from those on the murder weapon." -

then the police will seek to confirm or disconfirm the respective stories by checking with A's ten friends; B's Metro receipt or credit card records and C's fingerprints.

If you like, you can say that the police are also actively hunting for evidence of innocence.

Molly Meek said...

I believe you are right basically, Mr. Wang. I knew the part abt the police also hunting for evidence of innocence was coming. hehe... Only that Molly is paranoid and likes to be cynical. By rights, of course, the police ought to be rigorous. In reality, they aren human too. And a mechanism that "checks" them a little might be needed.

To play the devil's advocate just for fun, you mentioned something (which you put in layman's terms for readers' sake) about the lawyer helping the factually guilty to lie. What happens when the suspect is a lawyer and needs no lawyer's help? Maybe I can assume that he knows how to "lie". Shouldn't we allow the layman to be have access to legal aid immediately--so that all are equal before the Law. This sounds really naive, but I can't help thinking there is something at stake.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

To be more precise, the danger is not so much that the lawyer will really help his client to lie, but that the lawyer will make his client aware that anything he tells the police may well be used against him.

Why is this a bad thing? Because it would be helpful to justice if anyone hauled up before the police would speak freely and loudly and abundantly and honestly about all relevant facts.

For example, if you are factually innocent, just say so and give your side of your story, and cooperate, and say everything you know that may help the police find the real criminal.

And if you are factually guilty, and you spoke freely and loudly and abundantly and honestly about all relevant facts, well, justice is served because the police would get you.

The difficulty arises when the factually guilty person gets legal advice, and becomes quite aware that anything he says might be used against him. And then he can start thinking of ways to twist and turn and hide the truth etc.

Finally I just want to point out that in practice, there are many cases where the accused never confessed to the police but was convicted anyway because there was plenty of other evidence of his wrongdoing (eg in the form of fingerprints; urine samples, eyewitnesses; CCTV; stolen goods or illegal drugs being found in the accused's home etc etc). And as for many other cases where the accused has confessed, the accused confesses because the evidence is so clearcut and obviously against him (eg he is hauled to the police station after the supermarket security guard catches him with unpaid store items stuffed down his shirt and into his pants as well).

The challenging cases are where the evidence is not so available. For example, think of the Huang Na case. At first her body could not even be found. After intensive interrogation, Took admitted to doing something wrong and also told the police where the body was. Now, if Took was innocent, even if you had beaten him half to death, even if you deprived him of legal access for 1 year, he wouldn't have been able to tell you where Huang Na's body was given. The fact that Took could tell the police where the body was, and the fact that the body was indeed at that place ---> Took was guilty.

Now I invite you to consider what you would think/do if you were the judge, and Took said: "They forced me to tell them where I had hid Huang Na's body. They beat me up, otherwise I would never have admitted to it. Since they beat me up, you shouldn't convict me, because it's just not fair."

What would you, as judge, think?

akikonomu said...

Mr Wang, the title of your article is Suspects and their lawyers, yet the actual post seems and most of the discussion talk aboiut Criminals and their lawyers. Big difference there.

Why do some people argue that accused persons should have early access to a lawyer?

1. The lawyers are there to keep the police honest. Not only should the police be honest, but the entire process involving them needs to be seen as honest - and that will never happen, no matter how much videotaping and legal guarantees there are.

How long do police interviews or interrogations last? How many of these do suspects sit through before they are released or allowed access to their lawyers? You are telling us that a suspect can remember everything thrown at him and answered and sign on the statement the police prepare for him, at the very end? You are telling us that the police never edit, select, and censor from the umpteen hours of interviews into that final statement, signed by the suspect? Which is considered legal and binding - the suspect's statement or the raw footage of the interviews? Are the videotapped interviews released to defense lawyers in every case, as an automatic procedure?

2. The lawyer is there to ensure the suspect's statement is an accurate distillation of the hours of interviewing, that the suspect is informed about what he is signing himself to. This is something I'm not sure the police do, in the absence of lawyers.

3. Since you concern yourself with suspects, and since you're making a very general argument about police and the investigation process, consider:

Should Martyn See, during his many and frequent "audiences" with the police, be allowed to have a lawyer in the room to advise him?

I'd like to throw your own scenario back at you, with added spin (but hopefully without seeming smug myself)

1. Singapore Rebel, a film, has been released.
2. The police suspect Mr See did it, and it's a party political film. (They invite him over for many interviews)
3. Either Mr See did it or he didn't do it.
4. If Martyn did not do it, he only needs to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as the truth is known to him. No one needs a lawyer to be able to tell the truth.
5. If Martyn did make a party political film, Martyn can now do one of two things. He can admit to it, or he can lie and deny it.
6. If he admits to it, good for society. The bad guy is caught. Justice is served.
7. If he lies and denies it, well, the police will either believe it, or they won't, and investigations will continue as the police follow up on other clues.

Why do some people argue that accused persons should have early access to a lawyer?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I drafted a really long answer and then my computer screwed up and I lost the answer. So now you have to make do with a shortened version.

Actually, the legal formalities and procedures that the police go through when recording what we call the "long statement" - the one with all the details - is exactly the same whether you are interviewing an accused, a witness or a victim. This makes sense for various reasons, one of which is that the police often may not have any idea of who really committed the crime until they've interviewed all the witnesses. Another is that the accused, the witness and the victim are all just witnesses in the end, telling the court their own versions of what they saw/heard etc about the crime.

At the end of a statement, the statement-maker, whether he is a suspect, a witness or a victim, is told to read over the entire statement, and is invited to make corrections, revisions, additions etc, and then to sign it. He would also have been told beforehand that he has to tell the truth etc.

No one has a perfect memory, of course, and if you can't remember something or you're not sure, it's perfectly ok to say so in your police statement (or in court, if testifying).

Videotaping doesn't happen in Singapore. I've said that it would be a good idea.

Also, you must appreciate that the purpose of recording a statement is often not primarily for direct use against the accused. It is really for the purposes of INVESTIGATION. For example, if the accused says, "I hid the illegal drugs under the bed in my house", and then the police investigate further, go to his house and indeed find illegal drugs under his bed, the fact that illegal drugs were found under the accused's bed becomes much more important evidence than the fact that the accused said so.

As for the Martyn See, it's simply not relevant to our present discussion because this is an oddball of a case, where all the critical facts are already established and not in dispute:

1. Singapore Rebel, a film, has been released.
2. The police suspect Mr See did it, and it's a party political film. (They invite him over for many interviews)
3. Either Mr See did it or he didn't do it.

Mr See did make the film. Even if he denied it, it doesn't matter because the evidence is overwhelming. For example, he submitted the film to the film festival organisers and he submitted the film to the Board of Film Censors, and there would be plenty of witnesses and paper evidence to that effect.

As for the question of whether the film is a party political film, that turns out to be a pure legal queston. That means that Martyn's view is not relevant. So it doesn't matter whether Martyn tells the police that it is a PPF, or tells the police that it is not.

It is like a man who rapes his wife, and then tells the police, "I admit that I raped my wife. In fact, I insist that I raped my wife. You MUST charge me for rape." What the man thinks is not relevant. Under Singapore law, men cannot be guilty of raping their wives (see section 375 of th Penal Code), and whatever the man tells the police, regardless of whether his lawyers are present or not, simply does not change that.

xenoboysg said...

What if the accused is low IQ or suffers from some disorder?

Yes, he is guilty but in the statement recording process, the Police, who have their self-serving interest to ensure a watertight case that can pass the muster of the CO and subsequently the AGC, helps him craft an absolutely self-damning statement.

Would a lawyer not be helpful in advising his client to hang himself with more slack?

Alternatively, sometimes Police holds someone to ferret out the accomplice and dangles the prosecution witness carrot; would a lwayer be helpful here?

Anthony said...


Priviledged to be used as bait, Mr Wang.

My primary concern about -not- having access to lawyers early has been covered by an earlier comment - who watches the watchmen? Can we rightly assume that policemen do no wrong during the investigative process? Can we rightly assume that it will all come out in the wash? If the answer is no to either or both, then it might be advisable to have a lawyer present to ensure the integrity of the process and restore faith in our criminal justice system.

Let me reverse the burden a bit. Presumably the "harm" of letting lawyers in early is the fear that it will intefere with the investigative process. The closest US analogy to this would be the Miranda warnings and the attendant right to have a lawyer present early in the investigative process, so I will use numbers for Miranda Warning to support my argument.

For the benefit of those without legal training, a Miranda warning is the highly popularised "You have the right to remain silent etc" stuff that you see on TV. Except that the real life application of Miranda is a lot more complicated. The reason it is called a Miranda warning is that it arose out of a US Supreme Court decision where the defendant was named Miranda.

The need to -deny- lawyers early access is ALSO based on a flawed assumption. That lawyers trip up the investigative process is just NOT valid - the rate of suspects giving either incriminating statements or confessing outright have remained constant before and after the Miranda decision. This figure has remained constant IN SPITE of increased levels of legal representation during investigation.

That is because policemen aren't stupid either - they don't apply Miranda warnings willy-nilly, but do so either to minimise the fear impact of Miranda or to maximise the intimidation value of Miranda.

The importance of Miranda is dual - it provides protection to the accused in the form of a check on police power (and possibly police brutality). However, the larger policy consideration is the integrity of the system. If policemen are truly honest, they have nothing to hide.

If lawyers (or neutral non-government third parties for that matter) are allowed in early, wouldn't that just -prove- that our faith in the criminal justice system is well and truly founded? Certainly we pay no social price in allowing this - suspects seem to want to blab regardless of whether lawyers are present.

So let me turn the argument on its head. What does the POLICE have to hide?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Haha! Good points, all. Will address all of them shortly. But first let me touch on what I think is the real reason why defence lawyers in Singapore are so keen to get early access. In Singapore, this kind scenario often arises:

1. Anthony commits a crime and is caught. Eg he molests a woman in a public place, is caught redhanded and there are reliable witnesses.

2. Anthony is taken to the police station and he feels very sorry and he admits everything in his police statement: "I found her very attractive. I put my right hand out and squeezed her buttocks once, very hard. I know it was wrong of me to do it."

3. Police then release him. Anthony goes home and for the whole night, he thinks about jail and caning and he's terrified and he decides that he must try to fight the case.

4. Anthony then goes to a defence lawyers and declares that it was a pure accident and he just accidentally bumped into the woman in a crowded place and he neglects to mention the three reliable witnesses.

5. And because he wants his defence lawyer to believe him, he neglects to mention that he has already confessed to everything in his police statement. Instead he lies and tells his lawyer that he told the police the same thing that

6. Anthony is so convincing that his defence lawyer believes him and trusts him. Defence lawyer then starts preparing his case about how the place was very crowded and his client accidentally bumped into the victim etc.

7. At trial, DPP says, "Oh really? Then why did Anthony say this?" and takes out the positive statement and shows it to the judge: "I found her very attractive. I put my right hand out and squeezed her buttocks once, very hard. I know it was wrong of me to do it."

7. Defence lawyer is left feeling like a fool. This utterly surprising development leaves them totally stranded in court, without a backup strategy.

That's the unspoken reason why defence lawyers really want early access to their clients, haha. They are sick and tired of being embarrassed by their own clients in court.

Not saying that the system is perfect, but really defence lawyers' egos are not a valid motivation for changing the law.

akikonomu said...

Mr Wang, would you like to explain why in France, both prosecution and defense lawyers are involved once the investigation begins?

Beach-yi said...

I think Mr Wang is speaking with a bias since he is an ex-DPP, of course it is natural of him to speak with forceful conviction and examples of why Lawyers should not be allowed early access.

Have he ever defended anyone before? I think not, based on his experiences so far.

Anthony said...

Mr Wang,

I refrain from comment about egos of defence lawyers - mostly to save them face and out of respect of one particular criminal defence lawyer that has always struck me as a gentlemen.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Collector, there seems to be this tendency to think of the accused's statement as the be-all and end-all in itself. Of course this is untrue. If I were prosecuting a case with nothing but one accused's statement to rely on, I would be very nervous.

In reality, the accused's statement is a spin-off for further verification, confirmation, disconfirmation and investigation. The statement is not what you suggest it is - a short, brief little statement "did or did not have sex with the girl". In fact, the statement is going to be much longer than that, and will lead the police to other witnesses, other clues, other physical evidence - such that the entire context emerges; a bigger picture than what the accused himself realised.

Also, the accused is always free to raise the kind of defences you mentioned in court. In fact, this happens all the time. If everything depended on the statements, the judge might as well not hold a trial - he would just read the statements. Statements, however, are important because if you contradict yourself in a direct, forceful way, you lose credibility.

For example, if you say to the police, "I did have sex with her" and then in court, you tell the judge, "I never had sex with her," then you lose credibility and a legal process called impeachment will most likely begin whereby the prosecutor will ask the judge to rule that you're a totally untrustworthy character.

However, if you say to the police, "I did have sex with her" and then in court, you tell the judge, "I did have sex with her but I was tricked into believing that she was over 16", then this does not in fact contradict your earlier statement and could well turn out to be a valid defence.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

On Miranda rights, well, Anthony, as I mentioned before, the right to remain silent, in real life, automatically gives rise to suspicion in commonsensical minds.

For example, if you did not kill SingaporeClassics, why would you want to remain silent? Surely you would say, "Hey, I didn't kill him! Let me tell you what happened ..." Etc.

lbandit said...

I'm not sure if i following what you're saying Mr Wang, according to that hypothetical scenario, it seems like you're saying that anyone who hires a lawyer for defence is guilty. Why do we even need lawyers if the innocent will be found innocent by the police and the guilty found guilty by the police?

akikonomu said...

"the right to remain silent, in real life, automatically gives rise to suspicion in commonsensical minds"

Excuse me, but judges are supposd to have legal minds, not commonsensical minds!

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I wasn't talking about judges, although in my experience they also tend to have a lot of common sense.

Let's go back to the original example. SingaporeClassics is found lying dead on the floor, stabbed in the chest. Two metres away from him, Anthony is seen holding a bloody knife.

"What the hell happened here?" you ask, in a state of shock.

If Anthony didn't do it, surely you would expect him to say something like: "I just came in five minutes ago! SingaporeClassics was lying dead on the ground! I saw a knife next to him. Here it is! Omigod, it's awful! Call the police, we have to find the murderer!" Etc.

However, if Anthony says, "I refuse to tell you anything. I have the right to remain silent. No way am I going to tell you why I am standing here next to a dead, murdered person, with a knife in my hands, dripping with blood." ...

... then what would you think? Seriously. I mean, what would YOU think.

That is what I mean, when I say that when you keep quiet in a situation like this, anyone with a straight brain would suspect that you're the guilty one.

See here for an actual case illustrating this.

akikonomu said...

The point is: NOT anyone with a straight brain has the right to judge the case. Judges - if they have a straight brain - should not be allowed to sit in court ;)

Anthony said...

Sporescores set out pretty much the principle of what I wanted to say - I don't necessarily see silence as being a binary situation of guilty/not guilty.

Let me start from the beginning then.

"SingaporeClassics is found lying dead on the floor, stabbed in the chest. Two metres away from him, Anthony is seen holding a bloody knife."

I believe that Mr Wang has set up a straw man here. REGARDLESS of what I say, there's enough circumstantial evidence to convict. Whether I testify or keep silent is irrelevant. Likewise, if I'm going to be exculpated, it will be from a preponderance of evidence to show that the murder could not have been committed by me, with the knife.

In short, regardless of whether I testify, the fact of whether I testify is irrelevant. The evidence speaks for itself.

So what's really the point of a right of silence?

The right not to incriminate oneself is MOST important in a situation where a person cannot be convicted BUT FOR the self-incriminating testimony.

Framed in this manner, we can see why there is an issue with regards to the right to silence. Should the state be allowed to obtain convictions by compelling self-incrimination?

It's arguable both ways. I just don't think that Mr Wang's framing of the issue does the debate justice (pardon the bad pun).

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


You're confusing the court process with the investigation process. There is a failure to appreciate this -

in every case, there is a point when the police really do not know what has happened.

Look for example at the Huang Na case. There are 30 vegetable sellers in the market. Any of them could be the killer/rapist. How do you know which one is the guy?

You interview them, of course. All 30 vegetable sellers are suspects. Do the 29 innocent ines among the 30 worry about their right to silence or the right of incrimination?

No, of course not. They are innocent. In all likelihood, they are highly concerned and they really want to help the police help Huang Na. They would be happy to answer all the questions they possibly can. Wouldn't you?

akikonomu said...

wrt comment posted on 10/20/2005 4:42 PM:
Now I invite you to consider what you would think/do if you were the judge, and Took said: "They forced me to tell them where I had hid Huang Na's body. They beat me up, otherwise I would never have admitted to it. Since they beat me up, you shouldn't convict me, because it's just not fair."

What would you, as judge, think?

As a judge, this would be my considerations:

1. What message do I want to send out to police investigators? That extraction of evidence and confession under torture or force is permissible?

2. Do I want to set a precedence that allows such evidence and any future similar evidence to be accepted in court?

3. Do I really want to make a ruling that would encourage the police to do the same thing to every suspect they haul up?

I will very reluctantly let Took go free.

With all due respect, Mr Wang, I'm very surprised and dismayed that a lawyer with your experience and previous portfolio would bring this up, that you'd think there is any legal or moral justification for accepting tainted evidence.

Perhaps you've never watched A Man for All Seasons, or heard of Sir Thomas More. Heres's an extract from the film that perhaps will bring some sense into this discussion.

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

No, I think you are not seeing the complete picture. But I am not surprised. As I mentioned earlier, it is not exactly the easiest thing in the world for the general public to explain.

I think this is the better way to approach the matter:

1. Understand firstly that the key danger of coerced confessions is that they may be untrue. For example, there is the risk that an innocent person is tortured and to avoid the torture, he then "confesses" to something he didn't do.

2. Thus if a coerced confession is produced in court, then as a judge you would be quite correct in rejecting this confession.

3. And if there was no other evidence against the accused, then of course the accused walks free.

4. However, assume for example that there is plenty of other evidence. For example, a dead body was found; that the accused, in handcuffs, was the one who led the police to the hiding place; that the accused's fingerprints were then found on the corpse etc.

5. Assume that as judge, you examine the evidence in para 4 and you find it very convincing, and you find that it proves beyond reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime.

6. What do you do then? Of course you convict.

7. The reality is that the evidence mentioned in Para 3 was only discovered by the police BECAUSE of what the accused said in his confession. This does not concern you as a judge. You are not relying on the confession. You had already rejected it at Stage 2.

8. You must not confuse the police's wrongdoing with the accused's wrongdoing. The fact that a police officer has done wrong does not mean that therefore the accused should go free.

7. The police officer will be dealt with separately. Perhaps he'll be suspended. Perhaps he'll be sacked from the force. Perhaps he'll even be prosecuted himself. and sent before a judge, and be sent to jail.

8. None of this, however, means that the killer will go free. It simply means that if necessary, both the killer and the officer will go to jail.

akikonomu said...

My point of consideration:
3. Do I really want to make a ruling that would encourage the police to do the same thing to every suspect they haul up?

Your suggestion:
8. None of this, however, means that the killer will go free. It simply means that if necessary, both the killer and the officer will go to jail.

No, I am for zero toleratnce here. Some officers may find that the cost of a jail term is acceptable for a suspect to be convicted based on forced confessions, and evidence found from forced cooperation.

Even in Singapore, judges get very displeased when there are allegations that suspects have been manhandled when they were held for investigations. That is why in all of these cases, the prosecution has to fight to the finish to prove that there was absolutely no police brutality during the extraction of confessions. The system must not only be fair, but it must be seen to be fair.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Some of this wouldn't be up to you, as judge actually. You have to understand that within the system, everyone has a specific role to play; and specific powers, with limits.

As judge, your power to reject or accept evidence depends on the laws of evidence. And you have no power to reject relevant evidence because you don't like how the police did their investigations.

For example, in a murder case, the fact that a corpse was found is a relevant fact. You cannot say, "I refuse to believe that a corpse was found. The reason I refuse to believe this is that the police beat up the accused. So I take the position that there is no evidence that anyone actually died."

Next, the fact that a corpse was found with signs of a knife wound in the chest area is also a relevant fact. Again you cannot say, "I refuse to believe that a corpse was found with signs of a knife wound in the chest area. The reason I refuse to believe this is that the police beat up the accused. So I choose to take the position that there is no evidence that anyone ever died of a knife wound in the chest area."

Then the fact that the police found the corpse because the accused led them there is also a relevant fact. Again you cannot say, "I refuse to believe that these police officers found the corpse by following the accused's directions as to where the corpse was located. The reason I refuse is that the police beat up the accused. So I choose to take the position that the accused never gave any directions to the police, and the police never found a corpse, and nobody died of a knife wound in the chest area."

I hope you get the point.

A judge can refuse to accept evidence on the basis that he thinks the evidence is not reliable or is not correct.

But he cannot refuse to accept it because he doesn't like the police officer.

If a judge refuses to accept a coerced confession, the correct basis for refusal is that a coerced confession may not be reliable. A judge cannot refuse a coerced confession on the basis that he thinks that the police officer should conduct his investigation in some other way and that he needs to send a message to the Police Commissioner on how the Police Commissioner should run his police force.


By the way, an accused's statement is not as dispensable as you think. Even where the accused has admitted to the crucial facts, there are many cases where the prosecution never bothers to use it during its own case. And not because there are any allegations whatsoever of any kind of police brutality.

I'll explain this later, if anyone is interested.

akikonomu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
akikonomu said...

If a judge refuses to accept a coerced confession, the correct basis for refusal is that a coerced confession may not be reliable.

1. The problem with that argument is: you still endorse the possibility of using police violence to obtain true evidence.

2. I'm not sure what you meant by "the correct basis" - please clarify if you're talking about the LEGAL basis, and whether that is restricted to a Singaporean case only.

3. You are addressing the issue of coerced confessions, but not the issue of evidence obtained through coerced confessions. I'd like to know whether such evidence is permissible in a court in Singapore.

Anthony said...

Will I help the police? Probably. Do I have a -choice- to help the police? No. Does it matter? Maybe.

I brought up the evidentiary process because what will be accepted in evidence will affect the investigative process. If the police find 100 confessions accepted in evidence that allows them to "cut corners", chances are they will "cut corners" for the 101st time.

And here's the interesting bit and where I think access to a lawyer will come in useful - we cannot assume that every case of cutting corners will come to light and tried before the judge. Assuming that policemen get the right incentives to "cut corners" the right action would be create a investigative system where (i) cutting corners is allowed and (ii) dealt with completely internally. In doing so their criteria would not be based on the severity of the case, but also influenced by factors of how much of this wrongdoing got out into the public.

Hence, there's another assumption I'm not sure we can make - systemic failure to "play fair".

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Well, to put it very simply, in any trial, the material facts must be proved.

One piece of evidence can also go towards proving several different material facts. Several different pieces of evidence can go towards proving one material fact.

Let's say in a robbery case, the fact that the accused snatched the victim's gold chain can be proved in several ways.

For example:

1. Mrs Tan the victim says, "I recognise this accused person. He was the one who snatched my hold chain in the lift."

2. Ali, an eyewitness, says, "I recognise this accused person. On that day, I saw the lift door open and the accused run out holding a gold chain. A woman chased after him, shouting "Thief! Thief!" . This woman is Mrs Tan."

3. 1st Police Officer says: "Here is the CCTV recording we obtained. It shows the accused snatching Mrs Tan's gold chain in the lift. The picture of his face is very clear."

4. 2nd Police officer says: "Here is the statement I recorded from the accused where he admitted to snatching the handbag.

Now, if the accused alleges that the 2nd police officer beat him up and made him say that, then the judge may then said this confession is improperly obtained and the judge may then exclude this confession from the overall body of evidence. That's because, as I said, that the way that the confession was obtained creates a significant risk that the confession is unreliable.

This doesn't mean, however, that the judge will also disbelieve Mrs Tan, Ali and the 1st Police Officer. Based on my scenario, there is inherently no reason to doubt the words of Mrs Tan, Ali and the 1st Police Officer.

Where did the gold chain go? Let's say that immediately after the crime, the accused went to Ah Leong Pawnshop, showed his NRIC there, and pawned the gold chain for money. Later the police arrested the accused and coerced him into making his statement, and he said: "I then went straight to Ah Leong Pawnshop and pawned the gold chain."

The police officer goes to Ah Leong Pawnshop, and true enough, the gold chain is there, and the owner has records to show that a customer with the accused's name came by and pawned the gold chain for money on a certain date.

Now, this police officer will tell the judge, "I went to the pawnshop and I met the owner and told him about the case and he checked the records and he found that the accused had indeed been there on that date, and had 2pawned a gold chain, and then I took the gold chain to Mrs Tan, and Mrs Tan identified the gold chain as the one stolen."

And then the pawnshop owner and Mrs Tan will give evidence that corrobotates that.

Now, let's say that the police would not have known where the gold chain was, if the accused had not been coerced into making the statement.

On the grounds that the statement was coerced, the judge would be correct to reject the statement as evidence. However, that in itself is no grounds to disbelieve that:

A police officer went to the pawnshop and met the owner and told him about the case and the owner checked the records and he found that the accused had indeed been there on that date, and had pawned a gold chain, and then the police officer took the gold chain to Mrs Tan, and Mrs Tan identified the gold chain as the one stolen.

These are factual assertions. Either they happened or they did not happen. Either the police officer went to the pawnshop or he didn't. Either the gold chain was at the pawnshop or it was not. Either the pawnshop owner has records that the accused pawned the chain, or the pawnshop owner does not.

As a judge, you decide. Did these events happen or not?

That is your job.

In our scenario, the allegedly coerced statement may never even arise in court. Where the overall evidence is so strong, the prosecution may not even bother to use the statement during the presentment of its own case. The prosecution may simply adduce evidence that the police recovered the gold chain from a pawnshop, and the pawnshop owner had records showing that the gold chain was pawned by the accused. The prosecution may not bother to explain that the police knew which pawnshop to go to, because the accused had told them in his statement.

It is not a matter of the prosecution concealing anything. The prosecution simply presents whatever it thinks is necessary to prove its case.

80% of the police investigations are on chasing and closing false leads anyway. For example, when interviewing 30 vegetable sellers in the Huang Na case, there are 29 false leads. Only one is the killer. Still the police needs to go through all that to find the killer. However, the prosecution, in court, doesn't have to and wouldn't go into the other 29 investigations.

Frankly, if the police beats up an accused person, they wouldn't tell the prosecution anyway. Invariably, it always comes as a mini-surprise to the DPP when he tries to adduce the accused's statement and the defence lawyer says, "Your Honour, my client says that he was coerced into making this statement and therefore the statement should be disregarded."

Simple truth is that neither the DPP or the defence lawyer nor the judge personally knows what the police did to the accused, if anything. They will then launch into a mini-sub-trial to determine whether the accused was coerced into making the statement. At the end of it, the judge will decide whether the accused was coerced or not, and then the judge will either accept or reject the statement as evidence.


If anyone is still interested in this looooong discussion, I will talk about the frequency that accused persons allege that they have been tortured etc, and the kinds of cases where such things most commonly occur etc.

Agagooga said...

Perhaps it is because the presumption of innocence/guilt is interchanged here.

We cannot let bad, bad people ruin society for law abiding folk!

expat@large said...

Gabriel: Of course we can! It happens every day - it called the Singapore government and the judicial processes of Singapore.

Back when I used to care enough to read the local "paper", there was new evidence in every edition.


Mr Wang: What if "Anthony" was a 14 year old girl who got pregnant unknowingly and secretly, then threw her new-born baby out of flat window in a fit of denial, terror and mental confusion.

I certainly don't think it is in the greater interests of society, let alone anybody's idea of "justice", that this minor should have been denied the right to legal counsel and then THE RIGHT TO SEE HER FAMILY! as happened in a real case here last year.

I was horrified by this case. Absolutely disgusted. I wanted to leave the country immediately. And I waited to hear of the outcry, the righteous anger, but it never came...

And I have dismissed Singapore as a backwater of quasi-fascist business/bureaucr-archy, a glorified immature country-town with delusions of existence, ever since.

That any country that considers itself civilized would treat a citizen in such a manner offends the essence of all things human. It just amazed and disgusted me.

I didn't come here disliking Singapore, I came with an open mind, thinking that was a much more open society than it is.

I think the right to immediate legal counsel, like the right to gather for peaceful protest, the right to comment openly and without fear of retribution, the right not to be killed by the government for minor misdeamours like the importation of small amounts of marijuana or for being drug "mules" while that same government is blatantly doing business with the drug barons who run the mules from that hell-hole Myanmar, is one of those self-evident signs which differeniate a MATURE, HUMANIST and GOOD SOCIETY from a countries like this barbaric abomination.

But the streets are clean and the trees are well-watered, so why care?

Singapore (Government, judiciary, bus-drivers who close doors on aged people) has just been so morally DISAPPOINTING to me.

And I say so every now and then. And I wonder why my blog is not as popular as Mr Browns!


Mr Wang, if I was Aristotle, I could tear you to shreds logically (maybe), but I'm not a philospher and neither am I a lawyer however your example seemed framed in a most biased way. You start with the "truth": the fact that someone is guilty and then ask us which is the most efficient way to hang them!

As my limited brain negotiates the relativistic moral world, I find that Justice is not JUST about efficiency or even truth. It is about mitigation and understanding as well.

What is truth?, asked Pilate. Even Jesus didn't know the answer to that one.


expat@large said...

Do'h! I meant to say Socrates, not Aristotle. I told you I'm not a philosopher, barely even a poor student philosphy.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I kinda agree, actually. I see mistakes everywhere. For example, E@L says:

"You start with the "truth": the fact that someone is guilty and then ask us which is the most efficient way to hang them!"

I didn't quite do that. In fact, I pointed out that in many cases, there is no clear suspect (because the police really do not know who did it) and therefore all witnesses are suspects. I gave you the example of 30 vegetable sellers at the market where the little girl Huang Na was last seen. All are suspects, although only one is the killer.

If you look at my original scenario, you see that I contemplated the clear example where Anthony is in fact not guilty:

"1. SingaporeClassics, a blogger, has been murdered.

2. The police suspect that Anthony did it. They arrest Anthony.

3. Either Anthony did it, or he did not do it.

4. If Anthony did not do it, he only needs to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as the truth is known to him. No one needs a lawyer to be able to tell the truth.

5. If Anthony did kill SingaporeClassics, Anthony can now do one of two things. He can admit to it, or he can lie and deny it.

6. If he admits to it, good for society. The bad guy is caught. Justice is served.

7. If he lies and denies it, well, the police will either believe it, or they won't, and investigations will continue as the police follow up on other clues."

Let's assume, for the purposes of our discussion, that Anthony is innocent. As things go, there's a high chance that it will not even occur to Anthony that he should consider getting a lawyer. After all, he is innocent and lawyers cost money, you know. Who wants to waste money on lawyers, if they can avoid it.

The police will ask Anthony questions, and Anthony will answer them helpfully, because he believes that he is merely aiding in police investigations to find the killer -

which is true, he IS aiding in police investigations to find the killer.

If the police ask, "So, Anthony, where were you on the night that SingaporeClassics was murdered?" -

Anthony will simply answer the question truthfully. He will not say: "I have the right to remain silent. I refuse to tell you."

Why would he? He would simply say, "Oh, I was watching a movie at Golden Village Cinema at Bugis. Then I went to have dinner with my friend Expat@Large at Sketches, a nearby restaurant. Then I went shopping at Bugis and bought some clothes."

If you're forthcoming, it's normally quite easy to show your innocence. For example, the police, if they still suspect Anthony, now can follow up and check further. If they really wanted to, they can ask what movie he watched, and then check at Bugis whether such a movie was really playing at such a time. They can check Anthony's credit card records to see if he used his credit cards to pay for movie tickets, or dinner at Sketches, or clothes at Bugis, on that date, around that time. They can also call Expat@Large in for a friendly interview,

and assuming that Expat@Large is a law-abiding, innocent person with nothing to hide, he will also be happy and willing to answer questions about whether he was really having dinner with Anthony on that night.

expat@large said...

OK, my blood was boiling - I said I ain't no lawyer - but even so, the point I am concerned about is that questioning someone without them having legal guidance is a fascist thing to do.

I think if you had been a defense lawyer instead of a DPP person, you would have been inculcated with a different attitude. And if you were my defense lawyer, innocent or guilty, you'd damn well better have been. (And if you'd been trained in Australia, even as a prosecutor, I'd hope for MY country's sake that you'd still have different attitude.)

Truly, this country in which I am temporary resident scares me. (OK nowhere near as much as other countries around here, but nevertheless, it scares me.)

End of story.


Except me not believing that Ivan could be so heartless as not to understand the plight of that 14 year old girl. She was in need of HELP - the act or infanticide in such circumstances is nothing if not A CRY FOR HELP! If you can't imaingine what good a team of support people - her family was barred from seeing her not just her lawyer - could have done gor her, well you'd better move off this planet and head to Planet Nihilism.

Justice should not be about making sure she is punished for her "crime" - locking her away to allow her even more insane in a world without love - it should be about being humane towards other humans and, in such a case, bringing people like her back from the precipice -- man she was staring into an abyss of despair.

Why else would she think that the only way out was to kill her baby?

Or do you think she should "just snap out of it?"


And I might not be so law-abiding or innocent: maybe there's something else that I would not want the police poking their noses into - my browser cache, my phone-list, my credit-card expenses - goddam I am guilty of a million things (catholic upbringing's fault) - I might even be a seditious blogger for all anyone knows.

And I've seen those "friendly" interviews -- bare bulb swinging in the basement, light glinting off the dental drills, E@L tied to a chair, good-cop bad-cop routine. "Isss it ZZzzzaafe?" asks the man with the coke-bottle-bottom glasses. Ask Martin See about them.

They'd get my name and address to confirm my identity. Then they'd better get my lawyer or they'd get nothing else. It's nothing to do with me being forthcoming. It's me having my privacy, and knowing my rights about what I need to answer and what I don't. Things related to the case: OK. Other things: No.

And I'm now going back to using my Hong Kong credit cards since you've scared me into realizing that my Singapore ones can be scrutinized - there might be things I buy at "PhilsPhetishPhasions" that I don't want the police or my wife finding out about...

It's called privacy, man!

It's called human rights.

expat@large said...

Ivan, rereading - yes OF COURSE that WAS my point! How could you not get it?

We know she killed the baby, what good (in any sense you want) would her NOT having a lawyer and support group do? How would justice (in any sense you want) be served? How would the community, that the law is meant to protect and serve, be protected and be served? What message does it send?

I've told you what message I received from that case.

It is a real case, from late last year or early this year.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


You're mistaken all over again.

You DON'T know that it's HER baby. You DON'T know that SHE killed the baby. You DON'T know whether it was SOMEONE else who killed the baby. If it was her who killed the baby, you DON'T know if anyone else (the FATHER maybe?) instigated her to do it. You DON'T know if anyone abetted her in killing the baby. For all you know, the baby was ALREADY dead when born, and then she disposed of it - so there's NO homicide. You DON'T know. You DON'T even know what you DON'T know - for example, who knows how the baby died? Perhaps not from the fall? Perhaps murdered by the mother's mother, or the mother's father; or the mother's lover?

You DON'T know anything. There is a point in time when you DON'T know anything. Neither do the police. That's why they have to investigate. Before the police investigates, no one knows ANYTHING.

Except the person who dumped the baby there. Who may or may not be the girl.

That's why I said - you DON'T know anything.

In the meantime, more confusion will arise if support groups, counsellors, members of her religious community, relatives, friends, family members, boyfriend etc etc are all allowed to come to the police station and give their two cents' worth.

Especially if some come with ulterior motives. Like, to influence the girl into NOT incriminating them, or saying anything that will cause any family any shame.


expat@large said...

You are the one who needs to (Martin) SEE!

In this girl's case(she was merely a CHILD herself!) you need to see that it is a human being we are talking about.

She might be my daughter. She might be your daughter.

Does that help you to understand where I am coming from?

PARTICULARLY because this may not be designated as crime is the PERFECT REASON why "support groups, counsellors, members of her religious community, relatives, friends, family members, boyfriend etc etc" SHOULD "come to the police station", not "to give their two cents' worth" but to protect and comfort her when she is vunerable.

In fact she shouldn't even go to the freaking police station if the police don't know enough yet to charge her with anything!


Did you hear what you said? You have said in effect that the Police can detain anyone even if they don't know if a crime has been committed! We don't even know if E@L has committed a crime, but let's isolate him and see what he says! Oops nothing except those PhetishPhasions in his credit card account! And some sedition, because he said the words "Singapore and fascism" in the same sentence. (And great, we can take Mr Wang down as well for having that sentence in his blog!)

Hey, everybody, repeat after Mr Wang: "I Want To Live In A Police State."


This girl in question should have gone to a hospital until she was suitably recovered from whatever trauma sent her to do this terrible act, with appropriate psychological counselling. Why rush? The baby is already dead it's not going to get any deader.

It is when people (and I am not talking about hardened criminals) are suffering from such stress and mental trauma that they are most psychologically VUNERABLE. To isolate such a person from the familar and supportive group of people she knows (unless they were the ones putting her under stress, of course) is to HARRASS her and leave her open to MANIPULATION using the classic techniques of ALTERING DEPENDENCE AND TRUST GAINING by the very people who are isolating and depriving her of emotional support. It is a classic torturer/tormentor/fascist technique.

It is at such a time that cults like Scientology can get a hold of people and drain them of their money, or when Police interrogators can get people (innocent or guilty) to say and do things that ordinarily they would not. Which is your point, and it seems to makes you want to rub your hands with glee. It makes ME sick!

They are in fact being tortured, as surely as if they were being struck with a cattle-prod and burned with cigarettes... You just can't see the bruises.

I can't believe you really mean what you say about this case! Are you human at all? Or just the product of two legal text-books cohabitating in some dead judge's musty library?


and your support of the way it was handled


We are innocent until proven guilty. And we ALL should be treated as such.

Anything else is the expedience of fascism.

Speaking of shame, detention without access to a lawyer is another one of Singapore's many shames, becasue people who don't deserve to be treated this way, such as the girl, get caught up in a net designed to catch a different type of person.

I personally would rather that a few guilty people go free (OJ? Michael Jackson?) rather than one innocent or ill person be mistreated and detained cruelly and inappropriately BY THE STATE.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

You seem terribly excited about this case. May I ask you how long this girl was actually detained by the police?

By the way - you do not understand the presumption of innocence at all. You have no idea what it means. I mean, really. I'm not making fun of you at all. You have no idea what it means.

Presumption of innocence is a legal principle that governs a wide range of procedure in court. Im court. Before a judge.

It has nothing to do with police investigations. Nor with the right to access to counsel (whether you are innocent or guilty has no implications). Nor with the length of time you're held by the police (whether you are innocent or guilty again has no implications).

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

AND by the way -

although this would no doubt shock the pants off you, MANY police officers that I have met are very kind.

Depending on the facts of the case, they can be highly sympathetic to the people involved, whether the people involved are victims, witnesses OR accused persons.

So don't go around imagining that police officers are all evil monsters out to hurt innocent people and punish them and inflict mental and physical trauma on people.

Police officers are ordinary people like you and me. Your daughter could be a police officer. So could mine.

expat@large said...

How could I know more about the case? There is no real newspaper in this country! It's under the yoke, like the police, like the judiciary, of the businessmen who run this city.

There were two paragraphs in the Straitjacket Times at the time and then, like liberty and human rights, it disappeared. But it stuck in my mind as the perfect example of how a rational state can do irrational things in the name of seemingly rational ideals (such as you are espousing.)

Which is why I was distraught about the poor girl's case, and then I read your blog trying to justify the principle behind it and it fired up the old indignation and resentment.

To me, whether the police are nice or not has nothing to do with it (I'm only teasing with the good-cop/badcop thing). But that a young person in distress needs their support group with them - to me and most other non-legal effficiency indoctrinated automatons that is a given.

Did I not mention that we are talking about a 14 year old child? Keeping her in isolation from HER FAMILY (that was what really incensed me) was a crime against humanity coldly perpetrated by this scary country. And supported by you, it seems.

Nothing you have said has mitigated that. Nothing you have have said has come anywhere near convincing me that withholding legal advice is anything other than fascism.

Carry on all you like about the finer legal definitions. You seem to know nothing of compassion and how a free society should operate.

Absolutely nothing.


Mr Wang If you admit that this was a bad thing in this case you might begin to satisfy me that you're not really as bad a guy as I'm playing you up to be.

(Have you read "The Plot Against America" where Philip Roth describes how a fictional 1940's America goes Nazi quite quickly thanks to the silent acceptance of small breaches of liberty. Fascinating - his point being that any country in the world can easily go fascistic and that Nazism (or its equivalent) could happen anywhere.)


P.S. Mr Gahmen spies, I am not trying to incite or sediticize anything - I think too many Singaporeans are too indoctrinated and anaesthetized but shopping malls to even understand my complaints and arguments, but I am merely expressing my outrage as a citizen of Australia observing, and from a web-site hosted in America.

You know, the free world.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Mr Expat:

You're grasping at straws. How long was this girl at the police station, separated from her family? Is it 30 minutes? Two hours? Two days? One month? Of course the answer makes a big difference.

Every case has its own story. Therefore the question of how long a person needs to be held varies from case to case.

For example, in a case like Huang Na - where a little girl has gone missing and believed to have been kidnapped and/or murdered - it makes sense to detain the suspects (ALL the suspects) until the girl is found.

If you let the suspects go free, then the one guilty person may promptly, secretly, make his way to the secret place where the little girl is kept. If she is alive, he may then kill her. If she is dead, he may then dispose of her body in some manner to make it even harder for the police to ever find the girl.

Of course it is a bad thing for the police to unnecessarily detain people. Frankly it is a nuisance for the police too. You hold them as long as you need to, and then you let them go.

This HAS to be the case. Otherwise, imagine that you're trying to investigate a murder. And all the witnesses can come and go as they please.

Witness A tells you, "Hey, I'm not free. I'm studying for my exams. I'll call you next Wednesday after my dental appointment and talk about this matter. Gee, I hope I don't forget too much by then."

Witness B tells you, "Look, I already spent 20 minutes talking to you, now I need to go for my yoga class, I'm leaving. I'll talk to you later again, if I'm free."

Witness C, whom you believe could be the killer, says, "You can't detain me now. I need to attend to some important housekeeping chores. " Like, maybe hide his murder weapon and remove his fingerprints, and ask his mother to set up an alibi.

And you can't detain them? Please.

Agagooga said...

I think the misunderstanding arises from Mr Wang's assumption that our police, like our government, are infallible. There is thus no need for pesky defence lawyers - the police will automatically do the right thing in every circumstances. Having a defence lawyer have access to his client will just complicate their investigations and prevent them from doing their job.

Why bother with an adversarial system of justice? The good ole DPPs will get to the bottom of every case without fear or favour! Perhaps they have some crystal ball that lets them see the truth of the matter each time...

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang is an ex-Deputy Public Prosecutor. Has Mr Wang ever been to the dungeons beneath his humble court. I fear Mr Wang writes with a colored vision when his topics is on the Singapore judicial system of which he was part of.

Anthony (who admits he is bait) believes that Mr Wang has set up a straw man case here. I beg to defer even when I don't know what is meant by a straw man case.

Ever heard of the Justice Bao case that threw up a case within a case called 'crown prince swopped for civic cat'? Ever heard that the truth is rarely pure and never simple? Ever heard of the claim that Singapore has no concept of liberty? Ever heard of Anwar Ibrahim and his infamous black-eye? Ever watched the movie "Pre-Crime"? (draw any parallels with our stooged system of justice?)

SingaporeClassics had intended to drag Justice Bao into a case called 'crown prince swopped for civic cat'. Anthony was scheduled to attend a meeting. SingaporeClassics duped Anthony into believing the meeting was to start earlier than was scheduled. Anthony passed out while waiting for the other attendees to the meeting to arrive after inhaling some incense burnt by SingaporeClassics. SingaporeClassics stabbed SingaporeClassics in the chest holding the knife with a hanky. SingaporeClassics placed the knife in Anthony's hand before crawling two metres away. Anthony came to his senses just as the other attendees to the meeting arrived.

"SingaporeClassics is found lying dead on the floor, stabbed in the chest. Two metres away from him, Anthony is seen holding a bloody knife."

Anthony knows of someone called Justice Bao, and believes in his ability to prove him innocent. But he is prevented from contacting Justice Bao by the police. His nemesis, Mr Wang is a Deputy Public Prosecutor. Mr Wang has colored vision when it comes to the judicial system which he is part of. Worse for Anthony, Mr Wang's uncle is Mr Wong, who heads the Home Ministry, tasked to investigate the murder of SingaporeClassics. Mr Wong's daughter, Mr Wang's cousin, consort to the current minister mentor's son, is implicated in the case 'crown prince swopped for civic cat'.

To cover up the case of 'crown prince swopped for civic cat', Mr Wong ordered the police to coerce a confession from Anthony for the murder of SingaporeClassics. They punched him using a telephone book to prevent marks showing up. They removed their dog-tags to prevent their identification.

Anthony is caught between a rock and a hard place. Should he defend himself by telling the court that his confession was coerced under threat of bodily harm? But if he vociferously proved himself innocent, the current minister mentor's son, the current prime-minister-king may lose his legitimatcy as the mandate from heaven? Which may then invoke the minister mentor to sue for defamation? Which Anthony knows he's on the losing end (both his head and his money) because Chief Justice Yong is the minister mentor's running dog? Anthony knows he cannot win in this court, whether or not he believes in Justice Bao's ability to defend him, whether or not he was given access to Justice Bao. Anthony bewoes SingaporeClassics for getting him into this sorry catch 22 situation?

Why do some people argue that accused persons should have early access to a lawyer? I wonder?

Would then Mr Wang, after all is said and done and evidence laid bare, then invoke god to justify himself, like Tony Blair?

Let's discuss a real case:

"Report By Chong Chee Kin (The Straits Jacket, Feb 2000)

Teenager Tan Zhi Ming became a triple-science student at National Junior College (NJC) earlier this year on the strength of his preliminary O-level examination results.

The bright 17-year-old had dreams of becoming a medical researcher and was anxious to find out his O-level results today but, in a tragic twist of fate, it was not to be.

He was hit by a private bus in Bukit Batok yesterday on his way to school, and died on the spot.

Mr Tan Kian Seng, 47, a supermarket manager, was in tears when he said that Zhi Ming was his only child.

He added that the accident had happened barely minutes after Zhi Ming left home for college.

He said: "I still cannot accept the fact that he is gone. He was such a good boy and he never mixed with bad company, and now all we have are memories."

Zhi Ming, a former Commonwealth Secondary School student, was anxious about his O-level results.

Mr Tan said: "His ambition was to be a medical researcher, and he was anxious to find out if he could stay on in NJC."

The teenager was into sports and interested in out-door activities.

Mr Tan said: "Just recently, he went on a camping trip to Pulau Ubin with the Outdoor Activities Club in his school."

He added that his son left home at about 6.45 am, while he was at the market.

And, shortly after he returned, Zhi Ming's principal called, to inform him about the accident.

Police said it happened at about 6.50 am near Block 139, along Bukit Batok West Avenue 3.

The 58-year-old bus driver was arrested and is out on $10,000 bail, and the police are asking witnesses to call the Traffic Police on 547-1818."

First things first.

This is a bloody fucking biased report meant to make the 58 year old bus driver look bad. Before being released on bail, he probably would have been strip-searched and held in police lock-up. He may even have been prodded if he knew of a Mr Koh Chong Kiang and whether the latter had persuaded him to purposely ram the deceased. He may well have had to stay in jail till the police were good and ready if he couldn't or had nobody to provide the collateral.

Of course Mr Wang would maintain that the police know nothing, and begin investigation of any case based on that assumption. And based on that assumption strip-search the bus driver and ask him if he was aquainted with a Mr Koh Chong Kiang.

Of course the general public doesn't know the truth and those who know wouldn't let on the truth, and Mr Koh Chong Kiang, who was dying to be interviewed, was never interviewed because the bus driver said the truth that he never was aquainted with a Mr Koh Chong Kiang, and anyway the latter only read about the accident 42 hours later from the newspaper he pilfered that evening from the nearby CC that, at that time, he was living 2 bus-tops from, and was therefore never in any danger of getting hauled to the police station and interviewed.

That near Block 139, along Bukit Batok West Avenue 3, is a fringe road with low traffic.
That Tan Zhi Ming wasn't the good boy that never mixed with bad company as was claimed to be.
That he lived in bad company and therefore never needed to mix in any more of them.
That in his younger days, his homework was done by his mother, from model answers provided by his aunt.
That even the color of his socks was decided by his parents in conversations perpetuated with the words 'dear' and 'darling'.
That in the hell that he was living in, that during a visit to his maternal grand-parents during chinese new year, when he broke a glass container, he quickly fingered his uncle, a Mr Koh Chong Kiang, for the blame in full-view of his approving parents (who probably discussed the event privately later in conversations perpetuated with the words 'dear' and 'darling').
That, if his uncle, a Mr Koh Chong Kiang, was ever aware (before the fact) that his nephew had any association with Commonwealth Secondary School, he would have been badly aggrieved to have graduated from the same school many years earlier.
That Tan Zhi Ming was indeed unduely anxious about his O-level results (and his parents even more so, and who probably discussed it privately in conversations perpetuated with the words 'dear' and 'darling') that he probably caused his own death and the bus driver was only a facilitator.
That the fact that Tan Zhi Ming was a triple-science student at National Junior College (NJC) had nothing to do with the accident.
That the fact that the bright 17-year-old had dreams of becoming a medical researcher had nothing to do with the accident.
That the fact that Zhi Ming was an only child had nothing to do with the accident.
That the fact that the teenager was into sports and interested in out-door activities had nothing to do with the accident.
That the fact that the he went on a camping trip to Pulau Ubin with the Outdoor Activities Club in his school had nothing to do with the accident.

What does Mr Wang say?

Mr Wang says: The bus driver was strip-searched for a good cause, in the interest of the general public. Anyway I, my family, my friends don't know the bus driver, don't care to know the bus driver, hope the day won't come that I or my children could be strip-searched, my children get their pap-smear test and live happily and prosperously in the police state.

It's like Germany before the second world war. I am the elite. We are the chosen ones. Therefore it is in our interest not to rock the boat.
Never mind that 10 days ago they rounded up the tainted.
Never mind that 9 days ago they rounded up the unemployed.
Never mind that 8 days ago they rounded up the sick.
Never mind that 7 days ago they rounded up the aged.
Never mind that 6 days ago they rounded up the homeless.
Never mind that 5 days ago they rounded up the lesbians.
Never mind that 4 days ago they rounded up the pimps.
Never mind that 3 days ago they rounded up the free-thinkers.
Never mind that 2 days ago they rounded up the preachers.
Never mind that yesterday they rounded up my friends.
We must not rock the boat.
We will vote for the status-quo come the election. If the bus driver is unhappy to have suffered the humiliation of a strip-search, he can jolly well vote otherwise (maybe he doesn't get to exercise his vote, hehheh), and if he is still not happy he can jolly well get lost etc etc etc.

Right Mr Wang, with the GOOD baked KARMA? Or does he BAKE his KARMA on a just-in-time basis like in a factory churning out products? Or in the way his beloved court churn out 'justice' like an abbattoir killing, skinning and cutting meat? Chop, chop, chop. NEXT case. Please move inside.

No wonder they all die, one after another, of cancer. GOOD KARMA, accumulated, let go all at once.

Sorry for my bad English. I'm like the Colonel talking about zero-defect. When the lights went out and the overhead projector turns on, everyone goes to sleep, and nobody noticed his english slowly but surely decended into hokkien as he rambled on about zero-defect.

Mr Wang is a stupid idiot who thinks he is very smart. (and I am not commenting anonymously) Let me explain. Let's say a Bangla who has never been abroad comes to Singapore. He is thrilled to get a job here. He borrowed big money to pay the agent to get this job. He has dreams of becoming a rich man vis-a-vis the exchange rate when he goes back home in the future. Before this he has heard little about Singapore. Just before he got off the plane, somebody asked him to help carry some lugguage since he had little of his own. This Bangla is now sitting on death row for ferrying drugs. Mr Wang would be more than happy to lynch him, right or not Mr Wang? Saying Singapore has a well-known policy on drug-mules etc etc etc. And in the next breath claim to bake good karma....etc etc etc.