06 January 2006

Law Society & The Death Sentence

Another classic blooper from the Straits Times. The article is reproduced below in full, so you can see for yourself.

ST Jan 6, 2006
Law Society plans to study death penalty

THE death penalty, which has been on the radar screen of the Law Society for some years now, may well come under greater study in the new year with emerging views made known.

'Times do change and laws may need to change too,' said Law Society president Philip Jeyaretnam, who noted 'the profession has a special interest and discipline in this area'.

In his New Year message in the latest issue of the Law Gazette published yesterday, Mr Jeyaretnam also revealed that the society received several letters from bar associations in Australia last November.

These groups wanted the Law Society to take up the case of Nguyen Tuong Van but they were all turned down, 'politely to be sure'.

Convicted Australian drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van was hanged on Dec 2 despite several pleas to stop the execution.

The Australian lawyers had sought the Law Society's help to sway the Cabinet in its decision on Nguyen's clemency petition and the appeals of his family and friends.

Mr Jeyaretnam said the society's council deliberated carefully on the pleas of their Australian counterparts, felt considerable sympathy and saw 'how strongly emotions were running'.

'But we did not accept the suggestion that the death penalty...is against international law, nor did we feel that we had a role to play in lobbying for clemency,' he said.

However, the council agreed the issue of sentencing policy should be revisited periodically, he added.
The title of the ST article tells us: "Law Society plans to study death penalty". Really? Then please tell Mr Wang:

When did the Law Society draw up its plan to study the death penalty? How many lawyers will be involved in this study? What kind of professional background do they have? How will they study the death penalty - by collecting statistics? Conducting surveys? Legal research? What's the target deadline for completing the study? Does the Law Society plan to publicly release the findings of the study? Or send them straight to the Home Affairs Ministry?

You will find no answers in the ST article to any of these questions.

Because if you read the ST article carefully, Philip Jeyaretnam never actually said that the Law Society "plans to study the death penalty". He merely said that "times do change and laws may need to change too".

That is a very general statement. Mr Wang could spout the exact same line and sound just as clever, whether he was talking about the death sentence or corporate governance or environmental pollution or the law of trade marks. It does not mean that Mr Wang is actually planning to conduct a study of anything.

In fact, when Australian bar associations specifically called upon the Law Society to do something in the recent Nguyen Tuong Van case, the requests were "all turned down". The Law Society "did not accept the suggestion that the death penalty...is against international law" and it felt that it had no "role to play in lobbying for clemency".

So here we have it - another misleading title from the Straits Times. Reminds me of this.


Mr Jherek said...

While the ST article has a misleading headline compared to the rest of the article. Mr Jeyaretnam did say in his Christmas message "So in 2006 the question of the death penalty may well be something that the profession should study." www.lawsociety.org.sg Note the word "may", if there is any study, then i'll go he.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

After reading your comment, I decided to read the full text of Jeyaretnam's article on the Law Society. And after reading the full text of his article, I am even more appalled by the ST article.

This wasn't even a serious article by Philip Jeyaretnam on the capital punishment issues. It was more like a "Happy New Year" message to Law Society members. That's why Philip talked about New Year's resolutions; Tennyson's poetry; and his family's Xmas holiday in Finland and the search for Santa Claus. In the middle of all these festive greetings, he makes a few passing sort of comments about Nguyen's case and capital punishment, and the ST actually dares to report that "the Law Society plans to study the death penalty"!?

Where's the plan, I would like to know. Where is the plan?

Mr Jherek said...

They wont review it because that would be challenging the Singapore Government set policy and we can't do that can we.

darrnot said...

Perhaps there is more to it( ST's misleading headline) than meets the eye. Why will the ST revisit the issue of the death penalty, albeit briefly?

Maybe ST's editors feel a need to 'push' Law Society to conduct a study of the death penalty.

Maybe the ruling government hopes that an independant Law Society study will support its stand for the death penalty.

Just maybe.

Anonymous said...

As a layman, I simply catch-no-ball by reading the article. It's true that the article's title is totally different from the article itself.

Ah! The Paradox!

hugewhaleshark said...

An ex-journalist boss suggested a long time ago to me that in such instances, the person who wrote the article may not have been the person who wrote the headline (something like they have a guy specialising just in headlines). So the headline guy either got sloppy or deliberately did it to catch your eye. Donno how far that is true.

Elia Diodati said...

Ah, the great irony of oversimplification, and possibly reading too much into the dumbing-down of issues for the lowest common denominator.

By the way, any comments on Today's article on double jeopardy?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


I'm going to pass on this one about double jeopardy because it gets quite technical and frankly, once you get into the details I'm quite sure I would bore everyone.

jeffyen said...

I think the punchline is not the title; it's the whole article, and why it's published.

When there's smoke without fire, there has to be a reason behind the smoke. Sometimes the smoke sees a very little fire, and will try to milk it as much as possible. Reminds me of the old Chinese saying, borrow smoke to announce a non-existence fire. But what's the motive? That's the more interesting question. ;)

Mr Jherek said...

Mr Wang may wish to look at this article from ChannelNewsAsia today regarding this.