Annie Ee’s Case Has A Lasting Effect On Our Legal System And Public Opinion
Though Singaporeans felt her abusers deserved harsher penalties for their crime, Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) has clarified that public opinion should not affect their judgement to uphold the Rule of Law.
Ms Ee’s tragic death, however, will leave an indelible mark on AGC and our legal system’s relationship with the public. Especially since AGC wishes to maintain public trust in their ability to make fair sentencing decisions.
So will public opinion have more influence on crime and the ensuing sentence?
Let’s invite our Attorney-General Lucien Wong to the stand, to dish out sound legal advice, as we usher in the legal new year.
Focus on sentencing options rather than past cases
In a measured speech to 500 legal professionals on Monday (Jan 8), Mr Wong set the record straight by advising members of the legal fraternity to “move towards placing more weight on sentencing principles than precedents”.
Let’s run this through our cheem translator.
Non-cheem version: Judges will now sentence criminals on the range of punishments available, rather than judgements from past cases.
This means that criminal penalties will first be meted out for the crime’s “level of culpability and harm”, before being adjusted for “aggravating and mitigating factors”.
Mr Wong announced that AGC would “work towards implementing this” new direction throughout the course of this year.
Most notably, he acknowledged that AGC has heard the frustrations of Singaporeans, especially when the horrifying abuse of Annie Ee came to light, saying,
I understand the public disquiet and frustration when egregious conduct is not, to the public’s mind, adequately punished.
Maintain public trust in an era of ‘fake news’
Currently, the prosecution and defence team will base their sentencing arguments on they way judges have ruled on past cases.
However, AGC has plans for new sentencing guidelines be set out for certain offences, to ensure that the full range of penalties may be utilised.
AGC’s updated stance hopes to address corcerned members of the public who were felt that the 14-16.5-year jail terms, and 14 strokes of the cane collectively meted for Annie Ee’s abusers, were too lenient.
Complex nature of judgment calls
Annie Ee’s tragic death has definitely affected the way AGC views public opinion on crime and punishment. But this does not mean public opinion will ever sway the court’s judgment.
Mr Wong stressed that they would not take “short-term views, or allow a vocal minority to influence our actions”.
In fact, Minister for Law K Shanmugam has already addressed why we cannot allow this to happen for a fair trial to occur, in his impassioned Facebook post last December.
AGC hopes that by sharing their “institutional philosophy with a wider audience”, everyone will eventually agree with “every decision that we (they) make”.
This is despite the fact that “decisions taken in the wider public interest” are not always popularly received.
Annie Ee’s lasting legacy on our justice system
The case of Annie Ee is a tragic reminder that innocent victims often pay the price for the crimes of bad people in this world.
A fair and just legal system, however, has to balance ensuring justice for the victim, as well as showing mercy to offenders.
As members of the general public, our role is to play our part as well.
After all, for our legal system to work, we have to afford it due respect as a society — by considering both sides of the debate, before we raise our virtual pitchforks.
Most of all, by leaving the tough judgement calls to the professionals.
That’s how we will truly uphold Annie Ee’s lasting legacy on our justice system.