Law Minister K Shanmugam Says Judgement For Annie Ee’s Tormentors Should Not Be Influenced By Public Opinion
Law Minister K Shanmugam has joined the debate about the sentencing of Annie Ee’s tormentors.
Turns out, he’s been keeping mum about his opinion for a perfectly logical reason — he did not wish to influence the judgement as it would be unfair to the defendants.
Though most Singaporeans still feel outraged that Ms Ee was subject to unnecessary torture, Mr Shanmugam mused that there should be a clear distinction between personal morality, public opinion and administration of legal justice.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday (20 Dec), Mr Shanmugam put forth an impassioned plea on the importance of observing the Rule of Law in our justice system.
We summarise his key points below, as he proves why he’s truly the guru of all things law in Singapore.
1. Public opinion should not hold sway over the court’s judgement
Although netizens are entitled to express their moral outrage online, they should not aim to influence the court’s sentencing. Especially when it comes to requesting that the court mete out stiffer punishments.
According to him, no matter the crime committed, everyone deserves the right to a fair trial under the Rule of Law in Singapore’s legal system.
In Ms Ee’s case, however, an online petition started by civilians seeking harsher punishments, as well as personal attacks on the characters of defence lawyers, indubitably influenced public opinion on the case.
This resulted in an extremely disturbing ‘mob mentality’ by Singaporeans who were personally affected by the case, placing undue pressure on the parties involved in the sentencing.
2. Upholding the Rule of Law in Singapore for the accused
That being said, the Law Minister did not discount the fact that the abuse Ms Ee suffered at the hands of her tormentors was nothing short of horrific.
However, he highlighted the importance of Singaporeans respecting the Rule of Law, especially in cases which capture the public’s attention.
Mr Shanmugam explains that the Rule of Law means,
[A] person is entitled to have his lawyer put forward the strongest possible arguments in his favour.
As per the Rule of Law, the defendant is also deserving of a fair chance for the judge to decide his guilt or innocence and sentence, without the public or anyone else influencing the outcome.
Mr Shanmugam states that this is different from a point he has made elsewhere, regarding certain penalties which should take into account how the public views the gravity of the offences.
Perhaps he’s referring to cases with an inherent nature that involves public opinion. Taking for example, cases involving offensive or racially charged comments which may disturb public peace.
3. Well-functioning court system in place to ensure justice is served
As Singapore has a “well-functioning court system”, Mr Shanmugam reiterates that we must have the confidence that our judges will do the right thing. He elaborates that we should trust our judges to mete out fair and just punishments for offenders.
If sentencing is unfair, an appeal can be sought and/or subsequently overturned. However, if public pressure continues to influence the sentences meted out by judges, our legal system will be undermined and thus become ineffective.
In Ms Ee’s case, public backlash to the perceived lenient sentence was so widespread, that the Law Society and Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) had to step in.
They both issued official statements and explanations as to why Annie Ee’s tormentors did not deserve the death penalty under Singapore’s legal system.
4. Do not place blame on defence lawyers who sometimes work for free
The defence lawyer for Ms Ee’s case, Mr Josephus Tan, had to deal with harsh online criticism for defending his clients.
Mr Shanmugam reminds Singaporeans that defence lawyers are duty-bound to do their best for clients. By adding public condemnation to the mix, we’re not making their jobs any easier, nor adding any value to the court proceedings.
In addition, this is not the first time defence lawyers have been criticised for taking controversial cases, even though they do it pro bono – for free.
Mr Josephus Tan is also the lawyer who defended the man accused of being the Yishun cat killer. And guess what? He did it for free too.
5. You’ll probably want a fair trial in court if you’re charged too
Mr Shanmugam ends his post by reminding Singaporeans that anyone of us could be charged for an offence in the future.
To be a truly civilised society, it’s important to give due respect the Rule of Law. Just in case we’re put in a similar position in the future, and would like to have a fair chance at a proper defence as well.
In other words, it’s probably best to respect the rights of the accused, even as we express our moral outrage online.
The Case of Annie Ee
Housewife Tan Hui Zhen and her husband Pua Hak Chuan, both pleaded guilty to the brutal abuse of 26-year-old Annie Ee for over eight months.
Ms Ee was left with a brutal assortment of fractures, bruises and blisters due to daily beatings, but her eventual cause of death was ruled to be an ‘acute fat embolism‘.
The court ruled that as Ms Tan and Mr Pua did not intend to cause Annie’s death, coupled with the fact that the injuries inflicted would not normally cause death, it could not be proved that both of them committed murder.
They were sentenced to 16½ years’ jail and 14 years’ jail and 14 strokes of the cane respectively.
Justice is best served by the professionals
In the case of Annie Ee, it’s admittedly hard for most Singaporeans to distinguish between the gravity of this crime in accordance with our laws, from the intentional cruelty inflicted upon her.
But although we may feel strongly for the victim, we should also trust that she has gotten the justice she deserves based on our legal system.
Now that the verdict has been delivered, it is now time for the discussion of why justice is best served by the professionals.
Featured image from Mr Shanmugam’s Facebook page.