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A-G: Prosecution will not be swayed by vocal minority

Straits Times
09 Jan 2018
Selina Lum

Prosecutors will hold fast to rule of law to do what is fair and right, but AGC will make the effort to explain its decisions

The prosecution will not take short-term views or allow a vocal minority to influence its actions, but will instead hold fast to the rule of law to do what is fair and right, Attorney-General Lucien Wong said yesterday.

What the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) will do to maintain the public's trust is to make the effort to explain its decisions as public prosecutor in the criminal charges it brings against offenders and the sentences it seeks, Mr Wong said at a ceremony to mark the start of the legal year.

Prosecutors will also focus more on sentencing principles and consider the range of sentence options in arriving at sentencing positions submitted to the court.

In his maiden speech as Attorney-General, Mr Wong referred to the case of Ms Annie Ee, whose tragic death at the hands of two flatmates sparked intense public outrage as well as an online petition calling for harsher punishment.

He said the AGC cannot take for granted the public confidence that it commands as an institution. Misinformation can now be propagated and proliferated easily, shifting the contest from who makes the most sense to who has the loudest voice, he noted.

"We do not intend to join the shouting game," he said. But he added that the AGC can contribute to the public discourse by being more open in its communication.

In the Annie Ee case, he noted that the AGC recently explained why it did not pursue murder charges against married couple Pua Hak Chuan and Tan Hui Zhen, who were responsible for her death.

"We are making the effort to share our institutional philosophy with a wider audience not because we hope everyone will agree with every decision that we make. Decisions that are taken in the wider public interest are not necessarily synonymous with decisions that are popularly received."

Mr Wong said the AGC wants the public to better understand the complex nature of the judgment call that prosecutors have to make each day and the broader policy imperatives behind their decisions.

On the issue of sentencing positions, he added: "I understand the public disquiet and frustration when egregious conduct is not, to the public's mind, adequately punished."

He said AGC will move towards placing more weight on sentencing principles, rather than precedents, when coming to a position on the sentence it seeks in court.

Prosecutors will focus on the level of the offender's culpability and harm caused, and consider the range of sentencing options provided for under the law, to ensure sentencing parity and proportionality, he said.

"The public should rest assured that we will continue to refine our approach towards criminal justice, with the view to ensuring that no misconduct goes unpunished, that all misconduct is justly punished, and that all persons are equally treated before the law."

Mr Wong also spoke about the AGC's second role as the Government's chief legal adviser and the need to maintain its clients' trust in its abilities.

He envisaged that the Government's requests will become more complex, as the geopolitical order shifts and technology disrupts industries and the way of life. Many of the issues encountered by the AGC as legal adviser and law drafter today are novel, he noted.

"To ensure that we can continue to provide sound advice to the Government and draft effective legislation in this complex operating environment, we need to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of the agencies, to truly understand their perspectives, objectives and concerns," he said.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.