Not feasible to offer universal compensation to wrongly accused

I read with reservation Mr Rajasegaran Ramasamy's letter ("Strengthen and balance judicial system"; Sept 23), which advocated universal compensation for innocent victims of wrongful prosecution.

Compensation raises difficult and complex issues for the state and prosecutors, which may retard the smooth flow of justice.

The issue of compensation would add a further layer of checks, caution and imposition on the prosecutors if the case does not succeed, which goes against the protection of public interests.

The prospect of compensation could also deter relevant parties from prosecuting even when the case against the defendant meets prosecution guidelines.

A right to compensation for those acquitted at trial could also complicate already difficult decisions on whether or not to grant bail.

There are also practical problems in predicting the extent of the state's liability, and people may raise questions as to why compensation is offered to some parties and not others.

Not all who are acquitted are truly innocent and they may have got away on a technicality, which underscores the point that compensation should not be paid automatically as a matter of principle.

If Singapore adopts universal compensation, it would add a further burden on the accused to prove their innocence.

While there is a moral basis for compensating the innocent, there is no practical method for separating the truly innocent from those found not guilty.

There are already compensation orders under the Criminal Procedure Code, whereby trial judges exercise their powers only in appropriate cases.

Also, what about appeal cases? Should compensation be available only to the demonstrably innocent and, if so, what standard of proof is required and who determines eligibility and the quantum paid out if compensation is universal?

The question of universal compensation should not even arise if the accused has skilled and committed legal representatives such that the possibility of a wrongful conviction is minimised.

Francis Cheng