The public should avoid putting pressure on judges in sentencing, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, referring to the outcry over the case of a 26-year-old waitress who died after daily beatings by her flatmates.
In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Shanmugam noted that many Singaporeans, including himself, were outraged by what had happened to Ms Annie Ee.
But he was "troubled" by how some had reacted to the case, he said, citing an online petition seeking harsher sentences for the flatmates and the aspersions cast on the defence lawyers' characters.
Such reactions prompted statements from both the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) and Law Society, which took issue with the tenor and substance of the online criticisms, said Mr Shanmugam.
"As a society, we have to try and avoid putting public pressure on judges to impose harsh/lenient sentences. We have a well-functioning court system. We must have the confidence that our judges will do the right thing."
He added: "The sentence that a defendant gets, in any particular case, must not depend on how the public react during the case."
On Dec 1, Tan Hui Zhen, 33, was sentenced to 16½ years' jail, and her husband Pua Hak Chuan, 38, was given 14 years' jail and 14 strokes of the cane. They had pleaded guilty to various charges for the extensive torture over eight months of Ms Ee, who had intellectual disabilities.
The daily beatings left Ms Ee with 12 fractured ribs and seven fractured vertebrae, a ruptured stomach and a body crowded with blisters and bruises. Tan and Pua were initially charged with murder.
A spokesman for the AGC said on Monday that the offences of murder and culpable homicide cannot be proven against the couple as they "did not intend to cause Annie's death, and the injuries they inflicted would not ordinarily cause death".
Evidence given by the forensic pathologist showed Ms Ee's death was caused by acute fat embolism. As a result of the blunt force trauma to her buttocks, fatty tissue entered her bloodstream and travelled to her lungs, creating a blockage of the blood vessels, leading to progressive cardiac and respiratory failure.
In his post, Mr Shanmugam also responded to criticism of the couple's defence lawyer, Mr Josephus Tan from Invictus Law Corporation, who defended them pro bono.
"A lawyer has the duty to put forward the strongest possible arguments, on behalf of his client, in court. It will be a sad day for Singapore if lawyers are going to be hounded in public, for standing up in court to argue on behalf of their clients," he said.
Likewise, the Law Society, in a letter published in The Straits Times on Tuesday, said every accused person deserves due process, even during sentencing after they have pleaded guilty, calling it a "bedrock of our Singapore criminal justice system".
Mr Shanmugam also appealed to the public to remember that "someone known to anyone of us could be charged for any offence at any point in time".
"Rule of law means that the person is entitled to have his lawyer put forward the strongest possible arguments in his favour. And he is entitled to have a judge decide his guilt/innocence and sentence, without the public or anyone else influencing the outcome," he said.
He concluded: "We ought to be a civilised society, observing the rule of law, while expressing our unhappiness and moral outrage when seeing such conduct as in this case."