The Straits Times says

Vengeance must not overtake the law

The public outcry over the case of a young waitress, who died after daily beatings by her flatmates, bears reassuring testimony to the inflamed capacity for moral revulsion that is the hallmark of every civilised society. The horrific injuries that the victim suffered, and the apparent callousness with which the husband-and-wife team went about inflicting them on her, forced Singaporeans to confront the pathological indifference to even minimum standards of right and wrong that characterise people in their unsuspecting midst. Consequently, many thought that even the lengthy jail sentence imposed on the woman, and the long jail sentence combined with caning handed down to the man, did not go far enough to redress the fatal harm that an innocent young person had suffered.

These sentiments are understandable. However, attempts to pressure judges so that they bend to the popular will pervert the course of justice. So do attempts to tarnish defence lawyers by casting aspersions on their character. The fundamental truth is that a person is presumed innocent till found guilty, no matter how abhorrent the crime with which he or she is charged. The court represents neither the prosecution nor the defence: its only interest lies in upholding justice. For justice to be upheld, lawyers act must defend the accused to the very limits of the law. Whether their defence is accepted depends on the impartial decision of judges, who have to follow the rules of evidence in pronouncing their verdict. Judges cannot rule on the basis of their private emotions. The prosecution, on its part, can bring in only those charges that can be substantiated by evidence that will pass muster in the eyes of those impartial judges. In the case of the accused couple, neither did they have the intent to murder the woman, nor did the injuries which they had inflicted on the woman cause her death. How, then, could they have been charged with murder?

Moving beyond this particular case, it is imperative for citizens to ask what would happen if the tables were turned on them. Would any Singaporean accused of a crime ask for a prosecution that seeks the gravest sentence, lawyers who refuse to take up the case for fear of attracting public opprobrium, and judges who use their power to deliver sentences harsh enough to satisfy public opinion? If the answer is "no", the same impartial logic must be offered to the criminal couple, no matter how terrible their transgression of the law.

Conscientious citizens should bring cases of abuse which they encounter to the notice of the authorities so that corrective action can be taken on time. Monstrous criminals, such as the two in this case, rely on the silence of neighbours. Silence is a form of complicity. An outcry to stop the abuse as it is happening would be more effective.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2018, with the headline 'Vengeance must not overtake the law'. Print Edition | Subscribe