Woffles Wu and the law

A quick glance at what the uproar over the plastic surgeon's sentence was all about.


What he did:

The plastic surgeon was caught speeding on two occasions, once in 2005 and again in 2006. For both those offences, he asked an elderly employee, Mr Kuan Yit Wah to take the fall for him.

Dr Wu was charged with abetting his employee to give false information to the police the speeding offences. There was no evidence that Dr Wu paid Mr Kuan to take the blame.

Mr Kuan, who is 82 years old, was given a stern warning. Dr. Wu was fined the maximum $1,000, under the Road Traffic Act.

The uproar:

Many people questioned the sentencing. Some considered the sentence too light with even MP Hri Kumar Nair penning a blog about it.

Others were quick to speculate that the light sentence was a result of the law giving preferential treatment to the rich like Dr Wu.

The explanation:

Both the Attorney-General’s Chambers and Law Minister K. Shanmugam explained that the sentenced meted out to Dr Wu was in line with similar previous offences. The Law Minister cited six similar cases to make his point when challenged on it by Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim in Parliament.

Dr Wu’s $1000 fine was the maximum fine allowed under Section 81(2) of the Road Traffic Act. While Section 104A of the Penal Code does carry a stiff sentence for obstructing the course of justice, Dr Wu could not have been charged under that section because it had been introduced only during the revision of the Penal Code in 2008.

The laws:

Section 81(2) of the Road Traffic Act:

Where the driver of a motor vehicle is alleged or is suspected to be guilty of an offence under this Act, any other person who was or should have been in charge of the motor vehicle shall, if required by a police officer or an employee of the Authority, give any information which it is in his power to give, and which may lead to the identification of the driver, and if, within 7 days of the date on which the information was required from him, he fails to do so, he shall be guilty of an offence.

(7)  Any person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (1), (2) or (3) shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both.

Section 204A of the Penal Code (Introduced in 2008):

Whoever intentionally obstructs, prevents, perverts or defeats the course of justice shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7 years, or with fine, or with both.

What's next:

Mr Shanmugam and Ms Lim sparred in the House during a recent August sitting over whether the Attorney-General Chambers' showed favouritism. Ms Lim declined to say if she found the six cases comparable, while Mr Shanmugam was accused of trying to intimidate her, by WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang. This became a side issue that observers expect both sides to no doubt revisit during future skirmishes.

The debate is settled. But chances are parties critical of the system will try to re-open the scab later.