Prosecution will not be influenced by vocal minority, but be more open in communication, says A-G

Attorney-General Lucien Wong said the AGC cannot take for granted the public confidence that it commands as an institution.
Attorney-General Lucien Wong said the AGC cannot take for granted the public confidence that it commands as an institution. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (centre) at the opening of the legal year ceremony.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (centre) at the opening of the legal year ceremony.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - 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 on Monday (Jan 8).

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 sentences options in arriving at sentencing positions submitted to the court.

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

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. However, he added that the AGC can contribute to the public discourse by adopting a more open approach in its communication.

Taking 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 advisers and law drafters 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.