Prosecution will uphold rule of law even if it is unpopular: A-G

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon arriving at the Supreme Court auditorium for the opening ceremony of the new legal year yesterday.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon arriving at the Supreme Court auditorium for the opening ceremony of the new legal year yesterday.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

AGC will explain more clearly basis behind some decisions to raise public understanding

The prosecution is duty-bound to consider all relevant evidence and mitigating factors in cases of sexual misconduct on campus, Attorney-General Lucien Wong said yesterday, while acknowledging the need to be tough on such offences.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the opening of the new legal year, he addressed the challenge to maintain public trust and confidence in the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) as a fair and independent institution devoted to the rule of law.

He noted that there was recent debate over the issue of sexual misconduct on university campuses.

"I can understand how the disparity in outcomes for such cases may touch a raw nerve if people feel we had given preferential treatment to a particular offender, or that we had simply been too lenient. The simple reality is that no two cases are exactly alike," he said.

"While I acknowledge the importance of being tough on such offences, my prosecutors and I are also duty-bound to consider all relevant evidence and mitigating factors, such as whether the offender came clean on his own initiative; or whether the offence arose from a mental condition that can be treated."

The issue was brought to the fore when undergraduate Monica Baey said on social media that the perpetrator who filmed her while she was in the shower at a National University of Singapore hostel had got off lightly. Mr Nicholas Lim, who was 23 at the time, was given a 12-month conditional warning by the police. He had filmed Ms Baey in November 2018.

In his speech, Mr Wong said public opinion can be a "common sense check" on whether a prosecutorial decision should be relooked.

Public opinion is also a useful indicator of the effect of certain types of offences, which in turn affects the need for general deterrence, he added, citing how public disquiet over accidents caused by errant cyclists and personal mobility device users had shown a greater need to deter careless or reckless riding.

"At the same time, let me make it clear that our prosecutorial decisions will not be made on the basis of public opinion, because if a decision is grounded on facts, law and precedent, the fact that it is unpopular does not make it any less right," he said.

 
 

"We will not take action against an accused person if the legal elements of an offence are not made out, even if he or she had done something to provoke a strong reaction. Neither will we pursue a sentence which is disproportionate to the offence simply for the sake of quelling public outrage," he said.

Moving forward, he said, the AGC will, in appropriate cases, explain more clearly the basis behind some of its decisions, helping the public to understand that sometimes, the rule of law requires it to act contrary to the wishes of the majority.

Mr Wong also anticipated more contested criminal cases arising from new laws, as accused persons seek to clarify the boundaries of the law. He added that the AGC is also readying itself to deal with appeals under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2020, with the headline 'Prosecution will uphold rule of law even if it is unpopular: A-G'. Print Edition | Subscribe