Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) has called on the Government to adopt a two-pronged approach to tackle shortcomings in Singapore's criminal justice system.
One aspect includes reforms to procedures involving composition fines, bail amounts, statement recording, training and the position of crime victims, Ms Lim, a lawyer, told Parliament yesterday.
The other aspect involves more complex issues, including constitutional matters like the question of whether the equal protection of the law under Article 12 of the Constitution is, in practice, being afforded to the poor. For such issues, she suggested setting up a Constitutional Commission headed by a Supreme Court judge.
Ms Lim was speaking on a motion she had moved for debate on issues raised by a court case involving Ms Parti Liyani, who was the maid of former Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong chairman Liew Mun Leong.
The motion was supported by Ms Lim's fellow WP MP He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC).
ON THE PLIGHT OF THE POOR IN ATTAINING JUSTICE
Ms Lim said Ms Parti's case raised the question of whether Singapore's justice system puts everyone on an equal footing.
Poorer and less educated people are more likely to run afoul of the law because of their circumstances, she noted, and they may also have difficulty raising the resources needed to engage legal counsel, put up bail money and pay composition fines promptly.
She said public agencies could consider allowing composition fines to be paid by instalments. This would "prevent cases from snowballing into bigger court fines, defaults and warrants of arrest".
Ms Lim also suggested alternatives to money-bail could be considered, such as requiring the accused person to maintain employment or abide by certain restrictions.
Ms He later said existing legal aid schemes such as the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme and the Ad Hoc Pro Bono Referral Scheme should be enhanced. These schemes are limited in reach, she said, noting that there are a large number of unrepresented persons, and that pro bono legal representation largely relies on the goodwill of lawyers.
Another WP MP, Mr Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC), said migrant workers like Ms Parti face unique challenges like non-payment of salaries and unfamiliarity with Singapore's languages, laws and customs that could deter them from reporting offences against them.
He said support services, including the provision of basic needs such as food and shelter, should be provided to all migrant workers who choose to make complaints against employers and find themselves without a home and a job.
SUGGESTIONS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES
Ms Lim said Ms Parti's case shows problems can arise with interpretation of statements recorded in English. Ms Parti had spoken in Bahasa Indonesia and her statement was recorded with the aid of an interpreter.
Ms Lim added that law enforcement agencies should at least facilitate the recording of statements in Singapore's other official languages of Malay, Chinese and Tamil.
She also said the use of video or audio-recording of statements should be expanded.
ON JUSTICE FOR CRIME VICTIMS
Ms Lim said justice for crime victims should be highlighted in any review of the system even though it was not an issue in Ms Parti's case.
She noted that crime victims have no say in how criminal cases are conducted as it is the public prosecutor who decides which charges to press, if any.
Victims may even suffer "secondary victimisation" by the criminal justice process, Ms Lim said, such as if they are disbelieved by law enforcement or subject to ridicule by lawyers during cross-examination in court.
She further said that more needs to be done to give crime victims confidence that they will be fairly treated by the system.
Ms He suggested that the statutory compensation scheme for miscarriages of justice should be bolstered so that those who were wrongly convicted of crimes are adequately compensated.