Letter by a reader

This is a letter I (Lionel) sent to the Editor, Straits Times Forums on the 17th of June 2012. But for reasons best known to the Editor, it was not published. Hence, I am reproducing the letter to share with your readers:

Dear Editor,

As the saying goes “A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth,” may apply to the report in today’s Sunday Times (June 17, 2012) captioned; “Teach young about S’pore Constitution. Says law prof.” I am not a holder of a ‘LLB” (Legum Baccalaureus or Bachelor of Law) and the only ‘legal laureate’ that I hold is for topping my class in law the law examination when I graduated from the then Police Training School (now designated as the Home Team Academy) in July 1962. Thereafter, I always excelled in all Police law courses, which I attended during my service in the Singapore Police Force. Since my interest in law is unquenchable, I voraciously read legal articles to keep myself abreast with the law (Please see newspaper clipping from the “Free Press,” now known as The New Paper, attached).

It is not my intention to take issue with WP Chairman, Sylvia Lim’s comments, and I quote: “Ms Lim, a former law lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic, highlighted some weaknesses in Singapore’s constitutional and criminal law that she felt could be addressed. For example, people arrested were not told their rights at the point of their arrest – called a ‘Miranda warning’ – and the law did not set a time limit after which a person being investigated for a crime was allowed to see a lawyer.” However, I wish to correct these inaccuracies in her comments alleging that there are some weaknesses in Singapore’s constitutional and criminal law, for example, people arrested were not told their rights at the point of their arrest – called a ‘Miranda warning – and the law did not set a time limit after which a person being investigated for a crime was allowed to see a lawyer.

I am surprised that Ms Lim is confusing the issue by citing the ‘Miranda warning,’ which for the ‘legal uninitiated,’ is an American constitutional obligation. I am sure that Ms Lim a lawyer, a former police officer and previously a law lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic is au fait with Article 9(3) of Singapore’s Constitution, which reads thus: “Where a person is arrested, he shall be informed as soon as may be of the grounds of his arrest and shall be allowed to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice.

The rights of an accused person is further safeguarded when making his cautioned statement under Section 23 of the Criminal Procedure Cod 2010. It is incumbent upon the police investigation officer (IO) to inform the accused person that he may be prosecuted for an offense, and the charge for which he is charged with must be served on him and a notice (or caution) in writing read to him, and which is as follows: “You have been charged with [or informed that you may be prosecuted for – set out the charge). “Do you want to say anything about the charge that was just read to you? If you keep quiet now about any fact or matter in your defense and you reveal this fact or matter in your defense only at your trial, the judge may be less likely to believe you. This may have a bad effect on your case in court. Therefore it may be better for you to mention such fact or matter now. If you wish to do so, what you say will be written down, read back to you for any mistakes to be corrected and then signed by you.”

Singapore’s justice system adheres strictly with Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that declares; ‘Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to the law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense’. A similar declaration is also echoed in the European Convention of Human Rights.

In Singapore, every accused person has a right to engage a lawyer of his choice within a reasonable time frame, and taking into consideration the paramount interests of public safety, the prevention of the disappearance of evidence, absconding of accomplices and intimidation of prosecution witnesses. In this context, reasonable time is subjective and this has been explicitly explained in the Federal Court case of Ooi Ah Phua -v- Officer-in-charge Criminal Investigation, Kedah/Perlis (1975) 2 MLJ 198. In his judgement, the late Lord President Tun Mohamed Suffian Hashim ruled thus: “With respect, I agree that the right of an arrested person to consult his lawyer begins from the moment of arrest, but I am of the opinion that that right cannot be exercised immediately after arrest. A balance must be struck between the right of the arrested person to consult his lawyer on the one hand and on the other hand the duty of the police to protect the public from wrongdoers by apprehending them and collecting whatever evidence exists against them.”

With the new amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) 2010, the constitutional right of an accused person to counsel is now cast in stone with the input from the Singapore Law Society, the Association of Criminal Lawyers Singapore, faculty members from the National University of Singapore and the Singapore Management University, as well as other legal practitioners.

Last but not least, every accused person can lodge an appeal to the Court of Appeal if he believes that he has been deprived of natural justice or that he was not given the right to be heard in its full context. Singapore can boast of having the best legal brains sitting on the bench in the Court of Appeal, and that our judiciary is independent and not controlled by the Executive.

Warmest regards

Lionel De Souza

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