Last week whizzed past. It was eventful, activity-filled and laced with emotions of all sorts. This is just a short piece to note down and, in way, create a digital engraving of pivotal moments.
The week started on the 7th of December with The Online Citizen’s publication of “The Right to Legal Representation in Death Penalty Cases: A Resolve Not to be Stifled” which was my direct response to the judgment in Prabagaran a/l Srivijayan (and 4 others) v PP  SGCA 67 which was decided the week before. In it, I wrote about the court’s suggestion that “when an application is made after the appeal process has been completed, we expect counsel for the applicant to swear or affirm an affidavit setting out the reasons why the points or matters raised in the application could not have been raised earlier in the appeal proper”. This, I argued would stifle lawyers from accepting last minute instructions from death row inmates or their families and from advancing issues of public importance or matters relating to the particular legal issues in their cases. Should this go ahead, the move would be unprecedented and one which would be difficult to fathom in any legal circles.
The article was picked up by other publications such as The Singapore Daily and The Emeritus. What was interesting however, was the timely publication (coincidentally on the same day) in mainstream media about why “11th-hour court appeals now need to be explained” followed by another article exactly two days later on the 9th entitled “Stopping abuse of court process” (as if to drive home the point).
Several lawyers and members on the public spoke about the issue on social media and on the 10th The Independent Singapore published a piece quoting a comment from Eugene Thuraisingam in “Something’s not right when courts call defending poor, weak and marginalised an abuse of process in capital case.”
No one supports abuse of court processes with unmeritorious and frivolous cases. However, as I already stated in my article, “there is nothing unmeritorious nor frivolous about doing one’s professional best to save a condemned man facing death penalty, even when the margin of success is non-existent. To many, Yong Vui Kong’s case was seen as a hopeless case, but by striving, he is alive today. The judiciary and establishment must not forget that unlike in other commonwealth countries, which have alternative avenues of addressing miscarriage of justices through institutions such as National or Regional Human Rights Commissions, Parliamentary Ombudsman and other bodies, we have none in Singapore except for the Courts.
The conversations which took place, online (and privately offline) were particularly important, considering Saturday, 10th December marked Human Rights Day around the world and the United Nations shared this video to mark the day with the following reminder:
To mark the occasion in Singapore, several events took place. On the morning of the 9th, I attended a conference on “Freedom of Religion or Belief in Singapore and ASEAN organised by European Union Delegation to Singapore. In the evening, I attended another event organised by the Law Faculty at NUS.
Invited to speak at the event was Roger Hood, Professor Emeritus of Criminology and Research Associate at Oxford University’s Centre for Criminology and Professor Tan Ern Ser, NUS Sociology Department.
It transpired that despite an earlier survey about Singaporean’s attitude towards, death penalty, where it was reported that “8 in 10 Singaporeans Support the Death Penalty,” Singaporean attitude towards mandatory death penalty is less clear cut. A very insightful piece written by Kirsten Han is available here.
A key local activity held on the 10th was a Speaker’s Corner event organised by Maruah titled “The Sorry State of Human Rights in Singapore” where I was invited as a speaker.
My short speech was essentially a protest note expressing disappointment on the judiciary’s comments equating last ditch attempts in death penalty cases as abuse of court processes. I urged the legal community and the Law Society of Singapore to fulfil its mission statement to speak up for the interests of its members and society at large in the advancement of rule of law. Next, I touched on the latest survey that shows that most Singaporeans do not support the mandatory death sentence and what we must do to continue to educate even more, so that hopefully one day, the collective voice grows loud and clear enough to change the state’s die hard stance on the matter.
Later that same day in the evening, I had organised a small private gathering for friends and colleagues to attend an Art Installation event at the 2nd office of Eugene Thuraisingam LLP’s office in People’s Park Centre where my own desk is based.
I had waited 5 years for this day to arrive and for me to finally own a very symbolic and important piece of art by Seelan Palay titled ‘Dialectical Postmortem Blues’. It documents the ordeals that Tang Lay Lee, a lawyer and church worker went through when she was detained during Operation Spectrum in May 1987. In addressing us about his piece, Seelan said “I read about what Tang Lay Lee went through and I wondered how it must have felt. And so, I wrote “You are a Marxist” in red ink which would be then followed by “No, I am a Catholic,” in blue ink. And after each exchange, I would slap myself as hard as I could before proceeding to repeat the process. By the time I finished the piece, I had a burning sensation in my cheeks.”
The event was covered by The Online Citizen as “Dialectical Postmortem Blues: “Marxist or Catholic?”
A brilliant week!