Friday, July 20, 2012

What's wrong with you Mr Wong?

During the time that I was practising (and even thereafter), I had not come across any instance where a Law Society representive turned up in a court to raise the issue of the competency of a lawyer to carry on with the proceedings.  As lawyers, we are hung up (more than anything else) on procedural rules.  Being mindful of procedure is second nature to lawyers.  It was, therefore, surprising to find out that Mr Wong Siew Hong (the head of the sub-committee for Member Care in the Law Society), turned up in court with a letter written by a medical professional.  (The propriety of that disclosure by the medical professional is a separate issue and ought to be properly examined by the Singapore Medical Council.  But, there might be justification based on a pre-existing direction for M Ravi to be examined by a medical professional in relation to his condition.)

What shocked me the most was the fact that whilst Mr Wong might be characterised as having had "good intentions" (as stated by the Law Society), it is unpardonable that after being rebuffed by Justice Pillai in the morning, he still proceeded to adopt the same method of interfering with proceedings in two other matters involving M Ravi's firm.  It does not help that the 3 cases that he attempted to intervene in were political cases.  Public perception of the Law Society is bound to get seriously damaged by these actions of Wong. 

The three attempted interventions (based on reports that have surfaced so far):

a)  The Hougang by-election case
b)  The SDP illegal assembly case
c)   The IMF loan judicial review case

Of course, it might have in all probability been a mere coincidence that on the day that Wong received information of M Ravi's condition, there were legal proceedings with political overtones going on.  But, the problem is that as a matter of public perception, Wong's real intention doesn't matter.  He should have addressed his mind to this and not acted hastily.  Fine.  He may have lapsed somewhat when he turned up before Justice Pillai.  He might have sincerely felt that he was duty bound to alert the court of Ravi's condition so as to protect the interest of the litigant.  But, after Justice Pillai had rightly pointed out that Ravi has a valid practising certificate and the Court would not enquire beyond that, Wong should have gotten back to the LS Council to take the proper procedural steps.  Instead, Wong attempted (reportedly) on two further occasions to intervene in Ravi's court proceedings. 

I am glad that the President of the Law Society has come forward to clarify that Wong acted on his own volition.  At this stage I do not expect the Law Society to publicly chastise Wong.  But, after thoroughly investigating this fiasco, the Law Society must in some way take Wong to task.  The legal profession does not look very good when a Law Society representative goes on a frolic of his own to intervene in court proceedings without making any formal application.  The fact that Wong did not cease in his intervention attempt despite a rebuff from Justice Pillai is unacceptable whichever way one might try to justify it as a case of  'good intentions'. 

The Law Society itself got its facts wrong initially (which was itself somewhat comedic).  But, I am willing to cut the Society some slack on that.  But, some action is needed to drive home the point that Wong's repeated attempts at intervention in Ravi's proceedings is not the kind of conduct that the Law Society is willing to condone.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Treating a person to induce him to attend an election rally is an offence

I know that for some time now, during election season, we have heard stories about residents being transported to PAP rallies and being given food and drinks.  There was even one youtube video (originating from the 2011 general elections) that appears to contain a "testimony" by a rally goer that she was asked to come to the rally and that food would be given to those that came. 

When the Hougang by-election campaign was going on, I blogged about whether something similar had taken place at the rallies.  Let me be clear on this.  My question is meant for both the PAP and the WP.

In my conversations with friends, and arising out of some comments that I have read online, it appears that many people consider 'treating' rally goers or voters as being underhanded and sometimes comically desperate.  Many people appear not to be aware of the fact that treating a person by providing food or drinks for the purpose of influencing that person's vote or inducing him to attend a rally is in fact an offence under s.58 of the Parliamentary Elections Act:

58. —(1) A person shall be guilty of treating if he corruptly, by himself or by any other person, either before, during or after an election, directly or indirectly gives or provides, or pays wholly or in part the expense of giving, any meat, drink, refreshment, cigarette, entertainment or other provision or thing or any money or ticket or other means or device to enable the procuring of any such meat, drink, refreshment, cigarette, entertainment or other provision or thing, to or for any person —

(a) for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or any other person to vote or refrain from voting;

(b) for the purpose of inducing that person to attend or remain at any election meeting;

(c) on account of any such person or any other person having voted or refrained from voting or being about to vote or refrain from voting at the election; or

(d) on account of any such person having attended an election meeting.

As required under the law, Desmond Choo and Png Eng Huat have filed their respective Returns on election expenses.  On 2nd July 2012, the Returning Officer issued a notice under s.75 of the Parlimentary Elections Act stating that the Returns are available for inspection.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't have been too concerned or curious about the expenses.  But, my eyebrows were raised when I read a ChannelNewsAsia article:

There's a line in there that states: "Mr Choo said the main expenses incurred were for the rallies and meals."

Meals?  I hope that those were meals eaten by Mr Choo and his party workers that worked on the by-election campaign.  If these meal expenses went towards feeding rally goers, s.58 of the Parliamentary Elections Act could be triggered.  The Returns are available for inspection at the  Elections department for a 6 month period.  I might just pop down to take a look at the expenses if I can get away from work commitments.  (or some other blogger/reporter from TOC or TRE might do it. :-)  It would be interesting to see what sum of money was involved in relation to meals.  Similarly, it would be interesting to see if Png Eng Huat had expended such sums. 

Incidentally, for those that might be crying foul instantly and calling for the prosecution of Desmond Choo, take note of the fact that there is sufficient wriggle room in s.58 to argue that no offence was committed.  These phrases could afford some room for the benefit of doubt to be given:  "for the purpose of corruptly influencing", "for the purpose of inducing".  An individual could argue innocence on account of having provided the food or drink independant of the purposes in s.58(1)(a) or s.58(1)(b). 

Well, let us see what the explanation would be.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Pink Dot and the Penal Code

Whenever the Pink Dot event comes up or whenever the discussion of s.377A of our Penal Code arises (consensual sexual acts between men), I can't help but cast my eye on the other sexual offences in our Penal Code.  I can't help but feel that there is a certain 'moral' (using the word 'moral' in a loose 'state-citizen relationship' sense rather than in a traditional or 'religious' sense) inconsistency in the state's position. 

The primary objective of giving power to the state to criminalise human conduct is to maintain order in society.  There is an assumption that where an individual might cause harm to another, there is an inherent possibility of society disorder if there is no mechanism for the control of such behaviour through the machinery of the state.  Criminal laws serve the function of controling such harmful behaviour. 

S.377A of the Penal Code criminalises consensual sexual relations between 2 men even though no harm may be caused by one to the other. 

s.375 of the Penal Code exempts a man from liability where he has raped his wife.  Here, there is harm caused by an individual to another.  But, the state stands aside and exempts the offending individual from liability. 

I know that the debate over homosexual intercourse and marital rape has been clouded by too many arguments about traditional 'morality', religious perceptions and notions of the so-called traditional marital relations.  But, we are not talking about issues pertaining to morally acceptable behaviour when we deal with criminal offences.  We should be dealing with how the state should go about its job in maintining order.  If we acknowledge that the primary objective of criminal law is to prevent individuals from acting in a manner that would cause harm to others, then s.377A and s.375 are completely at odds with that primary objective.

John Stuart Mill in his essay, On Liberty, propounds on the 'harm' principle:
That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.   That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.