A Book Review
(Disclaimer: This is not a paid advertisement, nor am I writing at the request of anyone)
“The Best I Could ” written by Subhas Anandan, has kept me occupied this entire weekend. I couldn’t put it down until I had read it cover to cover. In line with the frontpage news on the law and courts in today’s The Sunday Times (http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_321763.html) (http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/399970/1/.html) , I thought this latest book release by an insider of our judicial system would be a good read. Subhas Anandan has recently made known his views on this subject in the Today paper as well ( http://www.todayonline.com/articles/291620.asp )
Quoting the cover summary,
“Subhas Anandan is undoubtedly the best-known criminal lawyer in Singapore. From taking on Singapore’s most infamous cases, such as that of Anthony Ler, Took Lng How and Ah Long San, to espousing his views on the mandatory death sentence and police entrapment, Subhas Anandan has become the face of criminal defence in Singapore. But why does he choose to represent clients who are to all intents and purposes guilty? And are the criminals he represents the monsters the yare made out to be?”
The first part of the book tells of his school-going years, his years of being detained in prison without trial, and his first murder trial.
In the second part, he describes his feelings and thoughts about some cases he has handled. These are not boring, detailed-laden, technical pieces. They are all written for the layman, and reads more like a private journal. Here is a reproduction of the contents page for the second section, and my own descriptions in brackets:
Drugs, Stupidity and Abuse (He describes how the embassies of foreign nationals can help their citizens in drug cases. I quote “…judges’ hands are tied by the laws that govern drug offences …. Critics…say…Singapore has reversed the burden of proof, requiring the accused to prove they are innocent.” )
Constance Chee – The air stewardess who fell from grace
Took Leng How – The Man who should not have been hanged ( I quote “It reminded me why I am so against the mandatory death sentence. In my opinion, when there is a split decision as was the case for Took, the death sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment)
Ramu Annadavascan – A rake and the burning man ( He describes how some people may get away with murder under an evidence – based court system, but how “divine justice” can ultimately bring these criminals to justice)
Nadasan Chandra Secharan – Escaping the death sentence (I quote “ I always reply that I didn’t save her husband’s life and that sometime the system works”)
Leong Siew Chor – The body parts murder
Abdul Nasir – A landmark case ( He writes about how our current interpretation of Life Sentences came to be – the possibility of parole after 20 years)
Muhammad Nasir – the 16-year-old lover ( My favorite quote “ They say that sometimes justice and law are distant cousins. In the case of some countries, you’ll be lucky to say that justice and the law have the same parents. In Singapore’s case, it is sad to say that sometimes we feel that justice and law seem to be indifferent to each other. The law says something but when it is interpreted in the courts, it says something else. Most of the time, it is to the detriment of the accused person. This is sad. If it is not kept in check, one day we’ll come to a stage when justice and law will not only be indifferent to each other, it can be hostile. That will be a sad day for Singapore” “ Many a time the prosecution has erred in exercising its prosecutory prerogative which is so rigid and strong that compassion is considered a weakness. Why they must take such a tough stand, I cannot understand. …. In this case, justice and law were not distant cousins. They were total strangers.”
Anthony Ler – That certain smile ( He contrasts 2 cases, one where a female adult instigated her teenage lover to commit murder and goes to jail for 6 years while a male adult who instigated a teenage boy to commit murder gets death)
Tan Chor Jin – The one-eyed dragon ( I quote “… we really do give everyone a fair trial under our system…. It may appear to some as being unfair, but the fact is that trials in Singapore follow the letter of the law.” “Before you give the supreme punishment to an accused person, namely the death sentence, I think you should give him every opportunity to have a different verdict. We live in a society where our judicial system is such that every man – no matter what his offence is, even if it is the most heinous offence under the law – should be given every opportunity possible to defend himself before being convicted and punished under the law. Only then can we say with a clear conscience when a man is hanged, that everything possible has been done for him and the law must take its course.”)
Chua Tiong Tiong – Ah Long San
Pal (Milk), the Bookie
Johnny Tan – The impersonator
University Martin – The public prosecutor vs the bomoh (I quote “ .. instances of lawyers being approached by families of the accused to do unusual thing…. We try to oblige them most of the time and more often than not, it appears to work, strange as it may seem. So much so that I really don’t know whether it’s my skill as a lawyer or the skill of the bomoh behind the acquittals I have obtained for some of my clients. For this reason, I will not come to any sort of conclusion about black magic.”
Public Prosecutor vs Heng Boon Chai ( I quote “… there is no such thing as lead counsel and assisting counsel. .. the both of us are equally important and that should be the way … many people do not understand that it is the assistant who carries the workload … the lead counsel merely presents the submission in court, for which he gets all the credit..”
In the third part of the book, he describes what it was like defending JB Jeyaretnam in politics, his views of various Law Society presidents including Francis Seow, his views about David Marshall, who once acted for him, and the jury system. Finally he talks about how a promise made to a gangster played an important role in making him the figure he is today.
A 19 year old, to hang at age 20, for being exploited by drug lords to deliver 47g of heroin
A 36 year old, fined $8000, for exploiting a 17 yr old girl, by bringing her in from china to become a prostitute, and living on her earnings. Ok his sentence was upped to 1 year.
The Health Minister, to ask parliament on Monday, to allow our society to kill our vulnerable, weak and suffering, without any criminal charge.
That’s just page8 of today’s TODAY. Turn to page18.
An entire nation prepares a funeral for 10 months and mourns the passing of an elderly woman.
Turn to page 24.
I wasn’t planning to write this post. I wanted to stick to what I knew, about health care and medical science.
But these events make me wonder about how we, as a human race, value LIFE.
I’m actually pro-death penalty. When I read about what Mr Fritzl has done, I’m pro-death penalty.
Then I read about human traffickers, bringing in young girls to Singapore to become prostitutes, and they are given free food and lodging in our change resort for 1 year. Girls who should be in seconday school, JC, poly. Girls who are not allowed to watch RA(21).
And a 19 year old. I can see all the 19 year olds. They were my JC classmates, they were my brother, my students, the NS boys tired out on the mrt, the boys still waiting to watch an RA(21) movie, the boys whom the state cannot trust to make a vote for their government.
A 19 year old, to hang at 20, for 47grams.
Add on: Had feedback that the post was not understandable enough (Thanks Daniel for feedback!), so here’s my point:
Looking at the difference in the sentences given for these 2 crimes, does it say something about the way these crimes are viewed? That exploiting and trafficking young girls gets you 1 yr, but stupidity (ie. being a teenager exploited to carry drugs for $2000) gets you death? What does that say about how human beings are valued, and how the punishments are so disproportionate in both extremes?
Daniel explains it well too, go check it out!