TL;DR – Because we are a civilised society.
I recall feeling rather disgusted when I first read what happened to Annie Ee.
She must have suffered a great deal before she died. I couldn’t understand how two people could be so cruel. I very much wanted to see them punished. They need to meet with some retribution. They need to be made an example of so that no one else will do the same thing.
And they did get punished.
The lady got sentenced to 16-and-a-half years’ jail and the man to 14 years’ jail and 14 strokes of the cane. I think they got what they deserved.
But not everyone thinks that way. Some people are furious that the pair didn’t get charged and convicted of murder. Some also cursed the lawyers who defended the pair. Those who defend such horrible people must also be horrible themselves. Surely they deserve our condemnation too!
That’s scary. It’s scary to think that there are people who think that we should deny legal representation to anyone.
There are many sides to a story. The point of the court system is to attempt to establish the circumstances around the crime, the intents of the accused, and then decide on an appropriate punishment. In order for that to happen, to truly uncover the truth, the accused must be allowed to present his side of the story properly. And often, the best way to do that is with the help of a lawyer.
That’s why Minister Shanmugam said in a Facebook post:
“We have to remember – someone known to anyone of us could be charged for any offence at any point in time. Rule of Law means that the person is entitled to have his lawyer put forward the strongest possible arguments in his favour.”
And the facts of this case, after hearing from all sides and examining all the evidence, is that the pair didn’t commit murder. Yes, their actions caused the death of Annie. But they hadn’t committed murder.
The Attorney-General’s Chamber (AGC) explained:
“It is the prosecutor’s duty to only prefer a charge which is supported by evidence. The evidence of the forensic pathologist was that Annie’s death was caused by acute fat embolism. This was an unusual occurrence that would not have ordinarily resulted from the injuries inflicted by Pua and Tan. As Pua and Tan did not intend to cause Annie’s death, and the injuries they inflicted would not ordinarily cause death, the offences of murder and culpable homicide cannot be proved against them”
Unless we change the law, the prosecution can’t charge the couple with culpable homicide. And the judge certainly can’t sentence the couple to death, no matter how angry we are.
As Minister Shanmugam pointed out “the sentence that a defendant gets, in any particular case, must not depend on how the public react during the case.” At least that is the case in a civilised society. Otherwise, the only justice will be that of a mob.
Do we really want mob justice? Would we rather live in a society where there is no due process to our legal system? That could hurt all of us, especially those who are accused of crimes that they did not commit. And mob justice also deny people the chance of reforming. Or do we think that convicted criminals don’t deserve the chance to reform and reintegrated into society?
If we don’t believe mob justice, if we believe that even convicted criminals deserve a chance to reform and reintegrate into society, then we must not resort to mob justice. And, while it’s normal and understandable for us to feel angry in a case like Annie’s, we must let due process run its course.