On 29 August 2006, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Lord Chief Justice, delivered the Singapore Academy of Law Annual Lecture on "Terrorism & Human Rights". He was appointed as the most senior judge in England and Wales last year.
When I heard his lecture, he struck me as a person with great respect for the rights of an individual.
He emphasised, "Respect for human rights must, I suggest, be a key weapon in the ideological battle. Since the Second World War we in Britain have welcomed to the United Kingdom millions of immigrants from all corners of the globe, many of them refugees from countries where human rights were not respected. It is essential that they, and their children and grandchildren, should be confident that their adopted country treats them without discrimination and with due respect for their human rights. If they feel that they are not being fairly treated, their consequent resentment will inevitably result in the growth of those who, actively or passively, are prepared to support the terrorists who are bent on destroying the fabric of our society."
It was therefore no surprise recently that he did something, which is unprecedented for a member of the English judiciary. In his own words, Phillips shared, "I posed as a shipping solicitor convicted of driving with excess alcohol and sentenced to 150 hours' unpaid work and 18 months' disqualification."
According to The Observer, "he wanted to prove that non-custodial sentences are the right alternative for many to prisons, now so overcrowded he considers it 'difficult or impossible' for them to rehabilitate offenders and prevent re-offending".
Phillip's decision to experience the effects of sentencing first-hand has been lauded, and it may strengthen the point he desired to make. His move also highlights how a judge can be in touch with individuals affected by the work of the courts.
As Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, shares with The Observer, "'If only sentencers would go out and see for themselves that community penalties work far better for petty offences than wasted time in overcrowded jails."
Perhaps, our judges in Singapore will learn from this and undertake similar covert practical stints to understand the effects of their orders better.