Last week, in between sessions for a course I am attending at the Supreme Court, I sat through a few hours of the trial of Gopalan Nair in Court 5C of the High Court.
Nair was charged under Section 228 of the Penal Code (Cap. 224), which reads as follows:
"Whoever intentionally offers any insult or causes any interruption to any public servant, while such public servant is sitting in any stage of a judicial proceeding shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to $5,000, or with both."
According to Nair's blog, the charge read:
"Gopalan Nair are charged that you on or about May 29, 2008 in Singapore, did intentionally offer an insult to a public servant namely Justice Belinda Ang Saw Een, a Judge of the Supreme Court of Singapore while the Judge was sitting in judicial proceedings namely Notice of Assessment No. 23 of 2008 in Suit No. 261 of 2006 and Notice of Assessment No. 24 of 2008 in Suit No. 262 of 2006 by posting the following words on your blog at http://singaporedissident.blogspot.com/index.html:
"The following transpired during the last 3 days in court. The judge Belinda Ang was throughout prostituting herself during the entire proceedings by being nothing more than an employee of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and his son and carrying out their orders"
and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 228 of the Penal Code (Chapter 224)."
Unfortunately, he was sentenced to 3 months' imprisonment yesterday. I came away with some impressions of the trial. Since the trial is over, I can now share these impressions.
FIRST IMPRESSION: DEFENCE
Looking at the charge and legislation and having watched the trial, I think Nair could have put up a more credible defence.
Nair was given a lot of leeway in cross-examining the prosecution witness, Assistant Superintendent of Police Razak Jakaria. Nair adopted various strategies to discredit the witness, even calling into question the religious beliefs of the witness. The month of Ramadan being an important period for Muslim persons, I thought this was insensitive of Nair to do so.
I hope ASP Razak will find the capacity in him to be forgiving of Nair, since the month of Ramadan is also about being forgiving to those who offend us. I think Nair was caught up by the heat of the charge and ended up taking such desperate measures in order to secure an acquittal.
Nair also brought up irrelevant matters. At one point, he argued that he needed to question the witness and make detailed notes about the answers so that this could eventually go into a book. He disclosed that he intends to write about his personal experience of the justice system in Singapore.
As much as I look forward to reading Nair's book, I thought this was an important lesson as to why a person should not conduct his own defence. If you are charged for committing a criminal offence in Singapore, please seriously consider getting a criminal lawyer to represent you, especially if you can afford one. I am not sure if Nair can afford to appoint a defence lawyer.
SECOND IMPRESSION: PROSECUTION
A lot of the irrelevant questions arose from the fact that Nair had to work blindly. The prosecution had not disclosed all the statements Nair had made to the police and this ended up with Nair conducting a fishing expedition for such information at trial. It was well into the trial that Nair was given a set of such statements by the prosecution.
I cannot appreciate why the prosecution cannot disclose all such statements as soon as a person is charged, since there is no risk of such disclosure jeopardising the investigation at that point. It is possible that early disclosure of the statements may help facilitate and speed up the trial process and reduce the need for a defendant to undertake such fishing expeditions at trial.
THIRD IMPRESSION: JUDGE
The judge hearing the trial, Justice Kan Ting Chiu, left the most significant impression on me. I thought he was extremely patient with both the prosecution and defence. He was decorum and graciousness at its best. At one point, he even went through his notes of evidence and encouraged the prosecution to do the same in order to clarify something Nair could not remember.
Some trainee lawyers hearing the matter thought Nair deserved to be dealt with strongly by the force of law, and be made an example of by being put away longer than was necessary in such cases.
Thankfully, the judge hearing the matter has a less draconian concept of justice. The voice of reason prevailed and he eventually dealt with Nair fairly. The judge was also understanding enough to give Nair some time to settle his personal matters before commencing the prison sentence.
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