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Alan Shadrake and the Police State

Author of “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock” says book is fair criticism of courts

Alan Shadrake and his lawyer M.Ravi on the first day of trial on 18 Oct. Trial concludes 20 Oct at Court 4C, 4th level of Supreme Court building. Starts at 10am but best to be there by 9am before seats are taken. Photo by The Online Citizen. Click on photo to read their report on the first day of trial.

Reports on second day of trial today 19 Oct…

British author says Singapore book ‘fair criticism’ of court
AFP, 19 Oct 2010

A British author on trial for contempt of court for alleged attacks against the Singapore judiciary on Tuesday defended his book on the death penalty as “fair criticism” of the courts.

Speaking through his lawyer, Alan Shadrake took issue with the claim from the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) that his book, “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock”, attacked the judicial system.

“The passages neither scandalise the court, nor do they depart from the principle of fair criticism endorsed by the Singapore court,” lawyer M. Ravi said in a written submission to the High Court.

“The submissions made in the book are well-evidenced and well-sourced, not the tittle-tattle or unscrupulous scaremongering which is the target of the contempt jurisdiction.”

But the AGC said that “Mr Shadrake’s baseless and unwarranted attacks on the integrity, impartiality and independence of the Singapore judiciary cannot possibly come within any reasonable notion of fair criticism.”

Ravi said Shadrake would write to his publisher to remove one inaccuracy in the book, having conceded that a jail sentence imposed on the son of a judge for drug consumption had not been light because of the man’s connections.

But Shadrake, 75, told reporters: “I stand by the book in general… This is just a minor correction, that’s all. I’m not apologising.”

The book contains a profile of Darshan Singh, the former chief executioner at Singapore’s Changi Prison who, according to the author, executed around 1,000 men and women from 1959 until he retired in 2006.

It also features interviews with human rights activists, lawyers and former police officers on cases involving capital punishment.

Shadrake, who is based in Malaysia, was arrested in Singapore when he travelled there to launch the book in July. He has been freed on bail but his passport has been seized.

The hearing will conclude Wednesday.


“This proceeding itself scandalises the judiciary” M Ravi
The Online Citizen, 19 Oct 2010


Defense counsel for Mr Alan Shadrake, Mr M Ravi, said in his conclusion that the contempt of court proceedings were “a sure wastage of the Court’s resources” and “entirely contemptuous”.

Mr Ravi was speaking on Tuesday in defence of the statements isolated by the Attorney-General’s Chambers from Mr Shadrake’s book ‘Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock’.

Picking up from yesterday’s session, Mr Ravi addressed statements 7 to 14 highlighted in the prosecution’s submissions. He argued that none of them were aimed at undermining the Singapore judiciary, but could be taken as fair criticism.

Statements 7 and 8 were concerned with the alleged preferential treatment given to the rich, while statements 9 to 11 pertained to the alleged miscarriage of justice in the case of Vignes Mourthi. Statements 12 to 14 also allegedly insinuated that the Singapore judiciary is a tool of the People’s Action Party (PAP) to suppress political dissent.

Mr Ravi argued that Mr Shadrake’s comments could be construed as fair criticism, as he was just representing the views of an average member of public. “An average man’s perspective must be taken into account here,” he said.

Since the courts take an individual’s contribution to society as a mitigating factor in sentencing, this gives the public “reasonable apprehension” to make the fair criticism that the rich would be more likely to receive lighter sentences, said Mr Ravi in response to the DPP’s written submissions on statements 7 and 8.

The fact that the wealthy generally have access to better legal counsels than the poor also provides his client with evidence to make the fair comment that the rich are more likely to receive lighter sentences than the poor in such cases, he said.

However, after consultation with his client, he conceded that Mr Shadrake had made a mistake in implying that Dinesh Singh Bhatia, who was arrested for consuming cocaine, would have been sentenced to 10 years in prison as well as a heavy fine if he had not been of a certain social status.

This was in response to DPP Hema Subramaniam’s assertion the day before that in Singapore law, first-time offenders like Bhatia would not receive the maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

Mr Ravi said that Mr Shadrake was willing to withdraw the sentence, and would also tell his publisher to remove it from future publications of the book. However, Mr Shadrake still maintains that his comment that Bhatia was able to access better legal counsel than those less privileged than him was a fair one.

In addressing statements 9 to 11, Mr Ravi argued that there is a circulation of prosecutors and judges in the Singapore courts. In fact, current Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong was a judge in the Supreme Court in 1988, before becoming Attorney-General in 1992 and finally Chief Justice in 2006.

This, Mr Ravi said, was an example of the “highly porous nature” of the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the judiciary, which led his client to fairly comment that the “higher echelons of the judiciary” knew about the investigation of corruption and sodomy charges against Sergeant Rajkumar.

Sergeant Rajkumar was the arresting officer and key witness in the trial of Vignes Mourthi, who was hung in 2003. The investigation of Sergeant Rajkumar had not been made known until after the execution of Mourthi.

Mr Ravi backed this claim up by referring to the transcripts of an interview Mr Shadrake conducted with top criminal lawyer Mr Subhas Anandan. In the interview, Mr Anandan indicated that during Vignes Mourthi’s trial, the prosecution “must have known” about the ongoing investigation of Sergeant Rajkumar.

Other lawyers have also commented on the alleged miscarriage of justice in the Vignes Mourthi case, Mr Ravi said. In August 2010, Lawyers For Liberty, a human rights and law reform initiative in Malaysia, submitted a protest memorandum to the Singapore High Commission calling for the Singapore government to acknowledge that there had been a miscarriage of justice.

Mr Ravi urged the Singapore state to hold a Commission of Inquiry to look into the allegations. “The matured response should not be contempt of court proceedings but a Commission of Inquiry,” he said. “The whole country failed when we allowed a miscarriage of justice to take place.”

With regards to the prosecution’s submissions on statements 12 to 14, Mr Ravi cited reports made by the Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) and the International Commission of Jurists to back up the International Bar Association report Mr Shadrake had quoted in his book.

The reports, Mr Ravi asserts, are sufficient proof to provide his client with the grounds to make a fair criticism on the lack of independence of the Singapore judiciary.

Similarly, Mr Ravi submitted that the fact that the Prime Minister is “significantly involved in the appointment of judges”, and that judges do not have tenure after the age of 65, presents Mr Shadrake – as well as members of the public – with the “reasonable apprehension” to comment on the lack of an independent judiciary in Singapore.

In conclusion, Mr Ravi stated that the Singapore judiciary “ranks at the apex of global opinon”, and therefore should not be afraid of criticism.

He also maintained that the Singapore public is “well-educated, sophisticated and mature”, with access to sources from the Internet, international media as well as social media, and are therefore used to criticism of the system and its leaders.

He pointed out that despite the prosecution’s assertion that his client had scandalised the judiciary, no attempt had been made to lodge a complaint against Mr Shadrake until he entered the country. The book has also not been banned in Singapore by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

“If the book is so bad that the State should forewarn that it undermines public confidence in the judiciary, they should gazette and ban the book,” Mr Ravi said. However, since no such action has been taken, the contempt of court proceedings are “totally unnecessary”.

With approximately 6000 copies of the book already sold, Mr Ravi said that it is clear that there is no risk of the judiciary being undermined. In fact, he asserted that the contempt of court proceedings “may itself be a factor that weakens the judiciary of Singapore”.

The hearing continues Wednesday morning. DPP Hema Subramaniam will give her response to the submissions made by Mr Ravi.


Straits Times report on the first day of the trial….


Prosecutor: Baseless attack on judiciary
Selina Lum, 19 Oct 2010

THE Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) yesterday accused a British freelance journalist of launching a baseless broadside against the Singapore judiciary in his book on the death penalty.

It was the opening of a scheduled three-day hearing in the High Court against Alan Shadrake, 75, for having allegedly impugned the impartiality, integrity and independence of Singapore courts in his book, entitled Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice In The Dock.

In the High Court, Deputy Senior State Counsel Hema Subramanian picked out 14 passages from his 219-page book which she argued were contemptuous.

She argued that the statements alleged or insinuated that the Singapore courts bowed to pressure from foreign governments, favoured the rich and privileged and were used as a tool by the ruling party to muzzle political dissent.

She made clear that Shadrake was not being tried for his view on the death penalty; others have expressed similar views without contempt proceedings brought against them, she said.

Shadrake, in his affidavit, claimed that the statements were not directed at the Singapore judiciary and denied that he intended to impugn the integrity of the courts here.

But Ms Subramanian pointed out that the book’s very title was a clear suggestion that the purpose of the book was to put the judiciary on trial and ‘judge the judges of Singapore’.

There are also references to ‘judicial scandals’ and defamation suits involving politicians – even though the book professed to be about the death penalty, she pointed out.

‘For him to now claim he never intended to impugn the integrity of the Singapore courts is preposterous,’ she said.

Ms Subramanian grouped the 14 passages into three categories.

The first group of passages are allegations that the Singapore courts succumbed to political and economic pressure by imposing lenient sentences on accused persons with strong backing from their home governments, while putting to death those without such backing.

Shadrake had compared the cases of a Dutch woman who was acquitted of drug trafficking and an Australian man who was hanged.

The second group of statements insinuated that the courts favoured wealthy drug offenders and were biased against the poor and less educated.

Shadrake had cited the case of an entrepreneur, the son of a former High Court judge, who was jailed eight months.

Ms Subramanian also noted that Shadrake misrepresented in his book that first-time offenders ordinarily received the maximum 10 years’ jail.

The last group of statements insinuated that the judiciary was compliant in the suppression of political dissent in Singapore by awarding huge damages in defamation cases against the opponents of the People’s Action Party.

Shadrake, through his lawyer, Mr M. Ravi, took the stance that the selected passages did not scandalise the courts and constituted fair criticism on matters of public interest.

Mr Ravi criticised the AGC for highlighting selected passages out of context, calling it a ‘sniper attack’ based on a few lines in an apparent effort to cobble together a case for contempt.

This ‘peculiar approach’, Mr Ravi argued, was akin to labelling biology textbooks pornographic, because by ‘fastidiously dissecting’ them, one could find anatomical descriptions of sexual organs.

The lawyer, describing the book as an important piece of literature, said: ‘The book is a seriously researched work of literature which does not single out anyone, least of all the judiciary, as an object of venom, much less contempt,’ he said.

Mr Ravi also took the AGC to task for its ‘hypersensitivity’ in bringing contempt cases, contending that Singapore judges were made of sterner stuff.

‘The A-G, for once, they should stop. Just relax,’ he said.

The hearing continues before Justice Quentin Loh today.

Jacob 69er: See my posts here, here and here about this case.



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