‘Once A Jolly Hangman – Singapore Justice in the Dock’ is “a broadbased attack on the entire judiciary system that can never be justified,” said Deputy Public Prosecutor Hema Subramaniam on the first day of Alan Shadrake’s trial this morning. The British journalist was arrested on 18th July when he came to Singapore to promote his book, which touched on the death penalty here. He was charged with contempt of court.
DPP Subramaniam said that Shadrake’s case was not about his views on the death penalty, nor was it about fair criticism of court judgements.
“These proceedings are brought because of the rule of law,” she said. “Public confidence should not be shaken by attacks on the rule of law.”
The prosecution isolated 14 statements from the book, which they claim are contemptuous of Singapore’s judiciary.
The DPP also summarized the 5 main insinuations that Shadrake had made in his book:
– that the courts hang offenders at the request of the government
– that the courts favour the rich and are biased against the less educated
– that the courts suppress political dissent
– that the court has abdicated its constitutional responsibility.
“The insinuations and imputations contained in these 14 statements constitute an attack to the entire judicial system in Singapore,” said the DPP.
The prosecution paid particular attention to the title of Shadrake’s book: “The underlying insinuation is that Singapore judges have been guilty of misconduct and deserve to be judged.”
The DPP also referred to a caption below a photo of Shadrake standing outside the Supreme Court. Presiding Judge Justice Quentin Loh suggested that the caption could have been written by the publisher, but the DPP asserted that Shadrake is nonetheless responsible for the caption.
She also pointed out that if the book was meant to be a critique of the Death Penalty, it would not have mentioned the defamation suits against political opponents of the ruling party. It shows that the ‘respondent’s real motive was to attack the Singapore judiciary.”
Justice Loh asked DPP for a definition of the word ‘system’ and whether the legal system means the judiciary, to which the DPP responded that the legal system does not exclude the judiciary. Furthermore, she asserted that court is the only institution that can send someone to the gallows; however the Judge pointed out that the court has no discretion in Mandatory Death Penalty cases.
“The court still has a role to play. To contend otherwise is to say that courts have abdicated constitutional responsibility,” replied DPP.
On the issue of fair criticism, she said that ‘criticism has to be fair, temperate and in good faith.” The 14 statements could not be construed as fair criticism because there wasn’t “an iota of truth in any of the statements or allegation’s in the respondent’s book”.
The hearing continues this afternoon.
TOC will provide a report on the Defense’s submissions later today.