Bertha Henson: The price of justice

~ By Bertha Henson ~

There were several stories over the past few days related to the price/cost of seeking justice.

a. Whether plastic surgeon Woffles Wu got away with a $1,000 fine for abetment because he is "rich''.

b. Whether the sandwiched class can afford legal advice, given the increasing complexity of court procedures.

c. Whether you can really ask for $600K from your employer after your butt fails to connect with the seat of a chair in your office.

In the first case, some answers were forthcoming from the AGC and Minister Shanmugam – it related to why Wu was charged with abetment rather than the heavier crime of giving misleading information. Seems his friend was the one who spoke to the police. But lawyer-MP Hri Kumar had a more general point when he first surfaced the issue in a blog – in some cases when you can't pay a fine, you go to jail. This means really, that if you are rich, you get a ‘Get out of Jail’ card. Judges should be given some sentencing options. I guess we will have to wait for the courts to say how it decided on the Wu case, and for police investigations on who was really driving Wu's car to be concluded. I hope they move fast. Because the fact remains that this case happened six years ago, and notwithstanding what police said that they only knew about it recently because of a complaint, I think people still want to know the ins and outs. It will not do for the ordinary fellow to start thinking that Singapore justice system is not a level playing field.

The second case was Law Society's Wong Meng Meng asking for a public agency to deal with legal stuff that doesn’t always have to make it to the courts. It's about access to justice for all. I wish someone would educate readers on what sort of things the ordinary fellow really needs a trained legal opinion for. As well as a range of fees that lawyers charge. I mean, what sort of stuff has got so complex for the courts that we now need a lawyer to deal with it?

In any case, how do you source for a lawyer? Pretty much like a doctor I think – word of mouth. Then it's a question of whether you think a cheaper one or a more expensive one can get the job done for you at the same quality of service? Are there cases when you can dispense with a lawyer? There's alternative dispute resolution, mediation (at community levels too) – Are they well-used?

As for the $600K asking price for damages by a Jap worker here who fell on her backside after a colleague failed to push in a chair he had pulled out. She is suing negligence, loss of future earnings etc. I pity the fellow – the colleague I mean. I pity the employer, which is really deep-pocketed – US-headquartered with more than US$5b in service revenue. Big target huh?

Seriously lah, as lawyers interviewed said, office mishaps happen and are usually settled within the company. But going to the High Court for this? I sort of choked until I read the last par – that both parties might just go to the Sub Courts to settle the final amount, where the cap is $250,000. That's more palatable. In any case, some advice especially for the chivalrous among the guys, when you pulled out a woman's chair, remember to push it back in…she won't appreciate landing on her backside…and might just sue you too.

TOC thanks Bertha Henson for her contribution, this article first appeared on her blog. Bertha Henson is a former Associate Editor of The Straits Times.