Category: Judiciary

The Limits of Prosecutorial Discretion

Attorney-General's Chambers, Singapore

The Attorney-General’s Chambers, Singapore. (By Sgconlaw, CC BY-SA 3.0, via the Wikimedia Commons.)

Marcus Teo
Fourth-year LLB student
Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore

IN A RECENT opinion piece published in The Straits Times,[1] Professor Walter Woon examined the role and functions of the Attorney-General (“AG”) and argued that the AG’s independence should be strengthened, among other ways, by separating the AG’s current function as a legal advisor to the government from his prosecutorial function. With respect to the latter, Professor Woon reminds us that decisions to prosecute or not involve a “judgment call”, and that “[t]here are many reasons why a decision may be taken not to prosecute.” However, such decisions have serious consequences for accused persons, victims of crimes, and the public. Continue reading

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Protecting Human Rights: The Approach of the Singapore Courts

Article 4 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1985 Revised Edition, 1999 Reprint)

Article 4 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1985 Revised Edition, 1999 Reprint). (Photograph by Smuconlaw [CC-BY-SA-4.0], via the Wikimedia Commons.) The Constitution is the supreme law of Singapore, but have the courts unnecessarily limited their role of upholding the Constitution?

Dr Jack Tsen-Ta Lee
Assistant Professor of Law
School of Law, SMU

THE SINGAPORE COURTS have been taking an approach that is very deferential to the political branches of the government – the executive and the legislature. This doesn’t mean that they are deliberately biased in favour of these branches, for example because they have been induced to do so. It means that there is a judicial attitude of giving the political branches much leeway, assuming that action taken by the executive or legislation passed by Parliament is constitutional unless such acts are completely absurd or arbitrary.

This extremely high standard stems from the courts’ view of their role in the constitutional system. I would like to suggest that this view means that the courts have limited their role of upholding the Constitution[1] unnecessarily. Continue reading

Hougang By-election Case: What Court Decision on By-election Reveals

A poll card issued for the 2011 general election

A poll card issued for the 2011 general election. (Photograph by Jacklee [public domain or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via the Wikimedia Commons.)

Dr Jack Tsen-Ta Lee
Assistant Professor of Law
School of Law, SMU

THE COURT OF APPEAL’S judgment of 5 July in Vellama d/o Marie Muthu v Attorney-General[1] – popularly known as the Hougang by-election case – shows that the Court sees its role as policing the margins rather than involving itself in the heart of politics.

The decision came as a surprise to those used to a judicial stance that is fairly deferential towards the Government. It is one of only a handful of cases in which the courts have not accepted the Government’s interpretation of the Constitution.

Continue reading