I'd initially intended to skip this weekend's wrap and have a break for the Lunar New Year, but decided at the last minute (read: 1am) that I will write this wrap after all. I'm going to make it quick, though, and just focus on a couple of things, then pick up the rest the following weekend, because it's getting really late now.
More time for death row prisoners
Yesterday morning was the hearing for 13 prisoners — 12 of whom are still on death row, while the 13th has already had his death sentence set aside — in relation to their civil suit against the Attorney-General's Chambers over the leaking of their private correspondence. (I've written about this issue of correspondence being copied and forwarded by the prison to the Attorney-General's Chambers before.) The 13 prisoners' case had been dismissed by the High Court last year, and their appeal was meant to have been heard by three Court of Appeal judges on Friday.
I spent far too much time in the Court of Appeal last year, taking notes and bearing witness to terrible news, so I'd been a little nervous and apprehensive about what would be in store. Although it's a civil suit, the case is high stakes for a number of the prisoners — for some of them, losing this appeal would remove the only barrier between them and the risk of execution.
But things turned out differently. After filing into court, the first thing Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said was that there was information that the judges felt was missing, and that they wanted the AGC's side — represented by expensive lawyers from the big law firm WongPartnership — to provide. These were the main questions he had:
- Sixty-eight documents — private correspondence between the prisoners and their families, or even prisoners and their lawyers — had been disclosed. Did the AGC ask the prisons for these documents?
- If the AGC did not request these documents, then what was the purpose of the Singapore Prison Service sending them the documents? The CJ raised the possibility of the prison sending them to the AGC to seek legal advice, saying "it would have been perfectly permissible" for the prison to get legal advice from the AGC (which, for me, really highlights the conflict of interest between the AGC being the state prosecution and the government's legal advisor).
- Did the officers at the AGC involved in court proceedings involving any of the 13 prisoners request any of these documents from the prisons. If so, why? Did they see the documents prior to the proceedings?
The AGC's lawyers — who they're paying with our tax dollars, sigh — have been given a month to file affidavits that can provide this information, and then both sides are supposed to agree on a table setting out all this information for ease of reference, and the next hearing will be fixed for a date not before 8 April.
The questions that the Chief Justice asked were perfectly reasonable. They're the questions that everyone I know who's heard about this case has asked from the very beginning: why were the letters leaked? What for? Who saw it? Could it have affected proceedings? In fact, they're also questions that M Ravi, who had previously been acting for the prisoners, had asked when he'd filed interrogatories — only that application had been chucked out by a lower court (and Ravi asked to pay costs to boot). It's been boggling my mind for months that the case has even been able to get this far without these questions being answered. In fact, it's still boggling my mind that there hasn't been a more thorough probe into this practice to see how long it's been going on, how many prisoners (and not just capital cases!) have been affected over the years, and to verify whether AGC lawyers had or hadn't read or made use of such leaked documents in their cases.
We'll have to see how things go from here; the main relief, for now, is that the 12 death row prisoners can't be executed while this case is pending, so this has bought them more time.
Trouble at HOME
The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics said in a statement early this week that their executive director Deshi Gill has been suspended following allegations of possible misappropriation of funds. That's distressing news to hear, although much better that they made it public themselves rather than trying to sweep it all under the carpet. I know people who used to work at HOME and people who still work at HOME and they've done amazing work for migrant labour rights for so many years, so it's very awful that something like this has happened, but it doesn't shake my faith in the overall work that HOME does.
SPH digs deeper
SPH Media Holdings has directed its Audit and Risk Committee to further investigate after news broke that circulation figures for their titles had been inflated. I don't know what is going to come of this investigation — and why did they wait until the shit hit the fan publicly before doing it? — but there are still lots of questions left unanswered so it's definitely worth further scrutiny. It's just... will this investigation yield clear answers and accountability? 🤷🏻♀️
Have a very happy Lunar New Year!