Go with a smile!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Woffles Wu

In a recent case, Woffles Wu (or whoever) was found to have been speeding. Woffles Wu got an elderly employee to take the rap, but was found out and sentenced to a fine. Somebody played up the incongruity of the sentencing, pointing out other cases where people had gotten somebody else to take the charge for them, and they got sent to jail. Woffles Wu was just fined.

One issue that raised eyebrows is that Woffles Wu was charged under section 81(3) of the Road Traffic act instead of section 182 of the penal code. If I’m reading the laws correctly, section 81(3) is about the duty to inform the police officer of who was driving the car at the time of the incident. Section 182 is about lying to a police officer. He was charged under 81(3) of the Road Traffic Act.

Some people have dug this up as a case where the law favours the richer members of society. Indeed, there were a few articles written up about this incident, most notably on the Online Citizen. Choo Zheng Xi was querying whether or not Woffles Wu should have been sent to jail. In many of the incidents, people who had lied to the police and gotten somebody to take the rap for them were sent to jail. There was a matter of back and forth between the AGC and Choo Zheng Xi.

Now, Woffles Wu (or whoever) had committed the offence of speeding. Not drunk driving, not reckless driving, not shooting red lights, merely speeding: although this would have resulted in 12 demerit points. Eventually the AGC argued that speeding is not a very serious offence and should not be lumped together with all the other cases brought up by Choo Zheng Xi. OK, but lying was also a very serious offence, something we know is far more serious than speeding.

Ultimately, this is one of those calls which will always be hotly debated. The way that Choo Zheng Xi painted it, it’s an egregious miscarriage of justice. It’s not. The dust settled for a while, until the AGC wrote a letter to Yawning Bread which you can read on his site. It made the point that I mentioned earlier, that the original offence was relatively minor. It also refuted the charge that Woffles Wu was charged under a less strict law, and pointed out that both sections carried out the same maximum offence. Well, both can’t be correct. Either you take the position that Woffles Wu was committing a less serious offence and deserved a less serious sentence, or you say that the issue of which statute to charge the guy under does not have an impact on the severity of his sentence.

In any case, from what little I know about the law, which statute does matter, because a charge under different statutes will have different case histories, and this will influence sentencing. That is the real issue. Not, as the AGC has cleverly argued, what the maximum sentencing should be.

As it is, the flexibility of this legal arrangement allows the AGC to frame the charge. The judge does not have the discretion of deciding how to charge Woffles Wu. The charge is served up on a plate to the judge, who merely decides the verdict and the sentence. There is a fair bit of room on the part of the AGC. The executive has a lot more wriggle space than the judiciary.

My personal belief is that Woffles Wu should have been sentenced to jail, but this is the opinion of a layman who hasn’t been to law school. Choo Zheng Xi thinks 14 days. I estimate 1 week, maybe less. The charge against Woffles Wu for abetment to committing an offence of “not reporting” the offence is probably fishy. My point of view is that the scales of justice were tipped slightly towards Woffles Wu. Not by a whole lot to fully justify the sound and fury in the direction of the AGC, but I would definitely say it was a little biased. It’s definitely a grey area. Rather than to say that the legal system was abused, I would prefer to say the prosecutors cut him a bit of slack.

The problem is that the legal system allows a lot of discretion on the part of the prosecutors to influence the final outcome. To be sure, no legal system is perfect. For that to happen, you must compare every case with every other case that has ever happened, and conclude that everything is consistent with each other. Since this is impossible, all legal systems have varying degrees of wriggle room.

Woffles Wu said that it was silly that he provided the name of the wrong person (he didn’t admit to being the one speeding so regardless of whether I think he was the one speeding, I’ll just have to qualify that I don’t know for sure. And I have to add – innocent until proven guilty). And it is really very silly to shirk an offence as minor as speeding. 91 km/h is not really that fast, although Lornie Road is a fairly dangerous road.

So when somebody like Woffles Wu cannot be shown to have been the one speeding nobody really knows whether it’s impossible to figure that out or whether there are things better left unknown. In any case, it is possible that a crucial difference between this case and other previous cases is that Woffles Wu hasn’t been determined to be the guy driving the car at that time. And it isn’t easy to figure out who’s driving the car, to be honest. After all, that guy is rich enough to allow any Tom, Dick and Harry to be touching his stuff all over.

I think that there’s no smoking gun here, and that reflects the true nature of how the system works. There’s never a smoking gun. When regulations are selectively applied, they are done so within the bounds of the law, and further checks and balances do not exist to make sure that the outcome is what most people would call fair. They wouldn’t do something outrageously unjust. Just a little here, a little there, and in the long run, it all adds up. That is the kind of tilted playing field that people just have to contend with.

About that Yawning Bread article, he wrote in a blog post about why he thinks the case reflects the growing suspicion of the general populace that the courts tilt towards the rich and prominent people. Well, according to my memory, that is what was written. I can’t read it anymore because the AGC served him a lawyer’s letter and told him to take down that blog post.

Well that was really stupid. People already have such a dim view of the legal system in Singapore. And you want to make things even more suspicious by ordering somebody to shut up? That smelled really bad. Yawning Bread – well if you look at how prolific he is and how he’s always running around being a do gooder, you wouldn’t be surprised at what he did. He didn’t stick to his guns, but he said, I’m not going to spend time and energy proving my points, so I’ll take it down. But doesn’t an action like this sound something like “HEY GUYS! I HAVE SOMETHING TO HIDE HERE!” Like Confucius say, three taels of silver are not buried here.

Why couldn’t they have written this as an open letter, and forced Yawning Bread to put it up? What’s the purpose of a court of law if it doesn’t convince people that things are fair and equal? They needn’t have forced Yawning Bread to take down his blog post. I had to go through what had been put up about this case. Initially after reading what Yawning Bread and TOC wrote about this incident, I had assumed that there was a grave injustice on the Woffles Wu case. And that would have been my impression if I had heard about the lawyer’s letter from the Minister of Law. Only after going through the case did I revise my judgement to “slightly biased”. After all, people get let off for lack of evidence.

A lot of people speculate on legal issues in the USA. Maybe this makes the legal system a little more inefficient, a little more partisan, but at least people can see how things are done. I don’t know how they could say that Yawning Bread is guilty of contempt of court, since all the things that have been written are directed at the AGC, not the court. What we have on the part of the AGC is contempt for the people of Singapore, who after all are the ones who decide who gets to be the minister of Law.


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