The Woffles Wu case was controversial not only in the incredibly light sentence meted out on the accused for asking his employee to take the rap for his speeding offence, but the way the establishment has handed the matter which appears to have aggravated public discontent instead of soothing it.
Over the weekend, the Law Minister stepped forward to defend the verdict by insisting that it is the ‘norm’ for a fine to be imposed followed by a media statement issued by the Attorney-General Chambers to explain why Woffles was not jailed like many others before him which is unprecedented in the history of Singapore.
Why are the Law Minister and Attorney-General speaking up for Woffles Wu when the verdict was delivered by the judge?
The separation of powers is an important pillar in many First World countries in which the legislative arm of the government is separated from its executive arm to prevent political interference in matters of public interest.
The Attorney-General Chambers represents the Singapore government and decides who to prosecute while the judiciary is supposedly independent and kept separate from any political influence or pressure.
Under this principle, the AGC decides to charge Woffles Wu in court for the offence and it is up to the judge to decide on the verdict based on the facts presented.
How can the AGC explain the verdict on behalf of the judge when it is not supposed to have anything to do with the judiciary?
It is befuddling that the AGC appeared to defend the light sentence meted out on Woffles instead of appealing against it like it has done so before in other cases when it felt the sentence given was inappropriate.
The onus is now on the judge to explain his decision to impose only a fine on Woffles Wu and not the usual jail term to convince an increasingly skeptical public that the verdict was fair and just for the law must not only be fair, it must also be perceived to be fair.
In this instance, public perception remains that Woffles was somehow spared a jail term because of his status, wealth and profession in spite of the clarifications issued by both the Law Minister and the AGC.
Being a public servant, the presiding judge has a duty to account to the public why he decided to fine Woffles Wu to promote public confidence and trust in Singapore’s much vaunted legal system.
As PAP MP and lawyer Hri Kumar Nair put it succinctly:
“I do not know what the Judge took into account in making his decision, and I accept that no two cases are the same. However, I hope there will be an opportunity for the court to explain its reasons and how other cases where jail terms were imposed were distinguished. That will promote transparency and confidence in our legal system, and deal with allegations of unfair treatment, which have already appeared on the net.”