Saturday, June 16, 2012

After note - Crime and Punishment

It has been drawn to my attention that Woffles Wu did not pay the person whose particulars were furnished. The first sentence of my post is therefore incorrect. The thrust of my post, that the courts should have greater flexibility in sentencing, nonetheless remains.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Crime and Punishment

[Note: This is a revised version of my initial post. I had stated in that post that Dr Wu had paid someone to take the rap. I have been informed this is incorrect, and no payment was made. I am sorry for the error and have corrected it in this post.]

I must admit I was surprised by the fine of $1,000 imposed on Woffles Wu.

Such offences are undoubtedly serious, as they seek to undermine the course of justice. Others who have committed similar offences have been jailed. 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.

I believe that part of the problem is that most times, the law gives judges very little discretion in sentencing - it is usually a fine or jail or both. There may be occasions where a fine is too lenient, while jail may be too harsh. Further, if an offender cannot pay a fine, jail is the default. That creates two problems - it discriminates between those can pay and those who cannot; and it converts a light punishment to a heavy one.

I would prefer if the court had more flexibility in sentencing so that the punishment truly fits the crime. For example, where a person gets another to take the rap for a traffic offence to preserve his driving licence, wouldn't a more appropriate punishment be to suspend his licence? Inflict on the offender what he was trying by criminal means to avoid. Likewise for less serious cases of vandalism, get the offender to clean up more than he has damaged.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

'Sticker' Lady

It has been interesting to read the many pieces on the net about the arrest of the Sticker Lady, both for and against her and what she did. People should be free to debate issues which affect them, and persuade others, through logic and reasonable arguments, to support their cause. That is a sign of a healthy society.

But is not clear what the particular movement - to excuse the Sticker Lady from punishment - is saying.

There is no doubt that what was done was criminal – an act of vandalism or nuisance. Is the object then to repeal the law altogether? That would make it legal for anyone to draw on or otherwise decorate public property? I don’t think that is what the vast majority wants.

Is what was done acceptable because it was creative or considered “art”? That gives rise to real difficulties as one man’s art is another’s poison. So what do we expect the police to do? Should they be art critics as well, and decide what is acceptable? I don’t think many would favour that. Or perhaps that should be for the judge? Would that not mean that the same work may be considered criminal by one judge and not by another? I rather more certainty, and less arbitrariness, in our criminal laws. The judge can always take into account the context, reasons behind and extent of the “art” in mitigation and sentencing. And sentencing does not have to mean jail.

Others have offered solutions, such as setting aside public space for those who want to exhibit their works. That sounds fair, although it would not have worked for the Sticker Lady’s “art”, which requires a context an exhibition area would not have. “My Grandfather Space” does not quite have the same ring. Still, we have to grapple with what constitutes acceptable art. I stumbled upon a statement in my Parliamentary colleague, Yee Jenn Jong’s blog. He said: “My suggestion is for the spaces that we set aside, set some simple rules like no profanity, no attack on race / religion, and then let whoever is in the approval committee decide with a liberal view when proposals come in.” "Proposals", “Approval Committee”? So, we need more committees to decide and approve such matters? Interesting.