This Week In Court

– week of 3rd April –

This week in court, an Indonesian woman who did not speak English agreed to represent herself to get her case over with faster, upon a judge saying that waiting for legal aid or consular services would delay her case further, during which time she will remain remanded in prison. We worry that she, and others like her, will struggle to represent themselves well in a system which even English-speaking, well-educated people often find incredibly challenging to understand and advocate for themselves within. 

We were also troubled to see a Malay Muslim man raise in court that the prison was depriving him of his religious freedom to fast for Ramadan, on the grounds that he was taking medication. What was worse, he didn’t seem to have any avenues to get this decision reviewed and state his case for why he believes he can handle fasting. 

It was alarming, too, to see how in some cases, the prosecution advocated for detaining people for significant periods of time while investigations were still ongoing, even before charges have been brought against them. Remand, or pre-trial detention, usually refers to the period during which someone is kept in a prison cell after they are charged with one or more offences, and before the court determines if they are guilty of said offence(s). People can sometimes be kept in remand for years, while their case is ongoing. Only those who are eligible for bail, and can afford it, can reclaim their lives during the trial period. Remand is hugely disruptive to people’s lives, and to be held in a prison cell, deprived of your liberties, for weeks or months even before the prosecution can tell the court what offences you’ve committed, is a grave situation to be in. Thankfully, in this instance, the judge reminded the prosecution that keeping people in remand pending investigations is not something that should be done lightly, and urged them to move faster. 

Case 1

An Indonesian woman appeared in court from remand, via Zoom, crying heavily. She informed the court via a translator that she hadn’t received an update on her CLAS (pro bono legal aid) application, and wanted to contact the Indonesian embassy for help.

District Judge Terence Tay told her that her case is not complicated, and if she continued to wait for legal aid it would merely delay her case. He then asked if she wanted to represent herself to get her case cleared faster. At a loss for what to do, she agreed.

Case 2

A Malay Muslim man appeared in court from remand, via Zoom, for matters relating to his bail. During his hearing, he informed District Judge Brenda Tan that the prison was not allowing him to fast, citing that he was on medication.

He said he brought this issue up in court because his prison officer had said that this matter was not within his purview, and the man had no other avenues to express his grievances. But Judge Tan responded that this wasn’t the place to deal with the issue either. Since his bail matter was resolved, Judge Tan closed his case and moved on.

It is important to note, refusing to eat in prison is an offence punishable by caning.

Case 3

A man appeared via Zoom, from remand, where he was being held due to ongoing investigations against him. District Judge Lorraine Ho reprimanded the prosecution, saying it was “odd” to remand someone for investigation when fresh charges haven’t been tendered.

She also said that the prosecution “should be very mindful when remanding someone” when there are no fresh charges, and to not use something from 2021 as a fresh charge. Due to this, she sent the case back to PTC (pre-trial conference) instead.

Case 4

In another case, the prosecution asked District Judge Lorraine Ho for a 4 week adjournment to tender additional charges against the accused, which she denied saying, “you don’t need 4 weeks to tender additional charges!

The accused person was Malaysian and asked the judge if he could make a call back home. She explained that if it was a local call she could allow it, but the prison wouldn’t allow overseas calls.

He then asked if his next hearing would be his last one, as he just wanted to get it over with. Judge Ho explained to him that she has “chased” the prosecution to tender the charges, so even though he won’t be able to take a plea at the next hearing, at least the charges will go through.

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