This Week In Court

– week of 10th April –

This week in court was really sobering. We saw a woman who had filed a sexual assault report with the police be slapped with a harassment charge by the Singapore Police Force for calling them about her case many times. According to the woman, this case had led to her losing multiple jobs. We were further distressed to hear that she might be remanded at IMH against her will. Repercussions like this are why so many survivors of violence are afraid to seek help and justice. Numerous survivors of sexual violence in Singapore have spoken up about the humiliation, discouragement and frustrations they have faced during police investigations and beyond. 

This case reinforces our belief that community-based, restorative and transformative justice approaches are urgently needed to support survivors of sexual violence. The legal system is a blunt instrument that treats survivors as witnesses who are obliged to cooperate with the police in investigations, rather than as persons who need care, healing and meaningful accountability. 

Other hearings we observed this week also highlighted how accused persons can find it difficult to voice their concerns, or even just raise questions about legal procedures when they are unrepresented.

Case 1

The Singapore Police Force has charged a woman who reported sexual assault with harassing them. Frustrated that she was not getting the help she wanted from the police, the woman made repeated phone calls to the 999 hotline and to her investigating officer. She said the officer ignored her calls.

The court heard that she was previously assessed by IMH to have been suffering from an adjustment disorder. The prosecutor requested for her to be remanded for two weeks at IMH for assessment, which she objected to. She said that she lost 3 full-time jobs as a result of this case and that the detention at IMH would adversely affect her. She was also afraid of the police escorting her to IMH because of her negative experiences with them.

She told the court that the Public Defender’s Office, which provides free legal aid, has rejected her application, and she is now trying to get legal aid from the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, though it is not clear if she is eligible. She told the court that it was ‘unfair’ that she was being charged when she was the victim of rape. She was also upset that the police had slapped the harassment charges on her before recording a formal statement and hearing her side of the story.

Case 2:

When a young man’s matters were about to be closed, he said, “Your honour, if I may-” to which District Judge Terence Tay responded with “you have already had your chance to respond” and didn’t let him speak. Since the man was to be taken to prison immediately, he tried again, and asked Judge Tay if he could have 5 minutes with his father. Judge Tay responded, “you certainly cannot have 5 mins, you can have a moment, subject to security concerns,” and said he will leave the decision up to the police officers in court.

Case 3:

A man appeared in court from remand via Zoom and informed the court that despite the prosecution constantly asking for adjournments and postponing his hearings for further investigations, no one has been to prison to take his statement. Since he took a long time to say this, Judge Tay interrupted him, but when the man continued speaking, he said, “are you going to persist [in interrupting me]?”

The man also tried to seek clarification about certain evidence he had, and asked, “what if I had evidence [to back up his claim]?” Judge Tay then said “we’re not dealing with hypotheticals”.

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