Not many of my friends know that I am pursuing a law degree. This may come as a surprise as I blog and am starting to create videos about my life as a mid-career law student. Thus at times, I get to sit down and chat with some people and get to know their thoughts and perhaps in some instances, their misconceptions when it comes to the legal system. The greatest misconception from the very small sample size of just my contacts would be that a large proportion of people may equate an acquittal to innocence. This is definitely not true and how this conversation got me started on this was a few friends of mine were talking about the Parti Liyani case.
Ms Parti Liyani was granted a discharge amounting to an acquittal for the fifth charge, for fraudulent possession of property. To many, it might seem that she is innocent and she was wrongly convicted. This is perhaps why there was a huge furore when the case was reported in the media. However, the criminal justice system works differently as compared to civil litigation. The prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. In a civil trial, one party has to prove with a preponderance of the evidence that his case is the stronger one. The bar is actually set rather high when it comes to the prosecution having to prove that someone is guilty and should be convicted. In Ms Liyani’s case, there was a break in the chain of custody of evidence and this created a reasonable doubt as to whether the allegedly stolen items were accurately documented. Of course, the judgement was a lot lengthier and there are many other facets that I will not cover in this blog post but this is the gist I got from glancing through the case. Thus to say that someone who is acquitted is innocent might not be accurate. Instead, when someone is acquitted, it means that the prosecution was not able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that that person is guilty of the offence that he or she is charged with.
My favourite case in law school so far is Beh Chew Boo v PP  SGCA 98. In a nutshell, Beh was caught on a motorcycle with drugs in its storage compartment while entering Singapore in October 2016. He had borrowed the motorcycle from someone. He was charged in the High Court and was given the mandatory death sentence. However, at the appeal, the Court of Appeal found that there was not enough evidence to say that Beh knew about the drugs in the motorcycle. While reading the case, I did not find Beh to be innocent but based on the evidence presented, I do agree with the eventual judgement that there was not enough evidence to warrant him guilty and hand him the death sentence.
Therein lies the duty of the court and the legal system to come up with a fair and just result for all who are convicted. I’ve debated with some of my coursemates as to whether we should sacrifice some innocent lives to ensure that no guilty person walks away free or should we allow some guilty to perhaps get away with crimes just to ensure that no innocent person is wrongly charged. This is the eternal conundrum that presents itself in the criminal justice system. I am personally veered to the latter.