This post is related to the article from Channel News Asia titled “The Big Read: Accused persons get no sympathy but long proceedings are tough, more so on those not found guilty”. I will link the article at the end of my post for reference.
With the recent increase in sex crimes in Singapore, everyone is more cautious with our conduct. We are reshaping our views and educating ourselves on sex crime issues (e.g., consent, trauma, protection of and support for victims, etc.). Many voiced out dissatisfaction and skepticism towards our judiciary after rehabilitative punishments were meted out due to mitigating factors (commonly education and qualifications). As such, the government is also planning to raise the penalties for three distinct sex crimes after reviewing the current sentencing framework. The Attorney-General will also object to rehabilitative sentences for adult sex offenders unless there are exceptional facts.
Generally, when there is a lack of evidence in cases involving sex crimes, the public’s stance is that the victim must be supported and given the benefit of doubt. This is to prevent the offenders from shirking responsibility for their actions and to avoid victim-blaming. I agree with this. It takes a lot of courage for victims to come forth to recount the traumatic incidents to the authorities. Many victims will face anxiety and fear after reporting such incidents. Support for the victims is therefore especially important because they are vulnerable.
However, alleged offenders are often ostracised and publicly humiliated before conviction. This is what we call the “cancel culture” today. The “cancel culture” is harmful and negative, especially when dealing with serious crimes. More often than not, it deprives people of the freedom to express themselves as judgments are quickly passed. People who are wrongfully accused may also be forced to cave into societal pressure and accept the consequences instead of defending themselves. However, even if they do defend themselves, many already face condemnation even before the proceedings finish. They also will likely face job termination, psychiatric issues and rebuking by their friends and acquaintances. Some cases drag out for months to years, which worsens the situation.
Victims can be supported without “cancelling” the offenders, especially before the court comes to a decision. This is even more crucial when there is a lack of evidence. We must remain objective and be prudent when it comes to the judgment of heinous sex crimes to avoid causing injustice to either sides. This is not to trivialise the victims’ narratives, but rather to focus on discovering the truth. Being overly defensive of the victims can cause one’s judgment to be clouded and to depart from the priority of seeking the truth out. The consequences of sex crimes are hefty and should not be taken lightly.
That is why Courts go through an intensive fact-finding process through trial. They scrutinise evidence from witnesses and carefully sieve out the truth before giving their verdict. As stated in the article, “Swiftness is desirable in the abstract, but this cannot be at the cost of the quality of due process, for justice hurried is justice buried”.
The “cancel culture” has inadvertently also affected many lawyers who defend sex offenders. Criticisms from the public can get unnecessarily personal. Our professor once told us that a lawyer’s duty as a court officer is to the court and only the court. Another professor also said that it does not matter if your morals and values do not align with your client’s. If you handle a case, you’d better be the best lawyer your client will ever have. Defence lawyers do not need to agree with their clients’ actions in order to defend them. In fact, I have never seen or heard any defence lawyers condoning their clients’ offences. Because they don’t. And yes, despite that, they can (and must) still defend professionally and advance their clients’ interests.
You may ask: why do defence lawyers still take up such cases then? The answer is simple. Every single person deserves to be heard and deserves a defence. Defence lawyers are just mouthpieces for these people in court.
Perhaps it is time we change how we react as a society. The “cancel culture” stemmed from the desire for justice, but we do not need to use this method to achieve it. I particularly like what Mr John Koh said in the article: “If society wants to operate inclusively, for example by helping ex-convicts reintegrate into society, why are we abandoning this vulnerable group of persons who are still innocent (until proven guilty)?”