The Deputy Public Prosecutor wanted to know if they should allow access to the defence only the material the prosecution was aware of ("narrow interpretation") or all the material pertaining to the case ("broad interpretation"). This may sound weird to civilised countries, but the police in Singapore is known to refuse defence lawyers' simple request for a copy of the statements recorded. The request to seek clarification from the Court of Appeal is a follow up of the Ismil Kadar travesty, whereby his death sentence was overturned by diligent discovery of unreliable evidence.
Justice V K Rajah ruled that the prosecution must disclose to the defence any material it was not using to prove its case, but which was reasonably credible and relevant to the guilt or innocence of the accused. The ruling should be hailed if it had stopped at the comma, but the "reasonably credible and relevant" qualifier still provides an escape clause for the prosecutor to withhold material which may be critical from the defence's view, but dismissed as unimportant by the prosecutor. Once again, the scales of justice have been tipped to favour one side. Even Criminal Procedure Code 2010, which introduced the regime for reciprocal disclosure, is not applicable for "simpler cases". Big brother still reserves the right to decide what is simple, what is not.
No wonder they have to double the pay for lawyers assigned to defend low-income people or foreigners accused of crimes punishable by the death penalty. Currently those who cannot afford lawyers have to resort to volunteers in the Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences (Lasco).The Law Society said the paucity of truly experienced lawyers in the pool was related to "the limited payment of honorarium". If pecuniary consideration is an impediment to putting up a robust defence, the lack of a level playing field must surely be more daunting.
In response to the clarification judgement, the Chief Prosecutor of the Criminal Justice Division said the decision has "effected a small incremental development in the nature of the prosecution's disclosure obligations." Be grateful for small mercies, half a loaf is better than no bread.