CJ expresses deep concern over extra caning case: Jayakumar
By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 16 July 2007 1742 hrs
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SINGAPORE: Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong has expressed deep concern over the recent case where a prisoner was mistakenly given extra strokes of the cane.
Law Minister S Jayakumar told Parliament that the CJ feels such mistakes may affect Singapore's excellent reputation and standing of the judicial system.
Meanwhile, the Courts are also considering automating processes with built-in checks to ensure such errors do not recur.
Dickson Tan was charged with four counts of abetting an unlicensed moneylender to harass a debtor.
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced on 28 February to three months jail and two strokes of the cane for one charge, and six months jail and three strokes for the second charge Â– adding up to a total of nine months jail and five strokes of the cane.
Professor Jayakumar said: "The error occurred at the stage of transcribing the sentence from the case file onto the warrant of commitment. The warrant of commitment notifies the Prisons Department the sentence that was passed to the offender.
"When preparing the warrant, the court clerk erroneously entered the sentence for the second charge as six months imprisonment and six strokes of caning instead of three strokes, thereby giving rise to eight strokes of the cane instead of a total of five strokes. Unfortunately, the sentencing District Judge also did not spot the error when he signed off on the warrant."
Caning was administered on Tan on 29 March, but the mistake was only discovered on 2 April after an inquiry from Tan's family led to investigations.
Professor Jayakumar said: "The Chief Justice has directed that the District Judge be formally cautioned and that after he has cleared his outstanding criminal cases, he will be taken off judicial work which involves the signing of warrants of commitment."
Meanwhile, the CJ has ordered a comprehensive system of checks to prevent mistakes of this nature.
In fact, the Subordinate Courts has already taken additional checks and refined its checklist.
Warrants of commitment will now be checked twice by another court clerk who is not involved in preparing the warrant.
A second District Judge will also be involved in the checking system before the warrant is signed by the judge.
Professor Jayakumar said Singapore's Subordinate Courts deal with some 200,000 criminal cases every year and such clerical mistakes were a rare occurrence.
He said: "But as I have said publicly, even if these mistakes are rare, one case is one case too many. We have to put it right and ensure it does not recur."
Nevertheless, the law minister said, Singapore's hard-won legal and judicial reputation must be upheld and strengthened.
Professor Jayakumar added that mediation talks with Tan's family are confidential and have been adjourned for both sides to reflect on what has been discussed.