Our criminal justice system and the death penalty

Gilbert Koh
20 April 2005

Bloggers at Singabloodypore are discussing the government’s decision to bar an Amnesty International researcher from speaking at a public forum about the death penalty. Read about it here.

From Steven McDermott’s post, I note that a Home Affairs Ministry spokeswoman, while explaining (or defending) the government’s position, had cited a PERC survey which named Singapore as having one of the best judicial systems in the region.

Now this amuses me. I hope that this government official has not actually read the PERC report and her comments were merely made out of ignorance. If she has actually read the PERC report and still believes what she said, then I think she is perhaps not very good at reading.

You see, the PERC report is basically a business report. It is produced by a business consultancy firm, namely Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. The PERC report helps multinational corporations decide where they want to do business, how much business they want to do, and what kind of political and economic risks they face in each country.

One part of such analysis is on the judiciary system. As a businessman, you want to do business in a country where the courts are reliable. You want the assurance that if you have a big legal dispute, you can take it to court and resolve it quickly, say, within a year, instead of five or 10 years. You want smart, honest judicial officers who understand the commercial issues and won’t take bribes. You want judges who know their law books and are fair and consistent in the ways that they apply the business laws.

Thus the PERC report focuses on the overall integrity of the legal system; the quality of the local judiciary; and the consistency in application of laws. Based on these factors, Singapore’s judiciary scores very highly. This should surprise no one.

Our judges are very bright and well-qualified. Our judicial system is very quick and efficient in processing cases. Our corporate & commercial laws are very well-developed and clear, compared to most other Asian countries. In my humble opinion, Singapore courts are truly an excellent place for resolving business disputes.

However, right now we’re not talking about business disputes. We’re talking about the death penalty. And the PERC report doesn’t address the death penalty. The PERC report doesn’t talk about capital punishment. Not at all. There is no way you can interpret the PERC report as endorsing the Singapore government’s position on capital punishment or the Singapore government’s views about Amnesty International.

The letters P-E-R in PERC stand for “Political and Economic Risk”, remember? Not “Human Rights” or “Moral Issues” or “Practical Solutions to Drug Trafficking”.

So the PERC report is utterly irrelevant to the discussion about the death penalty. I have no idea why the Home Affairs spokeswoman mentioned the PERC report. I bet she doesn’t either.

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