Asst Prof Eugene Tan Kheng Boon, Nominated Member of Parliament
Ms Sylvia Lim : To ask the Minister for Law regarding the conviction of Dr Woffles Wu for abetment of giving false information to the police (a) in what manner did Dr Wu abet the giving of false information to the police; (b) whether the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ statement of 17 June 2012 explaining the choice of charge against Dr Wu has addressed public concerns about the equitability of the legal system; and (c) whether the Ministry has confirmation that written grounds of decision will be given by the sentencing court, despite there being no appeal pending.
Asst Prof Eugene Tan Kheng Boon : To ask the Minister for Law (a) whether, during the course of police investigations into speeding offences involving the car of Dr Woffles Wu in September 2005 and November 2006, information was obtained specifically and directly from Dr Wu and, if not, why not; (b) whether the information provided to the police by the person whom Dr Wu abetted was subjected to appropriate scrutiny in view of the employment relationship between them and, if not, why not; (c) whether the non-prosecution of the person whom Dr Wu abetted creates an exception that may be open to abuse; and (d) why are investigations into the identity of the driver of Dr Wu’s car protracted.
Sir, with your leave, I will take both sets of questions together – Ms Lim’s first, and then A/P Tan’s.
Reply to Ms Lim
Sir, a large part of Ms Lim’s question concerns the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. That is within the independent province of the Attorney-General, in his capacity as the Public Prosecutor.
I have therefore consulted with the AG in giving this answer.
Ms Lim has asked three questions. I will answer them in turn.
Ms Lim’s Question (a)
First question: in what manner did Dr Wu abet the giving of false information to the police?
Dr Woffles Wu was the registered owner of a motor car that was detected travelling at 95 km/h on 11 September 2005 - in an area where the speed limit was 70 km/h.
The same car was also detected travelling at 91km/h on 11 November 2006 - in an area where the speed limit was 70km/h.
On both occasions, the Traffic Police sent Dr Wu the usual notice and form - requiring him to furnish the particulars of the person who was driving the car at the time of the traffic offence.
On both occasions, Dr Wu did not fill in the forms provided.
Instead, Dr Wu’s employee, Mr Kuan Yit Wah, filled in the forms and indicated that he (Mr Kuan) was the driver of the car.
The Traffic Police receive many such forms each day, and proceed on the basis of the declarations received.
Subsequently, information was received by CPIB that the Traffic Police may have been given false declarations. Investigations were then conducted.
The investigations showed that false declarations had been made by Mr Kuan - at the request of Dr Wu.
Dr Wu pleaded guilty to one count of abetting, by instigating Mr Kuan to provide false or misleading information to the Traffic Police.
He had abetted a breach of S81(2) of the Road Traffic Act for the offence in 2006.
A second count of abetment for the earlier occasion was taken into consideration.
The district court sentenced him to the maximum fine of $1,000.
Mr Kuan was let off with a stern warning –
because he did not receive any monetary reward;
because of his old age; and
because Dr Wu was considered the more culpable person of the two.
Ms Lim’s Question (b)
Ms Lim next asks whether the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ statement of 17 June 2012 explaining the choice of charges against Dr Wu has addressed public concerns about the equ itability of the legal system.
Implicit in Ms Lim’s question are, I believe, the following assertions:-
that Dr Wu could have been charged for a more serious offence, and
he was not so charged because he is who he is – there was favouritism.
To answer this, we need to look at how Dr Wu’s case was treated, in comparison with other similar cases.
I assume Ms Lim has looked at the facts and law carefully.
If so, she will know the answer to the questions she raises.
Dr Wu was charged under S81(3) of the RTA. If you look at S81(2):
Duty to give information
(2) Where the driver of a motor vehicle is alleged or is suspected to be guilty of an offence under this Act, any other person who was or should have been in charge of the motor vehicle shall, if required by a police officer or an employee of the Authority, give any information which it is in his power to give, and which may lead to the identification of the driver, and if, within 7 days of the date on which the information was required from him, he fails to do so, he shall be guilty of an offence.
A schedule has been handed out. It’s useful to go through that schedule of cases where a fine was imposed, which I’m sure Ms Lim is aware of. (See Annex A (0.1MB)).
Now that I’ve taken the House through the facts of these cases, would Ms Lim agree that the sentence imposed on Dr Wu was in line broadly with the cases I have shown? I’ll invite her to answer the question.
I thank Minister for the schedule of facts that he has listed out for the House. The reason why I filed the question largely was because of the issue in the public discussion about equitability of the legal system. While I am aware of some of those cases where fines were imposed, there were also other cases where imprisonment was imposed. In my consultations with lawyers who are familiar with this area of practice, they tell me that Dr Wu got off lightly. And I would like, perhaps, to ask Minister for his view on some of these possible aggravating factors in Dr Wu’s case.
The first point is that it appears from the police investigation that it was Dr Wu’s idea for Mr Kuan to provide the information to the police, and he did it with deliberation. He received the forms from the Traffic Police but decided not to get his hands dirty, and asked his employee instead to provide the information.
Second point is it occurred over a period of time. It was multiple offences – once in 2005, and a second time in 2006. So it is not a case of a spur of the moment kind of conduct, but conduct over a certain period of time.
Thirdly, the motive of Dr Wu instigating Mr Kuan to provide the information is that he wanted to shield himself from collecting points, which possibly could result in his disqualification from driving subsequently. This is one of the factors which the court has said – the motive in the person’s mind when the false information is provided is very important. So these are some of the aggravating factors in Dr Wu’s case, and I wonder if Minister would agree with that?
I would be happy to answer them but I noticed Ms Lim avoided answering whether she thinks, and she is a qualified lawyer, whether the cases that I’ve listed suggest that Dr Wu’s case and the treatment fell broadly in line with the punishments meted out in those six cases between 2004 and 2007. Could I have an answer?
Mr Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, I am aware of some of these cases where fines were imposed. But as I said, there were some aggravating factors in Dr Wu’s case which I believe should have been taken into account, and that has led to this opinion on the part of criminal lawyers as well as members of the public.
Let’s look at the points that Ms Lim makes. The motive: in each of the cases I pointed out, there was a same motive – to not identify your own self. In each of those cases, Ms Lim will accept, on the face of it, it wasn’t a speeding simpliciter. One case was driving without a supplementary licence, there were other cases where there was deliberate misinformation given. So in all these, the motive is to avoid one’s identity, so that’s neither here nor there.
As regards the fact that here there were two offences, if Ms Lim looks at the cases I’ve cited, these were situations where there has been more than one offence. So in that context, I ask her for the third time whether she is willing to answer, and she is capable of answering as a lawyer. All those facts she has identified are present in some of those cases.
Mr Speaker, as I’ve said earlier, I’ve consulted lawyers who are in practice and are familiar with this are of the law. In their opinion, they feel that a custodial sentence would have been warranted in such a situation based on the facts.
Can Ms Lim identify a single case where on such facts, a custodial sentence was imposed? One case?
Mr Low Thia Kiang:
Point of Order, Mr Speaker, whether this is a session for question for oral answer, or a session for debate? Ms Lim basically asked a question, a matter of public interest, why is there a need for the Minister for Law to invoke such a debate? Is he trying to impose some form of intimidation?
These questions are entirely capable of being answered, including the very last question I asked. If there is a case Ms Lim knows, where on similar facts, a custodial sentence was imposed, no gratification, the underlying offence is speeding simpliciter, no false appeals made, no drunk driving, nothing else. Speeding simpliciter, with a false statement. Let me know if there is a case where someone was sent to jail.
Minister, based on the notes which I have with me, there is one case called Tan Jack Saa. I don’t have the year with me, but I’m aware that the facts are quite similar.
Tan Jack Saa – there was a deliberate false appeal made. It does not exactly square with the facts here. Let me make two points. First, if all that Ms Lim can point is one case, compared with the six cases I have identified, then, as a lawyer, she will agree that in the six cases – and we are talking about situations where the person drove without insurance coverage, he drove without a valid driving licence. There are so many cases where this is very serious, wilfully furnishing false information twice and driving without a proper licence. Six cases in contrast to one case, as a lawyer, fair-minded lawyer, I assume Ms Lim would accept that the treatment given to Dr Wu falls within the broad framework of these six cases.
Let me move on. I assume that none of us would say that the sentence should be heavier simply because Dr Wu is rich or famous, or perhaps some of us may not like him.
I will say this to Ms Lim. Rather than referring to some unnamed lawyers, who she says know better, she is a lawyer, she can look at the facts and she can give us her view based on the facts. Leave aside politics, and if we want to be honest and fair, then we must look at the facts. We have a duty to the public to say exactly, based on these facts, based on these cases, I agree this is the position. It has nothing to do with intimidation. Let us not throw words like ‘intimidation’ around.
Let me get a couple of other points out of the way in this context:
Section 204A was not even in force in 2005/2006.
Section 182: when Dr Wu committed his offences, an offence under section 182 was punishable by a fine not exceeding $1,000, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both.
Which is exactly the same punishment for a charge under Section 81(3) of the Road Traffic Act. And I assume at least qualified lawyers won’t quarrel with that.
In other words, before 2008, section 81(3) of the Road Traffic Act and section 182 of the Penal Code provided for the same penalties.
If it is necessary, I will go through Section 182 with the House.
Section 182 of the Penal Code, apart for providing for the same penalties at the material time, is a broad general provision.
Section 81(2) and (3) of the RTA deal directly with the offence in question: furnishing of false information.
I said there were two questions implicit in the question that Ms Lim had asked: that Dr Wu could have been charged under some other provision to face a heavier sentence. There is no such other provision, and if there is, I’m sure Ms Lim will tell me.
Several people have rushed in to allege bad faith on the part of the Prosecution.
The Prosecution is an important institution in our legal framework.
And I think Ms Lim, as well as other Members will agree that we have to be responsible when making comments about it.
It is easy to pull down and mock, less easy to build.
In the context of these facts, I trust that members will acknowledge that it is quite untenable to allege that the Prosecution had exercised its discretion in bad faith, given the facts that I have set out.
Specific to the three points that Ms Lim makes, it was Dr Wu’s idea to provide false information. If you look at the facts I have given for the other cases, it will be obvious that in each of those cases, it was the defendant’s idea to give the false information. He got the forms, and there were two offences and motive. Those are all not broadly dissimilar with these cases. In fact, the facts are more serious. Driving without a driving licence, and exposing people to serious claims.
Ms Lim’s Question (c)
Now, let’s go to the third question that Ms Lim asks: whether my Ministry has confirmation that written grounds of decision will be given by the sentencing court, despite there being no appeal pending. Again, Ms Lim will know the answer to this question. Whether the court issues grounds of decision is within its sole and independent province. The court does not confirm its decision with me, with the Ministry of Law, and as far as I know, with anyone else.
Reply to A/P Tan
Sir, I will now reply shortly to A/P Tan’s questions.
A/P Tan’s Question (a)
A/P Tan first asks whether information was obtained specifically and directly from Dr Wu, during the course of police investigations into speeding offences involving Dr Wu’s car in September 2005 and November 2006, if not, why not.
Dr Wu was not interviewed by the Traffic Police when the traffic violations in 2005 and 2006 were initially investigated.
This was consistent with usual practice.
Mr Kuan had signed the relevant forms identifying himself as the driver of the motor car when the violations were committed.
There was no reason for the Traffic Police to suspect that anything was amiss.
A/P Tan’s Question (b)
A/P Tan next asks: whether the information provided to the police by the person whom Dr Wu abetted, was subjected to appropriate scrutiny in view of the employment relationship between them and, if not, why not.
When a speeding violation is alleged or suspected to have been committed, the owner or the driver of the vehicle in question is only required to disclose the identity, address and driving licence number of the person who drove the vehicle, at the material time.
The police will then act on the information provided.
The information that was provided by Mr Kuan in relation to the two incidents in 2005 and 2006 were dealt with according to standard procedure.
Regarding A/P Tan’s question about Mr Kuan being an employee, it is not a requirement for the driver to disclose his or her relationship with the registered owner of the car. As such, the relationship between Dr Wu and Mr Kuan would not have been flagged out in the first place.
Even if the employer-employee relationship between Dr Wu and Mr Kuan had been disclosed, given the fact that Mr Kuan had voluntarily identified himself as the driver of the vehicle, on both occasions, there would have been no cogent reason to further scrutinise the information that was provided.
A/P Tan’s Question (c)
A/P Tan also queries the non-prosecution of Mr Kuan.
I think Members know that the Attorney-General’s discretion is exercised with reference to a range of factors.
Between the elderly Mr Kuan – who had not received any monetary reward – and Dr Wu, it was assessed that Dr Wu was the more culpable of the two. Dr Wu was therefore prosecuted whereas Mr Kuan was issued a stern warning.
I think many Members would agree with that exercise of discretion.
A/P Tan’s Question (d)
Finally, A/P Tan asks: why have investigations into the identity of the driver of Dr Wu’s car been so protracted?
Sir, the underlying speeding offences were committed in 2005 and 2006.
But the complaint that Dr Wu had procured Mr Kuan to make a false statement was only received by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) much later, in July 2009.
Due to the personal circumstances of the complainant, the CPIB was only able to obtain a full statement in February 2010.
After the CPIB concluded that no corrupt practices had transpired, investigations were taken over by the Traffic Police in August 2010.
Whilst investigations into the identity of the driver were ongoing, the Prosecution proceeded against Dr Wu for abetting the giving of false information in September 2011.
Investigations have been completed on the identity, and I understand that AGC will issue a statement on their decision.
Ms Lim’s clarification
Mr Speaker, Minister seems very focused on questioning my competence and I feel that there is a need for … (Minister: Not at all.) … I think it’s apparent to everyone in the House. Perhaps I should answer, point by point, the allegations which makes, and ask him for some clarifications as well.
The first point is with regard to the Parliamentary Question I filed, Part (c), asking whether the Ministry has confirmation that written grounds of decision will be given by the sentencing court despite there being no appeal pending. This was in the context of statements which the Minister reportedly made in the press saying that, you know, we should not make comments on the case until the written grounds of decision have come out. I’m aware that there is no appeal pending. So my question is, why make that statement unless you know the written rounds of decision are going to come out?
Second point is, Part (b), I think all of us know that the public is concerned about this case. I did not make any allegation there that AGC has acted mala fide in any way. I’m just asking whether that statement issued by the AGC has addressed public concerns. Unless the Minister says that there is no public concern on this matter – which I would be very surprised to hear – Sir, I just want the Minister to confirm whether he is questioning my motive in filing the question? Is he alleging bad faith on my part to cast aspersions on the legal system?
Let me take the third question first, that’s easiest. I am certainly casting no motive on Ms Lim. What I was saying is, it would be helpful in the context of statements that Ms Lim and others have made in the past that we can actually in this House debate issues, look at issues, without having to inject politics into it. That is why, somewhat hopefully, I went through six cases, fact by fact, item by item, and any lawyer will know looking at those six cases that the final result in Dr Wu’s case is consistent and falls within those six cases. And I was hoping for what is really an obvious answer, that having looked at these cases, Ms Lim would be fair enough to say, “Yes, I agree. The judgment in Dr Wu’s case comes within the framework here.” I gave her three opportunities, she did not. It is not a question of questioning the motive, but it is, rather, hoping because of these statements that have been made in various places about the Attorney-General and our judicial system, that between two lawyers, Ms Lim and myself, we can put to rest these allegations in a fair, transparent open way. But it is not to be.
Now, let me deal with the other two questions: whether there will be written grounds of decision. Ms Lim would know the context in which I made the statement. The period for notice of appeal had not expired. I don’t know whether there would be a notice that is filed. I wouldn’t know whether written grounds of decision would be given or would not be given. And in that context, I made that statement.
Second, I am glad to note that no allegations are being made against AGC, and that it is not being suggested in any way that AGC made a wrong choice or a false choice in choosing the charges that they did against Dr Wu. But the context of the questions certainly implicitly raised that possibility and because it is a serious possibility, I had to deal with it openly. That is what this House is for. But, I welcome Ms Lim’s suggestion. I take it wholeheartedly, and I am happy to hear that no allegation whatsoever is being made against AGC, so we can all at least move on, on the basis that they exercise their discretion properly.