Law Minister speaks out after social media users criticise judge, defence lawyer in Annie Ee case

Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam.
The Straits Times

Singapore’s Minister for Law K Shanmugam has spoken out against online criticism of a judge and defence lawyers in the Annie Ee case.

Annie Ee was an intellectually disabled waitress who died at the age of 26, after eight months of abuse at the hands of a couple she befriended and lived with.

Earlier this month, the female perpetrator was sentenced to 16½ years’ jail, while her husband was sentenced to 14 years’ jail and 14 strokes of the cane.

Annie Ee died after suffering months of abuse.

When details of the horrific abuse came to light in November, many social media users expressed outrage at what had happened. A large number of people had also criticised the sentencing of the two culprits, as well as the work of defence lawyer Josephus Tan.

A petition calling for a harsher sentence on the couple has so far garnered more than 35,000 online signatures.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday (Dec 20), Mr Shanmugam said that while he also felt “outraged by what happened to Annie”, he was “troubled by how some people have expressed their views”.

In the first out of three points put forward, Mr Shanmugam urged the public to have confidence in judges to “do the right thing”.

“As a society, we have to try and avoid putting public pressure on judges to impose harsh/lenient sentences,” he wrote, adding that the prosecution or defence can appeal if the sentence is seen as inappropriate.

Following this, Mr Shanmugam said in his second point that the sentence a defendant gets “must not depend on how the public react during the case”.

In addition, the minister also reminded the public to be a civilised society that observes the Rule of Law in Singapore.

Referring to criticism of defence lawyer Josephus Tan, Mr Shanmugam pointed out that the lawyer had worked on the case pro-bono, and had a duty to put forward the strongest possible arguments on behalf of his client.

“It will be a sad day for Singapore, if lawyers are going to be hounded in public, for standing up in court to argue on behalf of their clients,” Mr Shanmugam wrote in his third point.

“A lawyer taking on such a case is in an invidious position. He has to do his best for his client, and yet there will be a lot of public opprobrium, because of the nature of the offence,” he added.