Love.Law.Robots. by Ang Hou Fu


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Like most people, I hate to be wrong. But if I got things right all the time, I’d be a judge, not a blog writer.

More than a year ago, I highlighted the only case on the Personal Data Protection Act I am aware of that has reached the High Court. It was a “rare sighting” of a private action under the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA).

In the post, I concluded that the right of private action was “meaningless” because the High Court held that you cannot claim “distress and loss of control”. That was, after all, what most people face when their privacy is breached. Even so, I thought that individuals going after companies for a breach was too much for one person to bear. That case, after all, concerned a rich, disgruntled data subject facing an intransigent data controller.

The case had gone on appeal to the Court of Appeal, which is understandable, given that the PDPA has never been before the highest court of the land, so clearly there are interesting and novel legal questions to be heard.

Furthermore, the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) also participated in the appeal. This is noteworthy because it intervened in essentially a private action. However, as mentioned above, the questions are novel, so the drafters of the PDPA should have a say.

The AGC's submissions largely echoed what I accepted in my previous post. This was essentially how we expected to read the legislation. This included accepting the general belief that emotional distress is not claimable under law.

Well, the Court of Appeal has spoken, and I was wrong.

The Court of Appeal held that “distress and loss of control” can be the subject of a right to private action. This was different from the common law, which generally does not regard emotional distress as actionable. (You can’t make a claim against another person for making you feel sad; such is “the vicissitudes of life”.)

What do I read from this? The Court probably abhors meaningless rights. As noted in my previous article, following the lines of the Government and the High Court’s judgement, the private action was not useful to anyone who had their privacy breached.

With the Court of Appeal’s pronouncement, the right to private action has more life in it. However, it’s still probably impracticable to exercise. Not only does a claimant have to bear the costs and stress of litigation, but it also depends on the actions of the respondent. In the instant case, the respondent explicitly (and inexplicably) refused to undertake not to use data without consent. The private action would be wholly unnecessary if everyone acted reasonably.

It was surprising to me that the Government’s position was not accepted by the Court of Appeal. The big picture is that there will always be some uncertainty about how the Court would read a piece of legislation in a dispute. This might make the Government’s recent insistence that only Parliament can decide what is marriage more understandable.

For now, until the Court of Appeal says so, maybe we shouldn’t be too confident when we make predictions on what the law is.

#Law #Singapore #SupremeCourtSingapore #AGC #ConsentObligation #Enforcement #Government #Judgements #Lawyers #Legislation #News #PersonalDataProtectionAct #Undertakings

Author Portrait Love.Law.Robots. – A blog by Ang Hou Fu

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Bar admission applications in Singapore are mainly administrative and symbolic affairs. If you missed the big one in July/August, you would gather in a chamber and have your admission acknowledged by a High Court judge. That would be the last time they would ever see a court robe for some.

In a rare show of drama, six applicants had to wait for their admission to the bar. Five of them cheated on the bar exam in 2020 by sharing their answers on WhatsApp. One colluded with another but fought the charges. All of them had, anyway, retaken their exams and passed. At the Attorney General’s proposal, their admission to the bar should be delayed by six months or a year so that they can “reflect on their error”. Choo J agreed.

[2022] SGHC 87Choo Han Teck J:You can read the full facts and reasons of the case in the judgement of this case here.

Update: Originally Choo J decided to anonymise and seal the case, so that the identities will not be revealed. Choo J reversed his decision on 27/4. “strong sentiments may sometimes interfere with the proper understanding of the idea of second chances.”

Choo J’s concluding remarks, in his characteristic brevity, are worth reproducing:

Measuring justice is never an easy task. Judges are ever mindful not to set standards that they themselves cannot achieve. They are loathe to shut the door on a wrongdoer with no prospects of redemption. But they also have a duty to prevent a repeat of the wrong, and to do so without breaking young backs in the process.

Some might claim that their treatment is too lenient. Don’t we expect lawyers to represent the highest standards of honesty and integrity? Wouldn’t cheating in an exam for bar admission strike at the heart of all that?

However, if the bar exam is supposed to show one’s readiness to become a lawyer, I start to feel conflicted. Do we expect lawyers to collaborate or show off their mettle doggedly? The approach would likely result in a better product for the court or the client is obvious.

If you start walking down that path, how we conduct bar exams becomes questionable. How much of civil procedure we learnt then is relevant today? Does everyone need to know about family law when only a minor subset of us will specialise in it? Do we need to test people who recently graduated from law school all the things they learnt from law school again (or find something they might have missed)?

I remember very little about what I studied or was tested on in my bar exam. Indeed, this shows how the bar exam has such little bearing on my activities in the law today.

I hope this incident is an awkward reminder of how relevant the bar exam is today. Interestingly, other jurisdictions are relooking the bar exam radically, though they have not taken that step. I like how this Above the Law article summarised the nub of this issue.

The bar exam has been a rite of passage barrier to entry for lawyers in America since the late 1800s. After more than 130 years of forcing would-be lawyers to go through months of intense study of laws they’ll never need to know in actual practice, the bar exam will finally be changing — four years from now.

Ideally, the new test will focus on seven skills areas, including client counselling and advising, client relationships and management; legal research; legal writing; and negotiation. It hasn't been implemented, and it's easy to be cynical about this.

Cheating should not be allowed on a test to assess your capability. But unwittingly these applicants might have drawn attention to something worth considering: what is the place of the bar exam, and is it instrumental in transitioning a student to practice? The absurd result is that those who wish to be admitted to the bar might have to learn to cheat on the bar exam to prepare them for the real world.

#Singapore #Law #Lawyers #Training #Ethics #SupremeCourtSingapore #Judgements #Updated

Author Portrait Love.Law.Robots. – A blog by Ang Hou Fu

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In one of my more popular posts last year, I remarked glibly that turning the outcome of 5 million random Monopoly JR games into a truth was magical. It wasn't funny because there was magic involved (there's none). It was funny because as a lawyer I couldn't wrap my head around it.

That's because this profession is very adverse to numbers and data. I don't know the reasons why, but you can witness the dismissive attitude towards it in a recent case heard at the US Supreme Court:

Roberts: Is there any evidence that 15 weeks is so much worse than viability?
Reproductive Rights lawyer: [data data data]
Roberts: “Putting the data aside…”

— Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC) December 1, 2021

Or the uproar when the Supreme Court of Canada tried to describe its reasons in a diagram:

I stand by my concerns! ;)

— Amy Salyzyn (@AmySalyzyn) November 23, 2021

A disturbing statistic fails to convince

the city.Photo by Tamara Gore / Unsplash

There's nothing funny about the death penalty in Singapore, though. A group of 17 Malays on death row for drug offences challenged their sentences. They don't allege that anything in particular happened to them. Instead, they point to statistics cobbled together from public sources showing that Malays were overrepresented in the death row — Malays made up 77% of Singaporeans on death row for drug offences, even though they only form 13.5% of the general population.

They thus alleged that the investigation and prosecution of drug offences discriminated against them, even if it was unconscious or not deliberate.

Unsurprisingly, the case was dismissed late last year. The judgement displays all the high watermarks of the scepticism the law has against statistics. Take this critical part of the judgement at [71] as an example:

Further, even if the plaintiffs’ statistical data is accepted as complete and accurate, the only variables reflected are the ethnic group and nationality of each offender. No account is taken of the multitude of other variables that would have contributed to the convictions and sentences in each case. The manner in which the plaintiffs’ statistics are presented therefore presupposes that all these offenders were equally situated and that the sole reason for differential treatment was their ethnicity, which are the very facts the plaintiffs bear the burden of showing.

Any statistics presented as evidence will always have these problems because it is in the nature of statistics. Take a simple linear regression below as an example. The blue dots are samples and the red line is a linear regression, calculated by minimising the distances among all the samples. Only two variables are presented. The majority of the samples actually do not “fit” the line. This might be caused by some particular circumstance unique to the sample. “Common sense and logic” still tell us that there is a trend.


As such, the fact that not all accused are given death sentences or some get reduced sentences does not invalidate the trend that the cases are showing. If there was no discrimination, we would see a random distribution, not a trend.

Even if we recognise that there is a trend, or in the context of the case that there is an overrepresentation of a particular community in sentencing, it doesn’t tell us why this is happening.

The problem starkly illustrates the conundrum that correlation does not imply causation.

Source: xkcd

We know how many people are given death sentences under the law, but there may be several reasons why there may be idiosyncrasies:

  • Police are over-policing a particular community
  • Prosecutors are less “lenient” towards a particular community
  • Courts are inclined to give particular sentences
  • A particular community is more “prone” to this type of criminal activity
  • A particular community is less able to fight charges due to fewer resources (e.g. access to good legal advice)

A statistic alone would not be able to differentiate the cause or how much.

Without saying as much, the court appeared to have a lot of difficulty grappling with what exactly is causing the trend. At once, it isn’t sure whether the plaintiff’s case of discrimination is direct or indirect (see paragraph 62). Earlier in the judgement, we are treated to a scintillating report of double-crossing witnesses and a potential smoking gun, which was ultimately excluded (see paragraphs 5 to 15). In conclusion, the statistic by itself was not sufficient to prove or ground any case in discrimination under constitutional law.

The prosecution also went over a list of complaints that are commonly associated with statistical data (see paragraph 33):

  • The makeup of the data does not explain itself — why from 2010? How is a particular offender considered as part of the Malay community or some other community based on the reported case alone?
  • The data is selective and biased. No unreported cases. No cases from persons who avoided the death penalty in certain circumstances.

There are other potential problems. We don't know how significant this survey was,(the judgement does not say) but given that only 8 death sentences were passed in 2020, the number of cases considered is not likely to be significant. This means that cases affected by outliers such as random prosecution or offender decisions are likely to have a more significant impact on the sample and the result. This doesn’t mean that there was no discrimination — it means measuring it using statistics is difficult.

Ultimately, the number of people sentenced to death alone is probably not nuanced enough to tell us how fair or unfair a law is.

One should not take this too far though — the statistics prepared by the applicants might be based on the only information publicly available. Without easy access to complete and accurate data, it’s unfair to blame its imperfections on the applicants. However, this might also be the case where information isn’t even collected. How do we express the decisions of courts, prosecutors or the police in data and quantify bias in that?

Another point — while the data may not be perfect, proving something in law is not the same as in science. For example, in the criminal standard of proof, an accused is convicted when there is no reasonable doubt, and we accept circumstantial evidence even when we pass the death penalty for murder. I would believe that it is possible to form a winning case using statistics in combination with other evidence.

However, an advocate will need to be able to explain numbers and statistical concepts to a judge. This will not be an easy task in most contexts, and will only be reserved for the most confident of advocates.


This was one of many bad outings for statistics in the law. It might have been caused by a poor understanding of statistics or the limitations of using statistics in the legal sphere. I have yet to see a judgement demonstrate a sound grasp of these issues. If you do, please share!

#Singapore #SupremeCourtSingapore #DataScience #Judgements #Law

Author Portrait Love.Law.Robots. – A blog by Ang Hou Fu

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What's the Point of this List?

Photo by Cris Tagupa on Unsplash

Unlike other jurisdictions, Singapore does not have a legal information institute like AustLII or CanLII. Legal Information institutes, as defined in the Free Access to Law Movement Declaration:

  • Publish via the internet public legal information originating from more than one public body;
  • Provide free and anonymous public access to that information;
  • Do not impede others from obtaining public legal information from its sources and publishing it; and
  • Support the objectives set out in this Declaration.

We do have an entry on CommonLII, but the resources are not always up to date. Furthermore, the difference in features and usability are worlds apart. (If you wanted to know what AustLII looked like over ten years ago, look at CommonLII.)

This does not mean that free legal resources are non-existent in Singapore. It's just that they are scattered around the internet, with varying levels of availability, coverage and features. Oh, there's also no guarantee they will be around now or in the future.

Ready to mine free online legal materials in Singapore? Not so fast!Amendments to Copyright Act might support better access to free online legal materials in Singapore by robots. I survey government websites to find out how friendly they are to this.Love.Law.Robots.HoufuAmendments to the Copyright Act have cleared some air regarding mining, but questions remain.

This post tries to gather all the resources I have found and benchmark them. With some idea of how to extract them, you can plausibly start a project like OpenLawNZ. If you're interested in, say, data protection commission decisions and are toying with the idea of NLPing them, you know where to find the source. Even if you aren't ambitious, you can browse them and add them to your bookmarks. Maybe even archive them if you are so inclined.

Data Science with Judgement Data – My PDPC Decisions JourneyAn interesting experiment to apply what I learnt in Data Science to the area of law.Love.Law.Robots.HoufuIt might be surprising to some, but there's a wealth of material out there if you can find it!

Your comments are always welcome.

Options that aren't free or online

Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash

The premier resource for research into Singapore law is LawNet. It offers a pay per use option, but it's not cheap (at minimum $57 for pay per use). There's one terminal available for LawNet at the LCK Library if you can travel to the National Library. I haven't used LawNet since I left practice several years ago. From following the news of its developments, it hasn't departed much from its core purpose and added several collections that can be very useful for practitioners.

Source: (accessed 22 October 2021)

There are also law libraries at the Supreme Court (Level 1) and State Courts (B1) if you're into physical things. There are reasonably good resources for its size, but if you were looking for something very specialized, you might be trying your luck here.

Supreme Court of Singapore

Photo by Vuitton Lim on Unsplash

As the apex court in Singapore, the resources available for free here are top-notch. The Supreme Court cover the entire gamut from the High Court, Court of Appeal, Singapore International Commercial Court and all other courts in between.

The Supreme Court has been steadily (and stealthily) expanding its judgements section. They now go back to 2000, and have basic search functionality and some tagging. Judgements only cover written judgements , which are “generally issued for more complex cases or where they involve questions of law which are of public interest”. In other words, High Courts prepare them for possible appeals, and the Court of Appeal prepares them for stare decisis. As such, they don't cover all the work that the courts here do. Relying on this to study the court's work (beyond the development of law) can be biased. There's no API access.

Hearing lists are available for the current week and the following week and then sorted by judges. You can download them in PDF. Besides information relating to when the hearing is fixed, you can see who the parties are and skeletal information on the purpose of the hearing. There's no API access.

Court records aren't available to the public online. Inspection of case files by the public requires permission, and fees apply.

New homes for judgements in the UK... and Singapore?I look at envy in the UK while exploring some confusing changes in the Singapore Supreme Court website.Love.Law.Robots.HoufuThe Supreme Court may be the apex court in Singapore, but its judgements reveal that there is a real mess in here.

State Courts

A rung lower than the Supreme Court, the State Courts generally deal with more down to earth civil and criminal matters. It long felt neglected in an older building (though interesting for an architecture geek), but they changed their name (from Subordinate Courts to State Courts) and moved to a spanking new nineteen storey building in the last few years. If you watch a lot of local television, this is the court where embarrassed respondents dash past the media scrum.

Unfortunately, judgements are harder to find at this level. The only free resource is a LawNet section that covers written judgements for the last three months.

Written judgements are prepared pretty much only when they will be appealed to the Supreme Court. This means that the judgements you can see there represent a relatively small and biased microcosm of work in the State Courts. In summary, appeals at this level are restricted by law. These represent significant barriers for civil cases where costs are an issue. Such restrictions are less pronounced in criminal cases. The Public Prosecutor appeals every case that does not meet its expectations. Accused appeals every case... well, because they might want to see the written judgment so that they can decide if they're going to appeal. This might explain why there are several more criminal cases available than civil matters. On the other hand, the accused or litigant who wants to get this case over and done don't appeal.

NUS cases show why judge analytics is needed in SingaporeThrowing anecdotes around fails to convince any side of the situation in Singapore. The real solution is more data.Love.Law.Robots.HoufuDue to the lack of public information on how judges decide cases, it's difficult to get a common understanding of what they do.

Hearing lists are available for civil trials and applications, criminal trials and tribunal matters in the coming week. It looks like an ASP.Net frontend with a basic search function. Besides information relating to when the hearing is fixed, you can see who the parties are and very skeletal information on what the hearing is about. There's no API access.

Court records aren't available to the public online. Inspection of case files by the public requires permission, and fees apply.

The State Court has expanded its scope with several new courts in recent years, such as the Protection from Harassment Courts, Community Dispute Resolution Centre and Labour Claims Tribunal. None of these courts publishes their judgements on a regular basis. As they rarely get appealed, you will also not find them in the free section of LawNet.


Beautiful view from the Parliament of Singapore 🇸🇬Photo by Steven Lasry / Unsplash

Singapore Statutes Online is the place to get legislation in Singapore. It contains historical versions of legislation, current editions, repealed versions, subsidiary legislation and bills.

When the first version was released in 2001, it was quite a pioneer. Today many countries provide their legislations in snazzier forms. (I am a fan of the UK's version).

While there isn't API access (and extraction won't be easy due to the extensive use of not so semantic HTML), you can enjoy the several RSS feeds littered around every aspect of the site.

I consider SSO to be very fast and regularly updated. However, if you need an alternative site for bills and acts, you can consider Parliament's website.

#Features #DataMining #DataScience #Decisions #Government #Judgements #Law #OpenSource #Singapore #SupremeCourtSingapore #WebScraping #StateCourtsSingapore

Author Portrait Love.Law.Robots. – A blog by Ang Hou Fu

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😩😢😴 I am not surprised these days were coming, although less than 2 months is a bit sooner than I expected.

I am sure this would make a great post one day , but I am feeling burnt out right now. Implementing a policy is always a tiresome project, but I am glad it's about e-signature. The roll-out has received a lot of praise and I liked many aspects of it personally.

Right now though, I feel like I need to bury myself in a hole and stay quiet for a while. So, forgive me if this newsletter feels a bit truncated than usual.

What I am reading now

Before I leave the topic of implementing e-Signature policies in your company, I just wanted to write about Sign Here: The Enterprise Guide to Signing Contracts Quickly by Alex Hamilton from Radiant Law. I mentioned Radiant Law in my previous post about law firms that are different. I finished this book in a few weeks ago and found it actionable. Unfortunately, I had to obtain my insights the hard way, i.e. looking at things critically and a bit of experimentation.

You don't need to go through that like me. Just buy the book.

Sign Here: The enterprise guide to closing contracts quickly : Hamilton, Alex: BooksSign Here: The enterprise guide to closing contracts quickly : Hamilton, Alex: BooksAlex HamiltonI earn a commission from purchases made through this affiliate link.

In Singapore, our return to normalcy has been stayed by the latest COVID-19 cluster. What started from a KTV cluster moved quickly into fish markets and has now extended its tentacles in several locations of everyday life here. It's not been highlighted, but this scenario would have been very dangerous at the same time last year. Our neighbours are vivid examples. We have to thank vaccinations.

Amidst all this, there's been talk as to how to push more people to vaccinate. At last, we have come to a very sticky situation.

Adrian Tan on LinkedIn: EXPLAINER: Employers have legal right to mandate COVID shots | 48 commentsCan a business require employees to be vaccinated, in order to protect other employees and customers? Google and Facebook have said that US employees ... 48 comments on LinkedInLinkedIn349 Posts

I actually encounter loved ones who refused to be vaccinated. Many of their reasons aren't rational. They are unmoored by emotions. They are clouded by misinformation. Worse, when you think about it, many of them (like old folks) are the ones who stand to gain the most from vaccinations.

In the meantime, my family and I feel threatened by their stupidity and selfishness.

At this point, I feel that people should be ordered to vaccinate. These subtle nudges just don't help. People who think they are exercising their free choice look like they are just waiting for the rest of us to protect them. What do you think?


Somebody might have read my post. I was excited about the HTML conversion of the PDF judgements in the Singapore Supreme Court website but complained why this feature was being hidden.

Now that the page is more powerful, it makes the secrecy about it even more confounding. From a UX viewpoint, the way results are displayed make it look like a PDF is the only way to read them. The hint to the search box still suggests that you can only search case titles. Why improve something if you're not going to show it off?!

New homes for judgements in the UK... and Singapore?I look at envy in the UK while exploring some confusing changes in the Singapore Supreme Court website.Love.Law.Robots.Houfu

Now, the pretty PDFs are hidden by default on the Supreme Court Website. The converted HTML judgement is now the primary way to access the judgement. The search options now seem to have left Beta and are reflecting its new powers in the descriptions.

In order to get the PDF, you now have to click on the judgement and then click download PDF.

... and now the case summaries have disappeared from the page.

Still, It's a step in the right direction. We will take whatever little victory we can get.

Post updates

While I get over my work hangover, I am currently working on my first feature since moving to Ghost. It's gonna be a list of free legal resources in Singapore... and it'd be free. This might upset Full Subscribers, of which they are currently 0 (why? Come on, guys!!). As mentioned, being a full subscriber should be a token to say thanks, and I will be grateful.

I am moving posts slowly in the meantime. The move is nearly complete since I don't intend to move everything here. While I learn more about how Ghost affects my search engine performance, I reckon that I will not make any new restrictions for now.

That's it!

My TraceTogether app now says I am fully vaccinated. Some have claimed that September is the month to go travelling. Well, I don't know much about that. I'll be staying home and nursing my burning out for now.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to reach out!

#Newsletter #E-signature #COVID-19 #Judgements #SupremeCourtSingapore

Author Portrait Love.Law.Robots. – A blog by Ang Hou Fu