Love.Law.Robots. by Ang Hou Fu


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I don’t have numbers to back this up, but as an occasional browser of the Supreme Court’s judgements web page, I started to notice that the Supreme Court has been dealing with more and more cases involving challenges to the death penalty. Have there been more drug traffickers in Singapore? Is the crime situation in Singapore becoming worse?

Statistics take on the death penalty... and tumbleA case last year shows the challenges faced in using statistics to prove a case in court.Love.Law.Robots.HoufuEarlier this year I wrote about another application regarding the death penalty which faced insurmountable odds.

To hear it from the authorities, this is a signal that prisoners on the death row, sometimes aided by lawyers, have been abusing the process. The words “drip feeding” have entered into our lexicon, referring to the tactic of death row prisoners filing one application after another to challenge their convictions and sentences. Many applications inevitably fail.

Increasingly, lawyers acting on such cases have also been ordered by the court to bear costs personally: for example, Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam v AG. Lawyers are pretty averse to such orders, which may explain why getting representation is difficult.

Other litigants have also jumped on the bandwagon. In Mohammad Farid bin Batra v AG, a prisoner faces judicial caning, which is not applicable if you’re over 50. To recount the procedural history of this case is a great parade of pointless applications, leading the Judge in the case to remark in the first paragraph that the case is an attempt to game the system to avoid caning until you are 50. Leave refused.

The tools that the courts have at their disposal don’t seem sufficient to deal with such abuse of process. “Legislative changes being considered to curb abuses of court processes”. It isn’t clear what kind of amendments are being considered.

Photo by Coline Haslé / Unsplash

So what is happening here? The cynic would claim that they can see through all this. For death row prisoners, the point isn’t to succeed. The delay resulting from the application would keep them alive for a few more days. Furthermore, the public attention to the death penalty could be a small contribution to repealing it by putting a human face to the people being ordered to death by the state for the public.

Once the cynical view becomes prevalent, it’s tempting to see every application from a death row prisoner as an abuse of process.

Viewing the world through such a lens, though can be very dangerous. In AG v Datchinamurthy a/l Kataiah, a prisoner on death row applies for a stay of execution (literally). It’s cast as an application to delay his execution, or an abuse of process. Here’s a slight kink this time. The prisoner is a member of a group of other prisoners, including those on the death row, who has sued the Attorney General for receiving their confidential letters while they were imprisoned.

Compared to the drug trafficking charges that put him on death row, reading the prisoner’s correspondence is a nothing burger. Sure, that could be a breach of privacy, but there’s no proof it affected the prisoner’s conviction or sentence. How can something so inconsequential stop the death penalty?

Fortunately, the Court of Appeal granted the stay of execution.

... Judges of Appeal, Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash, as well as Justice Belinda Ang were presiding.When I sat down, the hearing had already started. What follows is my best attempt at a transcription of what happened at the hearing, based on the notes that I took contemporaneously.

Phang JA : Let me tell you what my position is. I might be wrong, and you are of course free to disagree with me, but let me tell you what my position is. I am not a prophet. I don't know if the respondent will be needed for OS 188. None of us can tell, if his involvement will be necessary. That's the best we can do.

Prakash JA : If the respondent is executed, wouldn't it cast a spanner in OS 188? Even if the Estate can continue to act for him, but how will he get a legal representative appointed in less than a month? And there are 12 other plaintiffs, but there is 1 plaintiff absent, so does it continue? What then? There will be procedural issues, apart from what Justice Phang has said.

Phang JA : Some of these things are personal to him, and the Estate won't be able to do. He has to explain the letters. His lawyers may want to cross-examine, he may be cross-examined. Take a common sense view of the matter. If we don't know what will happen, then logically, we should wait and see right, because, if he is executed, then we will never know. I will be plain – somehow, that doesn't sound right. If we don't know, can you as a representative of the State, and as a representative of the State, you must have regard also to the accused's rights. This is his life, it is not a longer term of jail. Just pause and think. If you are prepared to concede that you will lose the appeal if he is needed for OS 188, but cannot tell us if he is needed, how can you then assert, he is not needed? These are the ultimate stakes.


Putting such a prisoner to death now, not least by the Attorney General, looks bad. Punishment for going against the Attorney General? A desire to stymie ongoing proceedings? A fight for the principle that the death sentence must be carried out immediately? Or an honest bureaucratic decision? Nothing would be lost by delaying execution for another day.

The silver lining in the bleak world of the death penalty here is that there is a court willing to call out against the Prosecution when the situation is appropriate. Oh, and call out the defence if they make a stupid application.

Ultimately, such applications are essential as our last bulwark to combating a miscarriage of justice, which is especially important for prisoners on death row. Such applications should be heard even if they are eventually dismissed. They are the costs of our administration of justice and the costs of handing out the death penalty.

#Singapore #SupremeCourtSingapore #Law #Government

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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There’s a movement brewing between the lines of Twitter and within the deeper reaches of GitHub. Somebody is trying to “open source” contracts. You might have come across the term “open source” when downloading your favourite web browser. Open-source software is free, and it works. Is that what “open source” would mean for contracts?

I liked how Bonterms describes the motivation behind the endeavour:

Look inside the stack of nearly any major cloud application and you’ll find open source code, and lots of it. Developers leverage any existing package they can find before writing a line of code on their own. And they spend hours happily contributing back improvements to the projects they use. Open source has fundamentally transformed software development for the benefit of the entire ecosystem. But, could lawyers do the same? Could you possibly get law firm and in-house lawyers with the relevant domain experience to come together to articulate best practices, collaborate on drafting and then give their work product away for free? Yes, it turns out, you can. You just have to ask and provide a forum for working together and engaging in friendly, detailed debate.

Could time-starved lawyers used to charging by the hour be more like programmers and give what they do for free?

Standards, standards everywhere

Previously I wrote about an “open source” contract — OneNDA. There’s been good news on that front. They transformed themselves into Claustack and came out with oneDPA, backed by PwC and ContractPodAI.

Will oneNDA rule them all?oneNDA, a crowdsourced NDA, says it has standardised the NDA. Cue the sceptic in 3... 2... 1...Love.Law.Robots.HoufuBack when OneNDA first came out, I hesitated to join the “hivemind”. My opinion has improved since.

Other “open source” contracts have sprouted out recently — check out Bonterms and Common Paper.

It’s striking how similar these efforts are — all of them use some “cover page” mechanism to contract and are written by a “committee” of lawyers.

Here’s another similarity: all of them discourage modifying their templates.

You can see this from the particular license chosen by these projects. OneNDA chose CC-BY-ND 4.0 (the ND means no derivatives), and the others chose CC-BY (You might be able to make changes, even for commercial purposes, but you must credit the project when you make changes. How do you do that in a contract? 🤷🏻).

Even if you don’t know the difference between the various Creative Commons licenses, you’d be sufficiently discouraged by the documentation. One of the answers in the OneNDA FAQ is, “Yes, you can do whatever you like with it except actively allow or encourage people to change anything in oneNDA other than the variables.”

After I thought harder about the distinctions, I realised these projects aren’t so much about open source but standardisation. If everyone uses a particular contract, there will be massive benefits to all involved. However, you must agree to its restrictions — You can only modify the variables or the cover page. To use the contract, you must agree to all the choices and tradeoffs made by the project.

Philosophically, I disagree with this sort of standardisation. It’s apropos to introduce some XKCD:

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to sneer if I saw a OneNDA in the wild (I haven’t).

But I won’t overestimate the impact of these competing efforts at standardisation. On the one hand, nothing is stopping me from modifying any template. On the other, I don’t get any benefit from adhering to one too.

OneNDA becomes Claustack — now a Community!

There is another aspect of “open source” that these projects might be alluding to. Open source development takes place in an open forum where anyone can contribute — on a mailing list, the GitHub issues page or some Discord server.

This idea that anyone can contribute appears to be anthemic to law. In the open source contracts I covered, all of them highlighted that they are supported or drafted by “experts” in their fields (I am a bit sceptical that someone would call themselves an NDA specialist). Both Common Paper and Bonterms have GitHub repositories for their contracts but don’t appear to accept contributions.

This brings me to Claustack. As mentioned above, it used to be OneNDA only, but now they have created a platform described as “GitHub meets StackOverflow – for lawyers”. The focus is not on the few documents that they are in charge of, but also on others including Bonterms and Common Paper. So, it is now a collection of resources, and a forum for people to provide feedback and suggestions, and at some level, be involved in its development. I liked this iteration better, so I joined up.

A contract standard might sound pointless because there are few, if any, restrictions to ensure you adhere to it. However, if there was a critical mass of users — a community — using, advocating and helping others on it, that is a recipe for conquering the world.

In “Forge your Future with Open Source”, a book about open source and how you can contribute to it, author VM Brassuer writes:

... the most important aspect of free and open source software isn’t the code; it’s the people. Contribution to [free and open source software] is about so much more than simply code, design, or documentation; it’s about participation and community. The licenses make the software available, but the people make the software, and the community supports the people. Remove one piece from this equation, and the entire system falls apart.

The quality of a contract might be important, and the licensing, the design and the cost of adoption are probably important too. But what would keep such a project going would be its people. At that point, more people have a stake in the success of the project, not just its founders or commercial backers.

Building a community wouldn’t be easy...

Although I am cautiously optimistic about how Claustack is turning out, it’s still early days for these open source contracts. More has to be done in order to persuade other folks to contribute and advocate.

My lack of faith probably stems from my experience and observation that open source projects dealing directly with law and lawyers are very few and far in between.

Open Source Legal: The Open Legal DirectoryOpen Source Legal is a central repository and review database of open and open source legal standards, applications, platforms and software libraries. It’s meant to help the legal engineering community track and develop a set of community-driven tools and standards to improve legal service delivery…Open Source LegalYou can check out other open-source projects listed here.

One such project which actually has a community is docassemble. They even have a yearly “DocaCon”. I attended my first last year (when the event was in person it was impossible for me to travel to Boston to attend it), and found a pretty weird tribe. Most of the excitement involved access to justice (A2J) implementations of docassemble, not something you would find in law firms or legal departments. I was excited at an effort to bring testing to docassemble interviews, again, I would never discuss this anywhere else.

In a recent interview on LawNext Podcast, Jonathan Pyle, benevolent dictator of docassemble, said this about his motivations for docassemble:

No, I really like to not make any money off of [docassemble]. It’s because I would really like being able to be honest to other people... I like being able to advise people not to use my code. It’s just so much easier if I could just concentrate on the technology and creating new features and not having to worry about making a living. It’s kind of nice to do something nice in the nights and weekends.

I can’t name another project like this.

Lack of opportunities is not the only problem. Culturally, lawyers seemed to be “trained” not to collaborate with each other.

Being #1 isn’t always a good thing—loneliness among lawyers (296) | Legal EvolutionSuccess as a lawyer can come at the expense of personal relationships. Is it worth the price? Few of my former partners in the global firm where I workedLegal EvolutionTom SharbaughIn this detailed narrative, associates, partners and law students confront loneliness.

Echoes of this also come from a recent interview with Mary O’Carroll on Artificial Lawyer.

If you have three lawyers in a room, and someone has information that can make someone else look good, will they help the other lawyers? Knowledge sharing between lawyers is not incentivised in training programmes. But, in a corporate setting you have to flex that muscle, i.e. collaboration and teamwork. The problem is that lawyers are trained to be the smartest person in the room. They don’t work cross-functionally in law firms. In a company however, every team has to work with every other team across the business.

Building a community for a normal open source project is really difficult. The question when it comes to open source contracts is: do lawyers even want a community?


An early draft of this post started by asking whether calling a contract “open source” is a PR stunt. It’s not fair to cast aspersions on an open source contract being given out for free when the usual course is not to share at all. Even so, one also has to be judicious about the way you spend your own time, something which lawyers are definitely (maybe overly) familiar with. Building an open source community is difficult, but that is what would make such a project sustainable. I’ll be keeping a lookout and hopefully there is a place for someone who wants to contribute.

#Contracts #docassemble #oneNDA #Claustack #Bonterms #CommonPaper #Law #Lawyers #Copyright

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

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In January 2022, the 2020 Revised Edition of over 500 Acts of Parliament (the primary legislation in Singapore) was released. It’s a herculean effort to update so many laws in one go. A significant part of that effort is to “ensure Singapore’s laws are understandable and accessible to the public” and came out of an initiative named Plain Laws Understandable by Singaporeans (or Plus).

Keeping Singapore laws accessible to all – AGC, together with the Law Revision Committee, has completed a universal revision of Singapore’s Acts of Parliament!

— Attorney-General's Chambers Singapore (@agcsingapore) December 21, 2021

After reviewing the list of changes they made, such as replacing “notwithstanding” with “despite”, I frankly felt underwhelmed by the changes. An earlier draft of this article was titled “PLUS is LAME”. The revolution is not forthcoming.

I was bemused by my strong reaction to a harmless effort with noble intentions. It led me to wonder how to evaluate a claim, such as whether and how much changing a bunch of words would lead to a more readable statute. Did PLUS achieve its goals of creating plain laws that Singaporeans understand?

In this article, you will be introduced to well-known readability statistics such as Flesch Reading Ease and apply them to laws in Singapore. If you like to code, you will also be treated to some Streamlit, Altair-viz and Python Kung Fu, and all the code involved can be found in my Github Repository.

GitHub – houfu/plus-explorer: A streamlit app to explore changes made by PLUSA streamlit app to explore changes made by PLUS. Contribute to houfu/plus-explorer development by creating an account on GitHub.GitHubhoufuThe code used in this project is accessible in this public repository.

How would we evaluate the readability of legislation?

Photo by Jamie Street / Unsplash

When we say a piece of legislation is “readable”, we are saying that a certain class of people will be able to understand it when they read it. It also means that a person encountering the text will be able to read it with little pain. Thus, “Plain Laws Understandable by Singaporeans” suggests that most Singaporeans, not just lawyers, should be able to understand our laws.

In this light, I am not aware of any tool in Singapore or elsewhere which evaluates or computes how “understandable” or readable laws are. Most people, especially in the common law world, seem to believe in their gut that laws are hard and out of reach for most people except for lawyers.

In the meantime, we would have to rely on readability formulas such as Flesch Reading Ease to evaluate the text. These formulas rely on semantic and syntactic features to calculate a score or index, which shows how readable a text is. Like Gunning FOG and Chall Dale, some of these formulas map their scores to US Grade levels. Very approximately, these translate to years of formal education. A US Grade 10 student would, for example, be equivalent to a Secondary four student in Singapore.

After months of mulling about, I decided to write a pair of blog posts about readability: one that's more facts oriented: ( and one that's more personal observations (

— brycew (@wowitisbryce) February 21, 2022

I found these articles to be a good summary and valuable evaluation of how readability scores work.

These formulas were created a long time ago and for different fields. For example, Flesch Reading Ease was developed under contract to the US Navy in 1975 for educational purposes. In particular, using a readability statistic like FRE, you can tell whether a book is suitable for your kid.

I first considered using these formulas when writing interview questions for docassemble. Sometimes, some feedback can help me avoid writing rubbish when working for too long in the playground. An interview question is entirely different from a piece of legislation, but hopefully, the scores will still act as a good proxy for readability.

Selecting the Sample

Browsing vinyl music at a fairPhoto by Artificial Photography / Unsplash

To evaluate the claim, two pieces of information regarding any particular section of legislation are needed – the section before the 2020 Edition and the section in the 2020 Edition. This would allow me to compare them and compute differences in scores when various formulas are applied.

I reckon it’s possible to scrape the entire website of statues online, create a list of sections, select a random sample and then delve into their legislative history to pick out the sections I need to compare. However, since there is no API to access statutes in Singapore, it would be a humongous and risky task to parse HTML programmatically and hope it is created consistently throughout the website.

Mining PDFs to obtain better text from DecisionsAfter several attempts at wrangling with PDFs, I managed to extract more text information from complicated documents using PDFMiner.Love.Law.Robots.HoufuIn one of my favourite programming posts, I extracted information from PDFs, even though the PDPC used at least three different formats to publish their decisions. Isn’t Microsoft Word fantastic?

I decided on an alternative method which I shall now present with more majesty:

The author visited the subject website and surveyed various acts of Parliament. When a particular act is chosen by the author through his natural curiosity, he evaluates the list of sections presented for novelty, variety and fortuity. Upon recognising his desired section, the author collects the 2020 Edition of the section and compares it with the last version immediately preceding the 2020 Edition. All this is performed using a series of mouse clicks, track wheel scrolling, control-Cs and control-Vs, as well as visual evaluation and checking on a computer screen by the author. When the author grew tired, he called it a day.

I collected over 150 sections as a sample and calculated and compared the readability scores and some linguistic features for them. I organised them using a pandas data frame and saved them to a CSV file so you can download them yourself if you want to play with them too.

Datacsv Gzipped file containing the source data of 152 sections, their content in the 2020 Rev Edn etc data.csv.gz 76 KB download-circle

Exploring the Data with Streamlit

You can explore the data associated with each section yourself using my PLUS Explorer! If you don’t know which section to start with, you can always click the Random button a few times to survey the different changes made and how they affect the readability scores.

Screenshot of PLUS Section Explorer:

You can use my graph explorer to get a macro view of the data. For the readability scores, you will find two graphs:

  1. A graph that shows the distribution of the value changes amongst the sample
  2. A graph that shows an ordered list of the readability scores (from most readable to least readable) and the change in score (if any) that the section underwent in the 2020 Edition.

You can even click on a data point to go directly to its page on the section explorer.

Screenshot of PLUS graph explorer:

This project allowed me to revisit Streamlit, and I am proud to report that it’s still easy and fun to use. I still like it more than Jupyter Notebooks. I tried using ipywidgets to create the form to input data for this project, but I found it downright ugly and not user-friendly. If my organisation forced me to use Jupyter, I might reconsider it, but I wouldn’t be using it for myself.

Streamlit — works out of the box and is pretty too. Here are some features that were new to me since I last used Streamlit probably a year ago:

Pretty Metric Display

Metric display from Streamlit

My dear friends, this is why Streamlit is awesome. You might not be able to create a complicated web app or a game using Streamlit. However, Steamlit’s creators know what is essential or useful for a data scientist and provide it with a simple function.

The code to make the wall of stats (including their changes) is pretty straightforward:

st.subheader('Readability Statistics') # Create three columns flesch, fog, ari = st.columns(3)

# Create each column flesch.metric(“Flesch Reading Ease”, dataset[“currentfleschreadingease”][sectionexplorerselect], dataset[“currentfleschreadingease”][sectionexplorer_select] - dataset[“previousfleschreadingease”][sectionexplorerselect])

# For Fog and ARI, the lower the better, so delta colour is inverse

fog.metric(“Fog Scale”, dataset[“currentgunningfog”][sectionexplorerselect], dataset[“currentgunningfog”][sectionexplorerselect] - dataset[“previousgunningfog”][sectionexplorerselect], delta_color=“inverse”)

ari.metric(“Automated Readability Index”, dataset[“currentari”][sectionexplorerselect], dataset[“currentari”][sectionexplorer_select] - dataset[“previousari”][sectionexplorerselect], delta_color=“inverse”)

Don’t lawyers deserve their own tools?

Now Accepting Arguments

Streamlit apps are very interactive (I came close to creating a board game using Streamlit). Streamlit used to suffer from a significant limitation — except for the consumption of external data, you can’t interact with it from outside the app.

It’s at an experimental state now, but you can access arguments in its address just like an HTML encoded form. Streamlit has also made this simple, so you don’t have to bother too much about encoding your HTML correctly.

I used it to communicate between the graphs and the section explorer. Each section has its address, and the section explorer gets the name of the act from the arguments to direct the visitor to the right section.

# Get and parse HTTP request queryparams = st.experimentalgetqueryparams()

# If the keyword is in the address, use it! if “section” in queryparams: sectionexplorerselect = queryparams.get(“section”)[0] else: sectionexplorerselect = 'Civil Law Act 1909 Section 6'

You can also set the address within the Streamlit app to reduce the complexity of your app.

# Once this callback is triggered, update the address def onselect(): st.experimentalsetqueryparams(section=st.session_state.selectbox)

# Select box to choose section as an alternative. # Note that the key keyword is used to specify # the information or supplies stored in that base. st.selectbox(“Select a Section to explore”, dataset.index, onchange=onselect, key='selectbox')

So all you need is a properly formed address for the page, and you can link it using a URL on any webpage. Sweet!

Key Takeaways

Changes? Not so much.

From the list of changes, most of the revisions amount to swapping words for others. For word count, most sections experienced a slight increase or decrease of up to 5 words, and a significant number of sections had no change at all. The word count heatmap lays this out visually.

Unsurprisingly, this produced little to no effect on the readability of the section as computed by the formulas. For Flesch Reading Ease, a vast majority fell within a band of ten points of change, which is roughly a grade or a year of formal education. This is shown in the graph showing the distribution of changes. Many sections are centred around no change in the score, and most are bound within the band as delimited by the red horizontal rulers.

This was similar across all the readability formulas used in this survey (Automated Readability Index, Gunning FOG and Dale Chall).

On the face of it, the 2020 Revision Edition of the laws had little to no effect on the readability of the legislation, as calculated by the readability formulas.

Laws remain out of reach to most people

I was also interested in the raw readability score of each section. This would show how readable a section is.

Since the readability formulas we are considering use years of formal schooling as a gauge, we can use the same measure to locate our target audience. If we use secondary school education as the minimum level of education (In 2020, this would cover over 75% of the resident population) or US Grade 10 for simplicity, we can see which sections fall in or out of this threshold.

Most if not all of the sections in my survey are out of reach for a US Grade 10 student or a person who attained secondary school education. This, I guess, proves the gut feeling of most lawyers that our laws are not readable to the general public in Singapore, and PLUS doesn’t change this.

Take readability scores with a pinch of salt

Suppose you are going to use the Automated Readability Index. In that case, you will need nearly 120 years of formal education to understand an interpretation section of the Point-to-Point Passenger Transport Industry Act.

Section 3 of the Point-to-Point Passenger Transport Industry Act makes for ridiculous reading.

We are probably stretching the limits of a tool made for processing prose in the late 60s. It turns out that many formulas try to average the number of words per sentence — it is based on the not so absurd notion that long sentences are hard to read. Unfortunately, many sections are made up of several words in 1 interminable sentence. This skews the scores significantly and makes the mapping to particular audiences unreliable.

The fact that some scores don’t make sense when applied in the context of legislation doesn’t invalidate its point that legislation is hard to read. Whatever historical reasons legislation have for being expressed the way they are, it harms people who have to use them.

In my opinion, the scores are useful to tell whether a person with a secondary school education can understand a piece. This was after all, what the score was made for. However, I am more doubtful whether we can derive any meaning from a score of, for example, ARI 120 compared to a score of ARI 40.

Improving readability scores can be easy. Should it?

Singaporean students know that there is no point in studying hard; you have to study smart.

Having realised that the number of words per sentence features heavily in readability formulas, the easiest thing to do to improve a score is to break long sentences up into several sentences.

True enough, breaking up one long sentence into two seems to affect the score profoundly: see Section 32 of the Defence Science and Technology Agency Act 2000. The detailed mark changes section shows that when the final part of subsection three is broken off into subsection 4, the scores improved by nearly 1 grade.

It’s curious why more sections were not broken up this way in the 2020 Revised Edition.

However, breaking long sentences into several short ones doesn’t always improve reading. It’s important to note that such scores focus on linguistic features, not content or meaning. So in trying to game the score, you might be losing sight of what you are writing for in the first place.

Here’s another reason why readability scores should not be the ultimate goal. One of PLUS’s revisions is to remove gendered nouns — chairperson instead of chairman, his or her instead of his only. Trying to replace “his” with “his or her” harms readability by generally increasing the length of the sentence. See, for example, section 32 of the Weights and Measures Act 1975.

You can agree or disagree whether legislation should reflect our values such as a society that doesn't discriminate between genders. (It's interesting to note that in 2013, frequent legislation users were not enthusiastic about this change.) I wouldn't suggest though that readability scores should be prioritised over such goals.

Here’s another point which shouldn’t be missed. Readability scores focus on linguistic features. They don’t consider things like the layout or even graphs or pictures.

A striking example of this is the interpretation section found in legislation. They aren’t perfect, but most legislation users are okay with them. You would use the various indents to find the term you need.

Example of an interpretation section and the use of indents to assist reading.

However, they are ignored because white space, including indents, are not visible to the formula. It appears to the computer like one long sentence, and readability is computed accordingly, read: terrible. This was the provision that required 120 years of formal education to read.

I am not satisfied that readability should be ignored in this context, though. Interpretation sections, despite the creative layout, remain very difficult to read. That’s because it is still text-heavy, and even when read alone, the definition is still a very long sentence.

A design that relies more on graphics and diagrams would probably use fewer words than this. Even though the scores might be meaningless in this context, they would still show up as an improvement.


PLUS might have a noble aim of making laws understandable to Singaporeans, but the survey of the clauses here shows that its effect is minimal. It would be great if drafters refer to readability scores in the future to get a good sense of whether the changes they are making will impact the text. Even if such scores have limitations, they still present a sound and objective proxy of the readability of the text.

I felt that the changes were too conservative this time. An opportunity to look back and revise old legislation will not return for a while (the last time such a project was undertaken was in 1985 ). Given the scarcity of opportunity, I am not convinced that we should (a) try to preserve historical nuances which very few people can appreciate, or (b) avoid superficial changes in meaning given the advances in statutory interpretation in the last few decades in Singapore.

Beyond using readability scores that focus heavily on text, it would be helpful to consider more legal design — I sincerely believe pictures and diagrams will help Singaporeans understand laws more than endlessly tweaking words and sentence structures.

This study also reveals that it might be helpful to have a readability score for legal documents. You will have to create a study group comprising people with varying education levels, test them on various texts or legislation, then create a machine model that predicts what level of difficulty a piece of legislation might be. A tool like that could probably use machine models that observe several linguistic features: see this, for example.

Finally, while this represents a lost opportunity for making laws more understandable to Singaporeans, the 2020 Revised Edition includes changes that improve the quality of life for frequent legislation users. This includes changing all the acts of parliaments to have a year rather than the historic and quaint chapter numbers and removing information that is no longer relevant today, such as provisions relating to the commencement of the legislation. As a frequent legislation user, I did look forward to these changes.

It’s just that I wouldn’t be showing them off to my mother any time soon.

#Features #DataScience #Law #Benchmarking #Government #LegalTech #NaturalLanguageProcessing #Python #Programming #Streamlit #JupyterNotebook #Visualisation #Legislation #AGC #Readability #AccesstoJustice #Singapore

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

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I love playing with legal data. For me, books specialising in legal data are uncommon, especially those dealing with what’s available on the wild world of the internet today.

That’s why I snapped up Sarah Sutherland’s “Legal Data and Information in Practice”. Ms Sutherland was CEO of CanLII, one of the most admirable LIIs. CanLII is extensive, comprehensive, and packed with great features like noting up and keywords. It even comes in two languages.

Legal Data and Information in Practice: How Data and the Law InteractLegal Data and Information in Practice provides readers with an understanding of how to facilitate the acquisition, management, and use of legal data in organizations such as libraries, courts, governments, universities, and start-ups.Presenting a synthesis of information about legal data that will…Routledge & CRC PressSarah A. Sutherland

The book’s blurb recommends that it is “ essential reading for those in the law library community who are based in English-speaking countries with a common law tradition ”.

Since finishing the book, I found the blurb’s focus way too narrow. This is a book for anyone who loves legal data.

For one, I enjoyed the approachable language. My interaction with legal data has always been pragmatic. Either I was studying for some course, or I needed to find an answer quickly. It will be enough to appreciate the book if you’ve done any of those things. I liked that it didn’t baffle me with impossible or theoretical language. I found myself nodding at several junctures as I reflected on my experience of interacting with legal data as well.

Furthermore, it’s effectively a primer:

  • It’s short. I took a month to finish it at a leisurely place (i.e., in between taking care of children, making sure the legal department runs smoothly, and programming). Oh, and unlike most law books, it has pictures.
  • It effectively explains a broad range of topics. It talks about the challenges of AI and the political and administrative backgrounds of how legal data is provided without overwhelming you. More impressively, I found new areas in this field that I didn’t know about before reading the book, such as the various strategies to acquire legal data and an overview of statistical and machine learning techniques on data.

So, even if you are not a librarian or a legal technologist by profession, this book is still handy for you. I would love more depth, and maybe that’s some scope for a 2nd edition. In any case, Sarah Sutherland’s “Legal Data and Information in Practice” is a great starting point for everyone. Reading it will level up your ability to discuss and evaluate what’s going on in this exciting field.

  • * *

I am sorry for being a sucker — I am the kind of guy who watches movies to swoon at sweeping visages of my home jurisdiction, Singapore. I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians, even though it’s fake.

So, I couldn’t resist looking for references to Singapore in the book. Luckily for me, Singapore is mentioned several times in the book. It’s described as “an interesting example of what can happen if a government is willing to invest heavily in developing capacity in legal computing and data use”. I’m not convinced that LawNet is like an LII, but among other points raised, such as the infrastructure, availability and formats are still much better here than in the rest of the common law world.

The more interesting point is that Singapore, as a small jurisdiction, would usually find its dataset smaller. That’s why experimenting on making models trained on other kinds of data effective on yours is crucial. (I think the paper cited in the book is an excellent example of this.) Other facets are relevant when you have fewer data and resources: what kinds of legal data should one focus on and the strategies to acquire them.

The challenges of a smaller dataset seem to be less exciting because fewer people are staring at them. However, I would suggest that these challenges are more prevalent than you would expect — companies and organisations also have smaller datasets and fewer resources. What would work for Singapore should be of interest to many others.

There’s always something to be excited about in this field. What do you think?

#BookReview #ArtificalIntelligence #DataMining #Law #LegalTech #MachineLearning #NaturalLanguageProcessing #Singapore #TechnologyLaw

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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A new year brings new beginnings, except the light at the end of the tunnel shines harshly on what we have left behind.

In a normal year, the start of the year for the Legal fraternity brings the opening of the Legal Year. A ceremony is also held where representatives of the bar, judiciary and attorney-general chambers give speeches with courtesy and camaraderie.

However, this year’s speech from the bar brings startling news. 538 lawyers left the profession in Singapore last year, a year on year increase of over 30% per cent.

Far more disturbing is the revelation that the departures are concentrated on young lawyers of less than 5 years of practice. For a long time, the bar has been concerned about the “hourglass” distribution of practice. Fat at the bottom and the top, where the youngest and oldest in the profession are, and thin in the middle. Is burnout starting earlier now?

It’s heartening that such problems are being confronted right now. In the said speech, Law Society President Adrian Tan puts it in this manner:

The 21st-century lawyers are different. They want to marry, not the law, but a human being. They, too, want to work hard. They, too, want their work to have meaning. But they also want other things that human beings want: to have children, to build a home, to have a life outside the law.

Even one of the new Senior Counsels from the bar (it’s interesting to note that both of them are female this year) put the concern in a similar manner.

I hope to be a role model of sorts to some to stay the course that much longer. I do hope that (this appointment) is a sign to all the young ladies out there that there is more that can be done.

So what would solve young lawyers burning out? Mr Adrian Tan posits that the 21st Century lawyer can have a sustainable career when the “law firm” as a physical place vanishes:

This is the picture I present to you of the New Singapore Lawyer, who works from a laptop, uses technology to collaborate with other lawyers, meets clients virtually, and is not bound to a physical office. Whenever there is a need for sensitive communication, the New Singapore Lawyer will book a secure Zoom pod. If there is a month-long arbitration with opponents in different time zones, the New Singapore Lawyer will use special facilities to cater to those needs... Put another way: the New Singapore Lawyer will spend more time on work, rather than on commuting to work.

This idea appears to have come out from the experience of senior lawyers working from home. It was a strange and foreign experience for everyone.

I like the vision of this “New Singapore Lawyer” (it’s great we finally have a published fiction author as a Law Society President).

However, I experienced many bouts of irony as I waded through its implications. One of the experiences people have from working from home is that without the separation of the workplace, they spent longer hours working. If we want young lawyers to not burn out, bringing work home does not look like a good start.

Another bout of irony came from the “threat” that technology can bring to the legal profession. Last year, the Singapore Academy of Law published a 600-page tome which raison d'etre was to examine how technology impacts the law for a profession that didn’t necessarily welcome it. While legal work done by city law offices is bespoke enough to not be replaced by robots, legal work at the lower end is more susceptible to being automated — people can turn to “googling” to find answers to legal questions rather than pay an hourly rate to a lawyer. The free-wheeling New Singapore Lawyer might not be so carefree after all.

So has working from home made us all love technology a lot more? Maybe, but I would suggest that this happy relationship is likely to be very limited and short-lived. It won’t be enough to overcome the challenges of burnout that young lawyers face at the beginning of their professional lives.

#Singapore #Law #Lawyers #LegalTech #LawSociety #WorkLifeBalance

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

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( TW: Child Abuse)

I don't need to indulge in any hedging for this — punishing children physically so that they will “learn” will never be a part of my parenting playbook. I have been on the receiving end of this myself. I didn't see a point in it as a child, and I tried to defeat it by testing its limits. Thankfully, my parents were reasonable people who (a) could recognise that it wasn't working and (b) loved me enough to see that it's not worth it. I believe many children and their parents go through various permutations of this path.

Still, family time is too precious to be spent experimenting on a well-known truth — physically disciplining a child is ineffective and harmful.

Not all children have reasonable parents — the newspaper recently reported a case where the courts issued personal protection orders against a child's adoptive mother. The mother had beaten the child with a cane several times in response to the child's potty problems, and the father applied for a personal protection order on behalf of the child. The article and the judgement contain fairly detailed audio transcripts of how the abuse happened.

The picture that emerges is rather harrowing. Furthermore, you can see glimpses of hurt among all those involved. There are no heroes in this story.

I always look out for bits like this:

It means that I'm a bad mummy […] I'm a lousy mummy. I'm not doing my job.

it never made sense when my parents hit me, until I realised that it wasn’t “them” that hit me, their own fears and anxieties, inherited from others

— visa is doing final edits ✍🏾📖 (@visakanv) November 29, 2021

A thick grey line

I might be firm in my views, but this area enjoys a wide latitude of views here. Chan Wing Cheong's article “Corporal Punishment of Children by Parents: Is it Discipline or Violence and Abuse?” in 2018 referred to other arguments such as religious reasons, personal experience, and claims that failing to do such a “parental duty” will lead to social chaos.

Some readers may be surprised that the judgment implies that some forms of physical punishment are legal or reasonable. If the parent had caned the child only once instead of 54 times, should that be allowed? If the parent had caned the child “softly” as requested by the child, would that have improved the situation? In obvious circumstances, these questions are easy. In borderline cases, which more children are likely to experience, the answers are arbitrary and capricious.

With little irony, the judgement describes this wide latitude as a “thick grey line”. In truth, corporal punishments of children are used in several settings here. It's interesting to note that in an article “explaining” the policy of the Ministry of Education about caning in schools in 2018, readers will find misdirection to some pointed questions. Caning is clearly frowned upon here, but we have to have it in some situations. The thick grey line is wide as it is foggy.

Singapore has a long way to go, but we should go along with the rest of the world. On this note, it's interesting that Japan and South Korea have already prohibited child corporal punishment in all settings, including the home. Closer to home, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar and China are committed to prohibiting it.

Going beyond the violence

While the images of (unreasonable) corporeal punishment are disturbing, I found it very interesting that the case arose in the context of a personal protection order.

Like many things in life, there are several ways to respond to a situation. If your child is getting beaten up by your spouse, you could counsel them (assuming you find it wrong).

If the situation gets out of your control, filing a police report is another option. Calling child protection services too. The preceding options entail criminal liabilities. If proven, your spouse will be going to jail or fined. A breadwinner or a child might be removed from the family, or the family suffers financially.

The personal protection order is a different beast. It's a civil matter, so you have complete control of the proceedings. As mentioned in the judgment, the outcome of a personal protection order is an order not to commit family violence and may be an order to attend counselling. If you are deft enough to handle it yourself (and many personal protection order applicants certainly do so), the costs are not high.

The result (and this judgement is a good example) is a veritable goldmine for divorce proceedings. The mother doesn't look great for her parenting skills, and without any further information on the family dynamics, the father seems all right. A case for sole care and control of the child is now much stronger.

( NB : There isn't any information on whether there are any ongoing divorce proceedings in this case, and there may be other reasons to choose a personal protection order, including being able to prosecute this on your own.)

So if a spouse claims that there is family violence, it might be worth questioning whether there are any ulterior motives in the claim.

On the other hand, this might be another powerful reason why you shouldn't cane or physically punish your children.

Enjoyed this post? You can read more about law and technology on Love.Law.Robots. and continuing to support my work by subscribing today. I post at least once a week and subscribers get a free members only newsletter. Thank you!

#Singapore #FamilyLaw #Law #PersonalProtectionOrder

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

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Regular readers might have noticed the disappearance of articles relating to the Personal Data Protection Commission’s decisions lately. However, as news of the “largest” data breach in Singapore came out, I decided to look into this area again.

My lack of interest paralleled the changing environment, which allowed me to keep up-to-date on them:

  1. The PDPC removed their RSS feed for the latest updates;
  2. I am not allowed to monitor their website manually; and
  3. The PDPC started issuing shorter summaries of their decisions, which makes their work more opaque and less interesting.

Looking at this area again, I wanted to see whether the insights I gleaned from my earlier data project might hold and what would still be relevant going forward.

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.Houfu

Something big struck, well, actually not much.

Photo by Francesca Saraco / Unsplash

The respondent in the case that had attracted media attention is Reddoorz, which operates a hotel booking platform in the budget hotel space. The cause of the breach is as sad as it is unremarkable — they had left the keys to their production database in the code of a disused but still available version of their mobile app. Using those keys, bad actors probably exfiltrated the data. This is yet another example of how lazy practices in developing apps can translate to real-world harm. They even missed the breach when they tried to perform some pen tests because it was old.

PDPC | Breach of the Protection Obligation by CommeasureBreach of the Protection Obligation by CommeasurePDPC LogoRead the PDPC’s enforcement decision here.

The data breach is the “largest” because it involved nearly 6 million customers. Given that the resident population in Singapore is roughly 5.5 million, this probably includes people from around our region.

The PDPC penalised the respondent with a $74,000 fine. This roughly works out to be about 1 cent per person. Even though this is the “largest” data breach handled under the PDPA, the PDPC did not use its full power to issue a penalty of up to $1 million. Under the latest amendments, which have yet to take effect, the potential might of the PDPC can be even greater than that.

The decision states that the PDPC took into account the COVID-19 situation and its impact on the hospitality industry in reducing the penalty amount. It would have been helpful to know how much this factor had reduced the penalty to have an accurate view of it.

In any case, this is consistent with several PDPC decisions. Using the PDPC’s website’s filters, only three decisions doled out more than $75,000 in penalties, and a further 4 doled out more than $50,000. This is among more than 100 decisions with a financial penalty. Even among the rare few cases, only 1 case exercised more than 25% of the current limit of the penalty. The following case only amounts to $120,000 (a high profile health-related case, too!).

The top of the financial penalty list (As of November 2021). Take note of the financial penalty filters at the bottom left corner.

This suggests that the penalties are, in practice, quite limited. What would it take for the PDPC to penalise an offender? Probably not the number of records breached. Maybe public disquiet?

In a world without data breaches

Throttle Roll - Swap Meat MarketPhoto by Parker Burchfield / Unsplash

While the media focuses on financial penalties, I am not a big fan of them.

While doling out “meaningful” penalties strikes a balance between compliance with the law and business interests, there are limits to this approach. As mentioned above, dealing with a risk of $5,000 fines may not be sufficient for a company to hire a team of specialists or even a professional Data Protection Officer. If a company’s best strategy is not to get caught for a penalty, this does not promote compliance with the law at all.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world without data breaches. The decisions, including those mentioned above, are filled with human errors. Waiting to get caught for such mistakes is not a responsible strategy. Luckily, the PDPA doesn’t require the organisation to provide bulletproof security measures, only reasonable ones. Then, the crux is figuring out what the PDPC thinks is enough to be reasonable.

So while all these data protection decisions and financial penalties are interesting in showing how others get it wrong, the real gem for the data protection professional in Singapore is finding someone who got it right.

And here’s the gem: Giordano. Now I am sorry I haven’t bought a shirt from them in decades.

There was a data breach, and the suspect was compromised credentials. However, the perpetrator did not get far:

  • The organisation deployed various endpoint solutions
  • The organisation implemented real-time system monitoring of web traffic abnormalities
  • Data was regularly and automatically backed up and encrypted anyway

Kudos to the IT and data protection team!

Compared to other “Not in Breach” decisions, this decision is the only one I know to directly link to one of the many guides made by the PDPC for organisations. “How to Guard Against Common Types of Data Breaches” makes a headline appearance in the Summary when introducing the reasonable measures that Giordano implemented.

The close reference to the guides signals that organisations following them can have a better chance of being in the “No Breach” category.

An approach that promotes best practices is arguably more beneficial to society than one that penalises others for making a mistake. Reasonable industry practices must include encrypting essential data and other recommendations from the PDPC. It would need leaders like Giordano, an otherwise ordinary clothing apparel store in many shopping malls, to make a difference.

A call from the undertaking

Photo by Nicola Fioravanti / Unsplash

The final case in this post isn’t found in the regular enforcement decisions section of the PDPC’s website — undertakings.

If you view a penalty as recognising a failure of data protection and no breach as an indicator of its success, the undertaking is that weird creature in between. It rewards organisations that have the data protection system for taking the initiative to settle with the PDPC early but recognises that there are still gaps in its implementation.

I was excited about undertakings and called them the “teeth of the accountability principle”. However, I haven’t found much substance in my excitement, and the parallel with US anti-corruption practices appears unfounded.

Between February 2021, when the undertaking procedure was given legislative force, and November 2021, 10 organisations spanning different industries went through this procedure. In the meantime, the PDPC delivered 21 decisions with a financial penalty, direction or warning. I reckon roughly 30% is a good indicator that organisations use this procedure when they can.

My beef is that very little information is provided on these undertakings, which appears even shorter than the summaries of enforcement decisions. With very little information, it isn’t clear why these organisations get undertakings rather than penalties.

Take the instant case in November as an example. Do they have superior data protection structures in their organisations? (The organisation didn’t have any and had to undertake to implement something.) Are they all Data Protection Trust Mark organisations? (Answer: No.) Are they minor breaches? (On the surface, I can’t tell. 2,771 users were affected in this case.)

My hunch is that (like the Guide to Active Enforcement says) these organisations voluntarily notified the PDPC with a remediation plan that the PDPC could accept. This is not as easy as it sounds, as you might probably engage lawyers and other professionals to navigate your way to that remediation plan.

With very little media attention and even a separate section away from the good and the ugly on the PDPC’s website, the undertaking is likely to be practically the best way for organisations to deal with the consequences of a data breach. Whether the balance goes too far in shielding organisations from them remains to be seen.


Having peeked back at this area, I am still not sure I like what I find. There was a time when there was excitement about data protection in Singapore, and becoming a professional was seen as a viable place to find employment. It would be fascinating to see how much this industry develops. If it does or it doesn’t, I believe that the actions and the approach of the PDPC to organisations with data breaches would be a fundamental cause.

Until there is information on how many data protection professionals there are in Singapore and what they are doing, I don’t think you will find many more articles in this area on this blog.

#Privacy #PersonalDataProtectionCommission #PersonalDataProtectionAct #Penalties #Undertakings #Benchmarking #DataBreach #DataProtectionOfficer #Enforcement #Law ##PDPAAmendment2020 #PDPC-Decisions #Singapore #Decisions

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

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I am sure you have already heard about the metaverse. The opinions are pretty polarised – it's either a ticket out of hell for Facebook, or it's the point where your digital life is worth more than your real one.

Killer use case for a sociopath all right.

— houfu ang (@houfu) October 29, 2021

As your resident sceptic, it's probably neither of those things. We still haven't figured out many things – for example, what is the blockchain for? Lawyers in Singapore are supposed to know everything about blockchain, but I suspect it's merely a buzzword to most. It increases the value of your company or LinkedIn profile by a factor of 10, though.

For now, most people are trying to get by. A fundamental problem I foresee is how the way we work and play is changing. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to look at remote working more seriously. Once we can take off our masks, though, will we go back to the way we used to work? There's no guarantee that it won't happen. Check out exhibit A: law firms. I spoke to some lawyers in Singapore, and they quickly pedalled back to a half remote, half office model once the Singapore government lifted workplace restrictions a few months ago. It's tiring. I am not sure if it's sustainable. It might lead to the Great Resignation.

I prefer working remote, but I am not satisfied with it. Some aspects of office life are difficult to replicate when working remote. Spontaneous interactions between different groups of employees. Water cooler exchanges. In a compliance role, my eyes and ears are open about how our colleagues do their jobs. When working remote, interactions have to be deliberate. Senior management seems to idolise these experiences (don't ask me why); they dissuade them from fully committing to remote work.

Making Work an Adventure

Replicating these experiences is also a problem for conferences. I've attended TechLawFest recently, for example. The online experience was OK, but it felt like I was watching a bland version of Netflix. Compare this to GeekCamp Singapore – they featured an event space using Gather.

Attendees in Gather are featured as cutesy 16-bit avatars, but what impressed me was the array of methods to interact. If you get close to an attendee, a private video conversation is automatically started up. You can create a room for an open mic session. You can generate breakup rooms by creating zones around tables on a map. I felt embarrassed in a virtual world.

Many of such spaces believe they are helpful for remote working. Besides creating those spontaneous exchanges, you can create posters that show your corporate materials. Oh, it makes you feel like you're going to work. 🤢

I was so impressed. I wanted to create my own “virtual” office. Not for my actual work (why would I want to do that), but for this blog. When I am writing, I can show up in my office, and you can come to say hi. We can meet for virtual coffee. ☕ ☕

In my ideal office, everyone gets their dustbin.

Besides being a place for me to do serious stuff, the virtual office also offers a place for visitors to learn more about this blog and interact with me. I am considering guestbooks, interaction corners, and even a coffee table where you can find books I have reviewed on this blog. Maybe even play games.

Gather isn't open-source, so I chose to work on this using Work.Adventure instead. It's been fun, almost like writing or designing a game.

It's a work in progress, so hopefully, there will be a post where I can show this off and invite you to come and experience it. 🍿

As I am working on this project, I gained a few insights into what the future may hold:

  • As we redesign our offices, especially given more people working remotely, it is critical to give people a reason to come to the office, whether physical or virtual. Spontaneous interactions are not sufficient by themselves, and you have to provide fun and meaning to being in an office.
  • When moviemakers decided to make a theme park, they made Disneyland. Hopefully, when game designers apply their craft here, they will change our working lives forever.

What I am reading

  • Docacon is coming! It's an annual gathering of docassemble users, and I still don't need to travel to Boston to attend. It's at an odd hour of 2 am Singapore on 1 December, though. If you are into docassemble, let's assemble!

Docacon 2021The annual conference of the Docassemble user community will take place on-line on November 30, 2021.Docacon 2021

  • At a less dreadful time of 17 November at 9 am, the SMU has Professor Dan Katz over on the topic of “ ** The Legal Innovation Agenda – Pre, During and Post COVID** “. I have attended Prof Dan Katz's LegalTech summer program at the Bucerius Law School (online) for over two years already, and he's an engaging speaker on the topic of LegalTech and innovation. Do sign up!

Jones Day Professorship of Commercial Law Lecture 2021 | SMU MicrositesSMU

  • Here's an exciting but not as pretty chart on the citation by courts of other courts in the common law world. Unsurprisingly, the UK is in pole position. This is far more fascinating to me – courts all around the common law world cite Singapore's decisions, but Singapore courts don't cite anything but UK, Malaysia, Australia and Canada decisions. I don't suspect snobbery... it might have something to do with LawNet.

The leading role of #English #law according to court citations.

Very insightful findings in this paper!

Well done @DanHLawReporter and others! 👏🏻👏🏾👏

— Václav Janeček (@DrVenca) November 6, 2021


Somebody foundmy traefik and docassemble post useful. Hooray! It's always nice to know my writing has helped someone.

Unlike humble me, our friend plans to push his virtual private server by having traefik, NextCloud, two docassemble servers, wordpress installations and an email server. That's going to be one mighty docker-compose file. The service he is using is from Contabo. I have to admit that the price point ($250ish a year) is pretty sweet for a general-purpose VPS. Maybe I should shift to the cloud too!

That's it!

Thanks for reading, and feel free to reach out!

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