The Criminal Justice System Needs a DoNotPay

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A string of high profile acquittals seemed to have shaken the public confidence in Singapore's criminal justice system. First, Parti Liyani's case obtained a parliamentary hearing on what is essentially its fairness. (I wrote about this earlier in the blog) Now, an acquittal of a doctor in a molest case highlights the pain the accused goes through to clear his name. Is there something wrong with the system?

A Focus on Prosecutors

Recently, an Op-Ed from a law professor was published arguing that we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think it offers good insights on the early part of the criminal justice system because of the following reasons:

The best thing about the article is that it highlights the prime importance of prosecutors in the system. Most criminal law students in Singapore quickly learn about the crime control model employed in Singapore. In this model, the accused's rights are less important, and we rely on the police and prosecutor to get the case right to proceed to punish offenders efficiently.

Here’s how Singapore can strengthen its legal processes in light of high-profile acquittalsRecently, Dr Yeo Sow Nam was acquitted of four charges of outrage of modesty, because the “victim” admitted in court that she lied about the allegations against Dr Yeo.TODAYonline

With heavier and complicated workloads and increased public scrutiny, this might indicate that the system needs help.

No Representation without Defence Counsel?

The article then suggests that defence counsel should get involved earlier in the process to make representations. A representation is essentially a letter to the prosecutor highlighting the facts and arguments in favour of the defence. When done correctly. It discourages prosecutors from bringing a case. Since you don't want to write rubbish to the prosecutor in charge of your case, defence counsel is highly recommended to pursue this.

Having early access to defence counsel can be unrealistic because only the savviest litigants will get defence counsel once they have an inkling that they will be charged (this category of people includes doctors and multinational companies). Furthermore, having defence counsel early might impede police investigations, so the authorities will not make this change lightly.

Many more people will take the plea bargain and try to get on with their lives instead of hiring some defence counsel and giving it a fight either using trial or representations. You never get to hear these stories because they have chosen to bear the consequences without considering whether the system got it right for them. If you cared about the fairness of the system, then this would not be comforting.

A New Perspective with Technology

At this point, I wondered what alternatives are available. It was not obvious to me for a long time, but this is a similar problem that DoNotPay was created to solve. In its earliest version, DoNotPay wrote letters to appeal against a parking fine by fashioning a better appeal. A more recent example features preparing eviction letters for tenants to make use of the eviction moratorium.

Digital Curb Cuts: Towards an Inclusive Open Forms EcosystemIn this paper we focus on digital curb cuts created during the pandemic: improvements designed to increase accessibility that benefit people beyond the populatiSee all articles by Quinten SteenhuisThis paper deserves far more space on this blog.

The main idea is to provide an online form that asks an accused questions to find potential points which can assist his case and process these reasons into a representation to be sent to a prosecutor. A criminal defence attorney would probably be beneficial in deciding what points should be included in specific cases. Otherwise, you would be repurposing content found in textbooks like Sentencing Principles in Singapore. (Note that the expert system will also have to consider factors going into conviction too.)

There might be problems with such an approach:


This is an idea that popped up in my head. It would be interesting to hear if it might work. Feel free to let me know your thoughts!

#Law #Singapore #tech

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