Thursday, 24 September 2009

Justice, ‘Fen Fu’ and the Singapore Judiciary

One basic foundation of social stability is justice.

Justice is the fair and transparent implementation of equitable and just laws. As is commonly stated, justice must not only be done but it must be seen to be done.
Apparently, in the People's Republic of China (PRC) there is a fierce debate taking place about the ability of wealth to buy justice. There is a sense that human life is available at the right price and the legal system looks the other way.
The grievance is a symptom of the increasing gap between the rich and poor in a society raised on a staple of Mao's communist ideology. There do appear to be real reasons for concern.
Take the case of Hu Bin and Tan Zhou, a 25 year old telecom engineer. Both lived in Hangzhou but came from divergent backgrounds.
Hu is the 20 year old son of wealthy parents and a member of the 'fu er dai' or China's rich second generation. On the contrary, Tan hails from a small town in Hunan. He supported his parents through his job in Hangzhou city.
On May 7, 2009 Hu collided with Tan at a pedestrian zebra crossing while driving his modified Mitsubishi car. Hu is well known among the city's amateur road racing circuit.
The police conducted an initial investigation and released a statement suggesting that the driver was not speeding and the car had not been illegally modified. The general public seemed not to agree with the police and Tan's case quickly snowballed into a cause celebre'.
Following a public outcry the police admitted that the car was indeed travelling much faster than earlier believed. Additionally, they concurred that the vehicle's engine had been illegally adjusted to make it more powerful.
Hu's family reached a compensation deal with Tan's parents and paid the equivalent to USD 165,000. Following the payment Hu was given a 3 year prison sentence in mid-July.
Apparently, the compensation agreement affected the length of the prison sentence.
The story does not end there. Many members of the public are now convinced that the family has 'bought' a stand-in for Hu. It is widely believed that the person serving out the sentence is not Hu but an imposter. Critics provide support for their 'imposter' claim based on photographic evidence.
Whatever the truth, the incident underscores the importance of a credible justice system for maintaining social harmony.

Singapore has a functioning and transparent judiciary. Normal criminal and civil cases are generally settled without much fanfare. Controversies are rare and normally follow only the 'political' cases.
In the larger context, the 'political' cases are few and far between. They do not impact the ordinary Singaporean in any meaningful manner.
As Singapore becomes more open to foreign influences the importance of preserving the credibility of the legal system is paramount.
The Singapore brand cannot be compromised.

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