Recent trends in criminal procedure, evidence and sentencing are worth studying in detail, says prosecutor Mr Wong Woon Kwong.
As Director (Homicide) at the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC)’s Crime Division, Mr Wong Woon Kwong is a familiar face in the criminal law space. But it will be in his personal capacity that the 37-year-old will — together with Mr Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir and Ms Sarah Shi — present this year’s Annual Review on Criminal Procedure, Evidence and Sentencing. The seminar will be based on their observations of trends in criminal proceedings.
For instance, the trio has noticed a relaxing of rules related to the adduction of fresh evidence at the appeal stage. Mr Wong explains that the appellate court now focuses on the relevance and reliability of the evidence that is sought to be adduced, rather than whether it was available at first instance. “But this generally applies to the defence and not the prosecution,” he adds. “The Bench has indicated that the latter often has more resources to gather evidence at an earlier stage.”
But that doesn’t mean the defence can present its evidence as and when they like. “The courts try to strike a balance between procedural requirements and justice,” explains Mr Wong, who has been a prosecutor for more than 10 years. “But procedural requirements are not ignored altogether and any attempt to adduce fresh evidence at the appellate stage is rigorously examined. There needs to be some justification at the end of the day.” He adds that prosecutors have responded to this trend by focusing on a fair outcome. “As prosecutors, our role is to ensure justice is achieved, and where there is relevant and reliable evidence available, we would not ordinarily oppose an application for that evidence to be placed before the court.”
Trends related to sentencing guidelines will also examined: the trio will make sense of recent sentences and explain how these fit the detailed frameworks issued by the Supreme Court in these years. “These frameworks have done a lot to make sentencing more of a science than art,” says Mr Wong. But he adds that each new judgment sheds more light on the sentencing process, making re-examinations both necessary and worthwhile. Such information doesn’t just help the defence manage the expectations of clients — as Mr Wong points out, sentencing frameworks provide a sound methodology for all parties to apply in moderating their sentencing submissions at both trials and appeals.
Mr Wong observes that these trends are not restricted to a particular crime — they run the gamut of offences, including sexual assault, narcotics abuse and financial crime. This means that criminal law practitioners of all stripes will benefit from the seminar. After all, these time-pressed lawyers may not have the time to pore through pages of judgments to understand their implications — a luxury that those in bigger firms and the AGC enjoy. Does he see the session as levelling the playing field between prosecutors and criminal law practitioners? “It’s an adversarial system, but at the end of the day, we all want a fair outcome. And I think sharing knowledge never hurts.”
Registrations for the SAL Annual Review on Criminal Procedure, Evidence and Sentencing are now open. The two-hour session will be held at SAL’s Adelphi office on Wednesday, 13 November 2019, from 3.30pm.
The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the individual author/interviewee and do not represent the views of SAL Group, the Attorney-General’s Chambers or other parties.