Saturday, November 7, 2015

Dean Hor Interviewed by Innocence Project Singapore

Prior to his current appointment as Dean, Professor Hor was a Professor of Law at the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law where he taught, researched, and published extensively in the areas of Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Constitutional Law and Evidence Law.
     Professor Hor served as the Chief Editor of the Singapore Journal of Legal Studies and is a member of the editorial boards of the Singapore Academy of Law Journal and the Asian Journal of Comparative Law. He was also a consultant to the Ministry of Law and the Criminal Practice Committee of the Law Society of Singapore. Internationally, Professor Hor has also been appointed Distinguished Visitor at the University of Toronto’s Law Faculty and Visitor at Oxford Centre for Criminology.
     During this exclusive interview, Professor Hor candidly shared his views on the Innocence Projects in different jurisdictions, specific law reforms, and his experience serving as the Dean of the HKU’s Faculty of Law.

Q: What were your thoughts when the idea of setting up IP(SG) was mooted to you back then? What made you believe in this project?
A: This project was first conceived when a student, Audrey, who went to the United States for her undergraduate exchange programme came to know of the work of Innocence Projects (IPS) in the US. When she returned, she emailed a few Criminal Law Professors at NUS, including myself, to set up an Innocence Project in Singapore, known today as Innocence Project (SG). I was prepared to help but at the same time, I was also prepared to see the Project fail. There were concerns that setting up IP(SG) could potentially be construed as an insult to Singapore’s criminal justice system which prides herself to be reliable and trustworthy.
     However, the merits of this project could not be denied. In fact, which jurisdiction can say that there would be no merits to it? It can only be a good thing. The question, however, was whether this project is practically achievable within this political climate where we have a good and competent Government but any mistakes in convictions could be seen as an insult to that.
     As such, we tried to engage the Minister for Law and the Attorney-General Chambers from the outset. It took a few years and a few changes of IP(SG) heads as it was a potentially sensitive matter. It was a long process, but to-date it has since been set-up. Now, it is a question of pushing IP(SG) forward...

Q: Do you have plans to similarly bring the Innocence Project network into University of Hong Kong (“HKU”)?
A: First of all, it was the students who brought the Innocence Project to Singapore and I believe this is a very good initiative because students have more faith and idealism than practitioners and academics. I will personally support such a project if a student brings it up in HKU.

Q: In Veeramani Manikam v Public Prosecutor [2015] SGHC 201 (“Veeramani”), Chan Seng Onn J identified several lapses that happened at trial and the investigation process that led to the accused being wrongly convicted. These lapses include the Investigating Officers’ omission to investigate and verify the accused’s statements. The risk of wrongful convictions in Singapore is real. What are your views on Veeramani?
A: I remembered reading about this case in the Straits Times. Over the years, some judges do come up with judgments which are explicitly or implicitly critical of the way that law enforcement offices have behaved. For instance, in Muhammad bin Kadar and another v Public Prosecutor [2011] SGCA 32, V K Rajah JA (as he then was) was critical towards the investigations process as the police officer failed to comply with the rules. Such irregularities have been happening in Singapore, and it is necessary for judges, once in a while, to distance themselves away from law enforcement and demonstrate their neutral and independent stance in their judgments... Click here to read the full interview.

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