Judge raps lawyer for 'indecent and scandalous' courtroom antics
Lawyer had argued that women with big breasts in low-cut outfit asking to be molested
His line of questioning offended the woman whom his client was accused of molesting.
I argue that Mr Edmund Wong Sin Yee's deplorable defence strategy would have offended all womankind and, I suspect, most men as well.
It is one thing for men with caveman attitudes to say that women who dress sexily are asking for it.
It is quite another for a learned person like a lawyer to stand in court and argue that a woman's breast size and choice of clothing could determine whether she becomes the victim of a sex crime.
Sadly, Mr Wong is not alone in resorting to putting the victim on trial in cases involving sex crimes, especially in countries with the jury system which have juries that can sometimes be swayed by such arguments.
So it is heartening to see District Judge Shawn Ho state unequivocally that such antics have no place in his courtroom.
Or, for that matter, in any Singapore courtroom because what Mr Wong put the victim through in court is an insult to women.
His client, a student from China named Xu Jiadong, 24, had been accused of molesting a woman on a train.
The Straits Times Online reported yesterday that he had brushed his forearm against the breast of a 22-year-old woman on board a train at Toa Payoh MRT station on July 9, 2014.
Xu pleaded not guilty, and Mr Wong built his case around the argument that only attractive women would get molested on the train.
At one point during the trial, Mr Wong, who is in his late 50s and runs his own firm S Y Wong Law Chambers, asked the victim to stand up on the witness stand before staring at her breasts.
When Judge Ho asked what his intentions were, Mr Wong said: "Your Honour, I want to see... how attractive (she is) when (she) stands up..."
This prompted the victim to ask: "Is this necessary?" before adding: "I feel very offended."
Deputy Public Prosecutor Kong Kuek Foo later interrupted Mr Wong to ask whether it was his case that only attractive women would get molested in the train, ST Online reported.
Mr Wong replied: "Well, it's always that there must be a temptation. There must be something attractive for a person to do such a thing. So if you get an old lady, you think people want to molest her?
"So that is important and I want to show that if she is wearing a very low cut (top) with a very voluptuous breast protruding out, (of a) half cut (top), then of course... the higher the tendency that people might commit such an offence.
"So I'm trying to put my case that, you know, looking at the day (how) she was dressed and... her breast size and all these things... whether there is temptation for anybody or the accused to do such a thing."
The disgraced lawyer has his own track record of disrespecting women.
In 1992, he punched a nurse at the Singapore National Eye Centre and insulted the modesty of a woman employee at the clinic. (See report, right.)
In 2001, he was given a three-month jail term for road rage and fined $2,000 for using insulting words on the motorist's wife.
Judge Ho found Xu guilty of his single charge of outrage of modesty yesterday, and jailed him for five months.
In his 44-page grounds of decision, six pages were devoted to Mr Wong's conduct in court.
His "indecent and scandalous" cross-examination of the victim is forbidden in court under the Evidence Act. Those questions are also banned under the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules, noted Judge Ho.
He said: "...members of the Bar need to observe high standards of professional conduct and a proper sense of responsibility in the conduct of cases; if this is not done, the whole profession will suffer in the public's estimation...
"His conduct is plainly not in keeping with - and fell far short of - the best traditions of the Singapore Bar."
Explaining why Mr Wong's conduct was lamentable, Judge Ho said: "First, the manner that the defence counsel stared inappropriately at the victim's breasts... was a grim reminder writ large of what (Xu) had subjected the victim to on the MRT train.
"It made the victim re-live her odious experience. Distress was evoked, with the victim trying to hold back her tears in court.
"The proceedings were immediately stopped... But the damage had been done. Her heart was wrung. During the afternoon session, the victim was visibly affected."
Law Society President Thio Shen Yi told The New Paper last night: "Based on what was set out in the judgment, this is unacceptable. We are looking into it."
But Mr Wong's repulsive actions could be far-reaching.
As Judge Ho pointed out, Mr Wong's "improper humiliation" of the victim could discourage future victims of sexual crimes from standing up against their abusers.
When Mr Wong asked her to stand up in court so he could assesss her "attractiveness", she bravely voiced her disapproval.
I wonder if other victims of sex crimes would be as courageous when facing a lawyer's questions in court.
As for Mr Wong, one can only hope he crawls back into the cave from which he emerged.
Share your views with Linette at firstname.lastname@example.org
What was said in court
District Judge Shawn Ho included an extract of the court proceedings, which took place when Mr Edmund Wong was looking at the victim's breasts, in his grounds of decision:
Mr Wong: Witness, I'm sorry to trouble you again. Can you stand up a bit? Stand up. Okay, thank you. Sit down.
Judge Ho: What was that for?
Mr Wong: Sorry.
Judge Ho: What was that for?
Mr Wong: Your Honour, I want to see... how attractive when (she) stands up, you know...
Victim: Is this necessary? I feel very offended.
Mr Wong: Well, I mean, I think it's important because I'm going to ask you even more insulting questions later on.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Kong Kuek Foo: Your Honour, we'll take objection to any insulting questions at the outset.
Mr Wong: Provided it's insulting and scandalous (and not relevant), then you can object under the law...
DPP Kong: Your Honour, the courtroom is not a place for insulting questions. I don't need to learn the law to know that, my learned friend.
Mr Wong: Provided, Your Honour, the question is really insulting and does not go into the relevance of the case itself, then of course Your Honour can object. I'm going to ask a question; that is why I want the (victim) to stand up and to show... how attractive and how, I mean, because she said that she wore a full-top T-shirt, blue T-shirt... I want to see what's the size of...
DPP Kong: Your Honour, if I may just interject at this juncture? Is it the defence's case that only attractive women will get molested in the train?
Mr Wong: Well, it's always that there must be a temptation, there must be something attractive for a person to do such a thing. So if you get an old lady, you think people want to molest her?
So that is important and I want to show that if she is wearing a very low-cut (top) with a very voluptuous breast protruding out, (of a) half-cut (top), then of course... the higher the tendency that people might commit such an offence.
So I'm trying to put my case that, you know, looking at the day (how) she was dressed and... her breast size and all these things... whether there is temptation for anybody or the accused to do such a thing.
Judge Ho: Stop there, Mr Wong.
Mr Wong: Yes.
Judge Ho: Stop there.
Mr Wong: So...
Judge Ho: Stop there.
Mr Wong: Okay, I'll ask other things.
Judge Ho: Ms (...) I'm sorry I have to ask you to wait outside (the court). In fact, I would ask you to go for your lunch.
Victim: Okay. (Steps out of court.)
- The Straits Times.
Lawyer has chequered past
Mr Edmund Wong Sin Yee is no stranger to controversy.
He has previous convictions for disobeying a public servant's order, insulting the modesty of a woman, causing hurt and careless driving.
Before he became a lawyer, Mr Wong was a marketing manager in a multinational company.
In August 1992, he punched a nurse at the Singapore National Eye Centre and insulted the modesty of a female employee at the clinic.
A few months after being called to the Bar in 1998, he hit a motorist on the mouth with his mobile phone.
He was given a three-month jail term in 2001 for road rage and fined $2,000 for using insulting words on the motorist's wife.
Mr Wong appealed, but the prosecutors also appealed against the "woefully lenient" sentence, saying he behaved like a "total gangster" and that his behaviour was "contemptuous".
They also said Mr Wong gave a "sham defence" by alleging a police officer had lied in court. He even tried to disqualify the judge hearing the case by alleging bias.
His sentence was increased to the maximum one year by then Chief Justice Yong Pung How, who also imposed a $1,000 fine.
In July 2003, the Court of Three Judges suspended Mr Wong from practice for two years over the road rage conviction.
'EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES'
Mr Wong later told reporters: "I let the past be the past. Everybody makes mistakes, maybe I made a bit more. The whole episode has made me a better person. I learnt to be more restrained. I've got nobody to blame but myself for all this."
However, in September 2005, Mr Wong was arrested by anti-narcotics officers on suspicion of heading a multimillion-dollar ketamine trafficking syndicate overseas.
Between early 2004 and April 2005, he had allegedly used his former clients as runners to smuggle ketamine from Malaysia to Taiwan, and from Malaysia to China through Hong Kong.
He was held under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, a last-resort law used, among other instances, on those whom no one would dare testify against in court.
Mr Wong's urine also contained the tranquilliser nimetazepam, known as Erimin 5. He said he got the controlled drug from a friend as he had trouble sleeping.
He was given a four-month jail term for drug use. The sentence ran concurrently with his detention.
Under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, which must be renewed every five years, persons can be detained indefinitely without trial, when the Home Affairs Minister is satisfied that it is "in the interests of public safety, peace and good order".
- The Straits Times