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Ms Diana Ngiam. Photo credit: Quahe Woo & Palmer LLC


Many law students cite criminal law as the area that inspired them to study law in university, probably due to dramatized courtroom scenes portrayed on TV. While criminal law in real life may not be as exciting as on TV, we still wanted to find out more about this aspect of law. Lucky for us, we had the privilege of interviewing Ms Diana Ngiam about her life as an experienced criminal defence practitioner!

Upon making ourselves comfortable, we began the interview with the usual question that all Year 1s are asked when they are admitted into law school.

Why Law?

“Frankly, I chose to read law because I got interested in courtroom dramas, watching The Practice.” Of course, Ms Ngiam qualified this with the obligatory ‘practice-is-different-in-real-life’, but it was still interesting to know that a prominent member of the criminal law sphere could have been inspired by television programs just like many of us.

Ms Ngiam also added that another source of inspiration was high-profile criminal cases in the newspapers that really piqued her interest in the field.

Internship with Subhas Anandan

Given her firm interest in criminal law, Ms Ngiam interned with the late Subhas Anandan after her first year in law school. Mr Subhas Anandan was a founding member of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, and was one of the trailblazers in the field of criminal law in Singapore.

We asked Ms Ngiam for 3 words that she would use to describe her internship under Mr Anandan, to which she replied, “stressful but exciting”. She encountered many high-profile cases for which the stakes were often very high for both parties, which made the experience exhilarating and scary in equal measure.

The internship left Ms Ngiam with a lasting impression of what makes a strong criminal lawyer. As she noted, he was a persuasive speaker who had a commanding presence and “an amazing memory” – while at trial in court, he would not have to pen anything down, and could remember the finest details of the evidence presented in court. He was also an extremely sharp thinker, and gave Ms Ngiam a masterclass in cross-examination on multiple occasions.

Apart from witnessing Mr Anandan’s great work ethic, she was also privy to another side of him– he was kind, soft-hearted and even “childlike” at some points. She fondly recounted how Mr Anandan enjoyed eating snacks, and how despite having certain dietary restrictions, would snack on a few peanuts or potato chips whenever he caught his colleagues snacking in the office.

It was this memorable stint with Mr Anandan that helped Ms Ngiam decide that she would like to pursue criminal law.

A career as a criminal lawyer

Ms Ngiam’s steely and determined appearance belies the fact that she has had her fair share of challenges in practice. When asked about the most impactful case that she has worked on, she cited the case in which she appeared before the court as first chair, for the first time. This was the case of Public Prosecutor v BDB [2018] 1 SLR 127; [2017] SGCA 69, a case where a mother was convicted of voluntarily causing grievous hurt to her son, leading to his death.

When asked about why it was so impactful, she said: “I was expecting to lose, but I was not expecting to lose that badly,”. She then revealed that the loss hit her especially hard because she felt like she was personally responsible for it happening. But Ms Ngiam was quick to provide a quote-worthy comeback: “But I think things like that are good because you should never, ever stop questioning yourself; because when you do, I think you will realise that you are becoming too complacent.”

On the topic of how rarely criminal defence lawyers manage to secure a win, Ms Ngiam was upfront about the reality of the current situation. She admitted that the prosecution and defence are not operating on a level playing field, and stated that the odds are “usually stacked against” criminal lawyers. There is often an imbalance of information between the parties involved, with the prosecution having access to “all the resources”. Accused persons might also not have the resources to hire independent investigators to conduct investigations, and given the degree to which the final verdict rests on the results of such investigations, it would be greatly disadvantageous to the accused if these investigations have an unintentional bias towards the prosecution. Ms Ngiam believes that the easiest way to correct this problem would be to allow the accused to gain access to counsel at the earliest stage of investigations, before any interview is conducted by the police, so as to protect their interests.

Given the seemingly advantageous position of the prosecution in criminal cases, a question that arose was: why defence instead of prosecution? While Ms Ngiam admitted that she has “toyed with the idea” of joining the AGC, she reflected with levity that she simply could not see herself practising on “the dark side”. She sees more value in helping and being the voice for the “underdog”.

After this, we moved on to discuss some controversial topics.

 On Euthanasia

We began by asking about her views towards euthanasia, to which she replied “I don’t know man.”

After probing her further, she said: “I don’t think Singapore, as a society, is ready to accept euthanasia, although it is something I think we should not rule out because I see the point in allowing it, but of course under very strict circumstances.” She continued, “You are basically allowing people to fly to Switzerland to die, and if this happens more and more, you can’t simply pretend that this isn’t happening in reality.”

We generally agree with Ms Ngiam, especially considering the fact that healthcare in Singapore is expensive to the point that many Singaporeans joke about preferring death over facing hospital bills. Perhaps it is time that we confront legislating euthanasia as a society, rather than leaving it as an elephant in the room.

On Drugs

Singapore has very draconian drug laws, with our Minister for Law, Mr K. Shanmugam, once famously saying: “We want a drug-free society. Not a drug tolerant one.”

Ms Ngiam was candid in her views that the death penalty for drug-related offences was not working in Singapore. Elaborating on her statement, she said: “Once a person is dead, you can’t undo that. But with life imprisonment you can and I think people make mistakes so… To me it is a very scary thing, to decide that a person should just die.”

Given her anti-death penalty position for drug traffickers, we pressed her to suggest reforms she would like to see in drug laws.

With regard to drug abusers, Ms Diana said: “I don’t think prison is the most effective tool of drug abusers because I think imprisonment (1) makes them [interact] more with people of the same kind, (2) takes them out of society for some time, and they will face problems of reintegration into society.” Leaving no room for doubt about her feelings, she emphatically stated that “prison is a clumsy tool” and that “we should put more money into drug [rehabilitation]”. She also suggested that more effort could be put into researching on how we could rehabilitate drug abusers so that we can prevent them from “going in and out [of jail]”.

In the writer’s humble opinion, it is clear that our drug laws often catch traffickers who are simply low-level operators at the bottom of the drug syndicate. These traffickers are often Malaysians, who are out to make a quick buck, and who often do not know the laws of Singapore (although a separate argument could be made that ignorance of the law is no excuse). Indeed, our drug laws have undergone considerable changes, with the new section 33B of the Misuse of Drugs Act (Cap 185, 2008 Rev Ed Sing) allowing the court to exercise its discretion not to award the death penalty where the drug trafficker has substantially assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in disrupting drug trafficking activities. These are early days, but certainly steps in the right direction to temper the harshness of our drug laws.

When asked about whether we should legalise the usage of drugs, Ms Ngiam said: “I don’t think we should legalise drugs. We are already facing so much problem with smoking … and I don’t see the benefit of drugs at all … So, no, I don’t think we should legalise drugs.” For what it is worth, we humbly agree with Ms Ngiam’s opinions.

The future

We asked Ms Ngiam about what she envisions herself doing in a decade’s time and she frankly admitted that she has never been one to make long-term plans. Nonetheless, she does hope that her future self will still be practising criminal law. As much as she acknowledges that her line of work can get tiring and disappointing, she ultimately still enjoys what she is doing, and the rare wins in court continue to be a motivating force for her.

Advice for budding lawyers

Ms Ngiam started off by saying that young lawyers need to have common sense, tenacity and “some fire [in them]”, as these traits are what enables lawyers to go far in criminal practice. “I need to see the ability to show aggression when the situation requires in the courtroom when you communicate with the other party, the prosecution,” she added.

Lawyers who desire to practice criminal law must also “like it”, and have to be aware that they will eventually experience a trade-off in their remuneration. Speaking from personal experience, she admitted that the difference in remuneration will become more apparent as one rises up in the ranks, by virtue of criminal lawyers “not bringing in as much money” to firms as other fields of law. 

For lawyers who can accept the reality of the pay cut in criminal law, Ms Ngiam can assure them that there will be a welcoming community of mentors who are “happy to help”. She believes that the Law Society of Singapore’s Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) functions as an appropriate entry point into criminal law practice – it allows one to “get their hands dirty” with actual cases and to experience going to court, while the stakes are “not as high”. The mentorship programme in CLAS would allow junior lawyers to receive guidance while judging for themselves if criminal law is “what they want to do”. Ms Ngiam also mentioned, as an aside, that for lawyers who are unwilling to give up commercial practice, CLAS can be a platform for them to contribute in their own time.

As for law students who are still years away from practice, and whose immediate concerns would be geared more towards their academic work, Ms Ngiam had a short but important nugget of wisdom: have fun and don’t study so hard! Having accumulated years of experience under her belt, she lamented that, “once you start work, there really is no break”. Even when one takes a break from work, they will come back to “even more work”, and they might still be worrying about their cases even when on holiday.

Ms Ngiam also noted the trend of students increasingly “piling on” internships, as she has seen more first-year and prospective law students in the pool of interns. While she does acknowledge the logic of seeking internships in order to better understand a firm’s culture and ‘fit’, she believes that students will ultimately have to contend with, and be comfortable with, a degree of uncertainty regarding their future. Even for her, she could not have known what criminal defence entailed when she first took the plunge into reading law in university.

Another piece of advice that Ms Ngiam wished to emphasise on was to make “genuine and good friends” in school. These friends from law school will function as a robust support system for students when they graduate and enter practice, and they can come in handy when one needs a work referral in future.

Work-Life Balance

As for maintaining a life outside of work, Ms Ngiam enjoys running, and takes advantage of her office location in Dhoby Ghaut to take a jog through the scenic central business district in the evenings to destress. Other joys in her life include eating good food, and unwinding at home with her six cavoodles.


Originally published on the previous CJC website on December 9 2019.


Clarine See and Toh Ding Jun

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When news broke that the couple who had caused the death of intellectually disabled Annie Ee faced charges of voluntarily grievous hurt with a dangerous weapon rather than murder or culpable homicide not amounting to murder, many netizens were unhappy. They took to social media to voice their displeasure with the prosecutors for proceeding with a less severe charge, with some even signing petitions on the matter. 

The AGC later explained that the prosecutor’s duty was to prefer charges supported by evidence, and the evidence showed that while Annie Ee was beaten severely, she died of a fat embolism, which is something that would not normally result from her injuries. Because of these circumstances, the offences of murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder could not be proved against them.

Incidents such as the above made us curious about what exactly prosecutors do, and about how they exercise their prosecutorial discretion. Lucky for us, we were given the rare opportunity to interview Chief Prosecutor Mr Kow Keng Siong and Deputy Public Prosecutor Mr Chin Jincheng to find out more!

The work of a prosecutor

Making charging and sentencing decisions

We started the interview by asking about how a prosecutor goes about the daunting task of making a charging decision, seeing as this can be a matter where reasonable people may hold different views. Mr Kow explained that a prosecutor assesses many factors, including whether there is sufficient evidence to make out an offence, whether it is in the public interest to prosecute, and what charge is to be preferred.

Prosecutors take their work very seriously, as the lives of victims, the accused and even witnesses can be forever changed by their decisions. Because of this, much of their time and effort is spent on scrutinising the evidence and directing further investigations if needed when deciding whether there is a public interest to prosecute. 

When deciding whether to prosecute, prosecutors will consider, for example: Will prosecution deter the offender and other like-minded people? Will it prevent further crimes? Will the likely punishment be proportionate? Can prosecution help to rehabilitate the accused?

While we understood the idea of prosecuting for retribution, crime prevention and deterrence, we found the idea of prosecuting someone to ensure rehabilitation to be somewhat unusual.  When asked about this, Mr Kow explained that on the occasions when an offender is prosecuted for the purpose of rehabilitation, it is intended to address the offender’s root cause of crime. For example, prosecuting a young offender (or an at-risk delinquent) so that he may be steered away from crime through probation or reformative training. Similarly, mentally disabled offenders may sometimes be prosecuted so that they may be subjected to a mandatory treatment order in order to treat their mental condition where this is the root cause of the crime.

This was interesting to us, as you would assume that it would be the defence counsel who suggests rehabilitative sentencing options for youth or mentally disordered offenders. It turns out that being a prosecutor is so much more than pushing for the highest possible sentences – it involves not only the consideration of the victim’s interests, but of the offender’s and community’s interests as well. 

Given the huge weight that rests on a prosecutor’s shoulders when having to make difficult charging decisions, we were curious about the decision-making process. As it turns out, the AGC has a very strong culture of encouraging its officers to speak up and appreciating different viewpoints. Mr Kow and Mr Chin shared that prosecutors often engage in robust and candid discussions, and the views of each prosecutor, no matter how junior, are valued. Decisions are made only after all views have been properly ventilated and critically considered. Mr Kow believes that it is this willingness to consider and rationalise the diversity of views that makes good decisions.

As most law students would know, the hierarchy of power at a workplace is sometimes so deeply entrenched that junior associates, let alone interns, do not dare to voice their opinions. So, it was reassuring to hear that at the AGC, not only do juniors get a chance to speak up, their opinions matter. Believe us when we say that prosecutors really are interested in what others have to say – after about an hour of speaking to Mr Kow and Mr Chin, Mr Kow actually got us to share about our schooling experiences (I tried but failed to put a positive spin on company law – my apologies to all our company profs). 

Going to court

Another important and more visible part of a prosecutor’s work is to conduct a prosecution or argue an appeal in court. While litigation work is stressful, Mr Kow shared that AGC has a nurturing and sharing environment where colleagues do not hesitate to help one another. Colleagues often give advice on legal or practical points, share case authorities, provide comments on draft submissions, act as a goal-keeper for junior colleagues’ cases, and even take over others’ cases when necessary. 

As students, we all know about the woes of mooting and how litigation is kind of a more intense and scary version of mooting, with much higher stakes. Having to litigate without a support system would be immensely intimidating to a young lawyer- but at the AGC, you would not have to worry about this due to the open and welcoming network available to you. 

Policy work and other initiatives 

Another part of a prosecutor’s work which is less visible is working on initiatives with government ministries and law enforcement agencies to improve the administration of criminal justice system in general, and to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of AGC’s Crime Division in particular. Such work typically entails working with stakeholders to ensure that the criminal justice system remains fair and transparent.
  

Policy work is something we don’t hear a lot about when we talk about prosecutors, so it was great to learn about how prosecutors actually play a role in developing the governmental policies that govern us. 

 On public opinion

Often times, when a particularly controversial case surfaces, public opinion that arises as a result can be divisive and harsh.  

We asked Mr Kow about his views of the public expressing their views on controversial cases, such as the Annie Ee case.

Given the nature of the cases, Mr Kow said that it is only normal for the public to hold views about the cases. In fact, Mr Kow would find it odd if an individual does not have a view. That said, he advised that before expressing an opinion, especially in forceful terms, an individual should take every effort to fully understand the facts and issues behind the case – and not pass quick judgement or make speculations simply based on e.g. a headline or an article that does not contain the full background. Expressing an opinion based on preconceived notions and conjecture, instead of facts, is not only unfair to the party being criticised and unhelpful for an informed discussion on the issues at hand, but can also be divisive and dangerous. 

In this context, Mr Kow shared that an old Canadian TV series (which he enjoyed a lot) that illustrates his point about the dangers of forming impressionistic opinions is ‘Flashpoint’. He explained that an episode in that series would typically open with a tense hostage situation which portrayed the hostage taker as a villain. The episode would thereafter “rewind” back to several hours before the opening scene, and reframe the hostage taker as another ordinary human being, and the events and issues that put him into the hostage situation.

We found Mr Kow’s illustration to be a great way to drive home the adage that we should not judge a book by its cover, and that it is important for us to suspend judgment about decisions made by the AGC/the court until more information is available. (We also found that Flashpoint has pretty good ratings, so…check it out, because I’m sure Mr Kow recommends it!) 

Advice to law students 

Before ending the interview, we asked Mr Kow if he had any advice to us law students. His advice is as such:

  1.             Be purposeful – Know why you are studying law
  2.             Be aware – The practice of law is not going to be easy, but it can be deeply fulfilling  
  3.             Be discerning – Find a workplace where you like and can identify with its culture

On the last point, both Mr Kow and Mr Chin shared that they enjoyed working at AGC tremendously – to be in the company of passionate people who make daily personal and family sacrifices so that others may find and receive justice, and in the process, help advance the law.

If you have a keen interest in criminal law and you would like to further the interests of justice, you should seriously consider an internship at the AGC. According to Ashna (co-writer of this article), her AGC internship under the Junior College Law Programme was an eye-opening experience which made her choose to study law in the first place. 

You can also sign up for the NUS Law School elective module “Advanced Criminal Legal Process” which Mr Kow co-teaches. The module offers students a unique perspective into real-world criminal litigation processes through the lenses of a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including judges, prosecutors, law enforcers, and legal practitioners.

We hope that this article gives you sufficient insight into the mind of a prosecutor. Who knows, maybe the life of a prosecutor could eventually suit you too one day! 


Originally published on the previous CJC website on October 26 2019.


Ashna Khatri and Alvina Logan


 

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Our three lovely interns (from left to right): Hui Wen, Jun An, Sarhan



Feeling in the dark about the CLAS internships? Want to know more?

We gathered three Year 2 students, Hui Wen, Jun An, and Sarhan, who went through the summer CLAS internship, to shed some light on the experience.

Could you briefly tell us about what you did and how the experience was like? 

Jun An: I worked on sentencing precedents and memo preparations during the internship. It was an eye-opening experience as I got to see the practical aspects of criminal law in contrast to only learning the theory in the classroom. I learnt what the appropriate sentences were for a particular offence and I feel that this was the biggest takeaway.

Sarhan: I was given a lot of research work but I also had the opportunity to do some legal drafting such as letter of representations (reps) and mitigation pleas. Naturally, the quality of my work may not have been as good as that of a lawyer’s which was why my mentor assisted me in vetting my work and gave me tips on how I could make better reps and mitigation pleas. The scope of my research work covered a wide variety of topics, from commonly seen drug offences to property offences as well. 

The three of us collaborated at certain times. Jun An and I actually sat at the same court hearing together while Hui Wen and I did a massive research project together.

Hui Wen: That was really the highlight of the internship (everybody laughs). 

Sarhan: (continued) I have always wanted to do criminal defence and the thing about criminal defence is that sometimes your client may do things that you have a personal issue with. But, it is important that you still do your best in defending them. I think one thing everyone should learn is being able to separate your feelings from work. I felt that the experience has allowed me to do better in this aspect as well.

Hui Wen: It was the same for me, in that I had to do a lot of research work but I didn’t do much drafting such as writing memorandums. What I did get was more on the ground experience. I actually had to go to court on the first day of my internship which lasted for the first week of the three-week internship. I also got to go to Changi Prison for the first time for a client interview. The experience helped me understand the practice of criminal law outside of theory as Jun An mentioned. It is not until you go for an internship like CLAS that you really see how you can impact other people.

Can you tell us a little about the cases you worked on, and what you learnt through your research and through going to Court? 

Hui Wen: Sarhan and I were working on a really big case on rape and robbery that involved a lot of reading and research, especially about sentencing. It was important that we separated our emotions from the acts of our client. This isn’t always easy to do and it’s one of the reasons I feel that people are turned away from criminal law. But it’s something that we have to understand about being a criminal lawyer.

Sarhan: I did a few miscellaneous cases but the main cases were regarding drug offences, property offences and violence. When you meet your clients, you listen to their stories and it’s sometimes tragic to hear why they committed those offences. I felt that it humbled me to know that there are people going through so much and it made me feel blessed to be in the position that I’m in, which is why I had to at least try to help these people.

Jun An: Unlike Sarhan and Hui Wen, I did not get to handle such high profile cases. The most interesting case I handled was probably a cheating offence. I had cases from many clients of different characters, I learnt their stories and got to understand what their families were going through. The internship went beyond criminal law, it was about interpersonal relations as well. Learning how to communicate with the client, their families and reassuring them without guaranteeing them anything was a skill that was important.

What was your perception of criminal law before CLAS and how did it change?

Hui Wen: During one of our lunches with the lawyers I was asked if I wanted to do criminal law and the answer I gave was a resounding no. However, if you were to ask me now, I would say that it is a serious consideration. I really think it is meaningful work and very important for more lawyers to go into the criminal sector. Unfortunately, criminal law is admittedly emotionally taxing. There is a courtroom in the State Courts called Courtroom 26 where I saw loads of prisoners being sentenced at once. They barely had any contact with anyone and were speaking to the judge unrepresented with no idea of what defences they could raise, what a mitigation plea was and what they had to say to the judge. That is, for me, one aspect of criminal law that I would still need to overcome.

Jun An: Before CLAS, I did not realise how raw emotions could get and how emotionally intense the work was, as opposed to corporate law, which is basically a zero-sum game where the only thing at stake is whether a company gains or loses money. I don’t think I would be able to handle the emotions if I had to handle high profile cases. In the long run, it would definitely be tough for me. 

Sarhan: It’s no secret that I’ve always wanted to do criminal law. I did criminal law for my polytechnic studies as well as during National Service in the Singapore Police Force. While I wasn’t unfamiliar with the practical aspects of criminal law, this internship helped me gain the perspective of a defence lawyer, as opposed to the perspective of someone from SPF. Elaborating on Jun An’s point, there isn’t a clear winner when it comes to criminal law. Someone committing a crime and getting a lower sentence than what the prosecution wanted doesn’t really indicate that anybody has won. 

What was it like working with the CLAS lawyers?

Sarhan: I extended my internship by a week. All three of us interned together – I was the only one who extended, doing a 4-week internship while the rest did it for 3 weeks. My lawyer brought me out for lunch at the start and at the end of my internship. He spoke to me and gave me tips about life, how to be a lawyer: so sometimes, while we were sitting and waiting for the court proceedings to start, he would teach me about the structure and procedure of the proceedings, even highlighting certain parts about criminal law that I was not exposed to. Additionally, I want to stress that you will not be over-pressured by your mentors, but they do push you to do your best. I had a positive mentality to want to do things right, and put in my best effort into every case. Overall, I was very blessed to have my mentor and genuinely enjoyed the experience. 

Hui Wen: For me, I had the pleasure of not only working with my mentor, but also, Shi Yang (Sarhan’s mentor). There was one day where I followed him to Court 26 and he was very meticulous in telling me who the relevant stakeholders were and explaining the relevant legal jargon and acronyms. It was a very good experience as I got the chance to work with the other CLAS lawyers – watching them in action in court or just following them to prison to interact with the clients. Since they know how to utilise their mentees, they do make sure you’re learn something from it.  

Jun An: She (Marjorie) also brought me out to lunch on the second last day. During the lunch session, she shared with me about her life and advised me on how I can structure my law school studies to achieve what I want. It was helpful to me since it was general advice instead of just criminal law – I was quite grateful to have a mentor that was so willing to share. The mentors are understanding about your capabilities as a Y1 student so they do not just inundate you with work.

Were the responsibilities too heavy, just right or did you feel like you could have undertaken more? 

Hui Wen:  Some lawyers take on the mindset that if I don’t have work for you, then you (the intern) can just review projects, attend court hearings or go to the prison to interact with the clients. For me, I felt that I could have undertaken more work from home. I would love to have been more involved.

Jun An: Similar to Hui Wen’s experience, my mentor did not have much work to give so I could only do what was assigned to me – which was 4 to 5 pieces of work over a 3-week period. It was not so eventful for me at times but I did get my fair share of action.

Sarhan: I was given work daily. Unlike Hui Wen and Jun An, I stayed in the office from 9am – 5.30pm everyday. If you schedule your time properly, you will be able to manage internship work and your other commitments. 

What was something you thought you could have done better? If so, how would you have done it?  

Sarhan: The lawyers are definitely aware about the standard of our work as Y1 students. But I still wish that I could have improved the quality of my drafts so that the lawyers wouldn’t have to spend more time improving it. Plus, I wish that I had done my work more efficiently and effectively.

Hui Wen: Tying back to the previous question, I felt that I could have undertaken more responsibilities. But as Sarhan mentioned, the lawyers are definitely understanding of what a Y1 student can handle and made sure the work was not too much for us.

Jun An: I agree with Hui Wen in that I was not assigned that much work but Sarhan makes a good point about doing a proper job on the work that we were assigned so that the lawyers won’t have to spend too much time vetting our drafts.

How did you deal with unexpected circumstances during your internship?

Hui Wen: Be there for your trench mates and they will be there for you. It was really important that the 6 of us got to do research together. 

Sarhan: Echoing Hui Wen, we were grateful for collaboration amongst ourselves as we could share the knowledge we had, and could help each other out. For example, when we were handling Trafficking cases, whenever someone had problems, we were ready to help – putting what we had read earlier to good use.

What advice do you have for future participants of CLAS (e.g. with regard to balancing your time, the right mindset to take, what they should prepare themselves for before the internship begins)?

Hui Wen: First off, it is important to appreciate your trench mates – I couldn’t have gone through the entire experience without them. The friends I made during this internship are the ones that formed my support network. Next, future participants should go in with open minds because this is definitely a very good experience for you to go through. Criminal law is not an area where you get to do a lot of internships and more often than not, you only get to learn from it through the textbook and readings in class. When you go for the internships, just be open to spending long hours doing work and research, to accepting everything that is thrown your way and to takeaway something valuable from the experience. Lastly, do not be afraid to ask seniors who have done the internship before for help or advice. 

Sarhan: Adding on from what Hui Wen said, at the start, none of us were close to each other. But we bonded throughout the internship, to the extent that we still hang out with each other. One thing that is important for this internship is that you should never think that a client deserves punishment. You should go in with an open mind, regardless of your personal feelings or stance on the matter – refrain from judging the clients. Though I recognise that it is emotionally taxing when handling such cases, one piece of advice is to really care about your cases and your clients, regardless of the offence, and to go the extra mile to help them. For the Y1s going for the winter attachment, do read up on criminal law before the internship to get an idea of what it is about. During the internship, you will be expected to conduct research on issues not covered in the syllabus, so familiarise yourselves with the content and go in expecting to do work.

Jun An: You can ask seniors on what style your mentor prefers – for example, if they want their memo to be formatted a certain way. Additionally, you can also enquire about the temperament of your mentor as some do not like to be disturbed while working. So, as interns, you must wait for the right time to ask your questions.

Would you recommend this internship to your juniors? Why or why not?

Yes!

Hui Wen: CLAS is not the typical internship that you will do at a firm. Here, you really get to see the effect on people, and this is something you don’t get to see in law all the time. 

Sarhan: If you have an interest in criminal law, then you should definitely try CLAS. 

Jun An: CLAS really teaches you something outside the classroom, and broadens your perspectives. On a side note, it gives you pro bono hours!

[Disclaimer for Y1s: You will only be able to earn your mandatory 20 hours after you finish your pro bono module in Sem 2. So if you’re doing the Winter/Semester attachments, you’ll only be getting non-mandatory hours.]


If you liked what you read, do consider joining CLAS!

 

Originally published on the previous CJC website on October 8 2019.


Scott Yap and Johanna Lim

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