First published on 1 Sep 2010. Updated on 12 Feb 2012.
I shuddered as I was screened at the Supreme Court Building’s (1 Supreme Court Ln; 6336 0644, www.supcourt.gov.sg) security checkpoint, praying no space probe would materialise from what (to me) resembled an alien mothership detailed with skylights that had descended on the CBD. Instead, I was let off with a warning about my inappropriate attire.
The hearings posted in the grand lobby ran the gamut from debt settlements to employee strikes, until the word ‘murder’ caught my eye. I found myself seated at Court 5C with an obviously seasoned court kaypo beside me. She gesticulated and grunted, furnishing the obscure legal commentary – a robbery in Geylang gone tragically wrong, with the penalty about to be delivered. Death. Its finality lent a disquiet more resounding than the judge’s voice, and the sullen woman hung her head in tearful despair – although she was unrelated to either of the assailants, whose faces had gone pale.
Across the atrium, a case of dramatic irony was in session: the UK’s 75-year-old investigative journalist Alan Shadrake in the flesh, vehemently defending his (now banned) book exploring Singapore’s use of the death penalty Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock against the charge of contempt of the country’s judiciary. Outside, a rabble of press photographers lay in wait. Ducking the crowds, I noticed an old Chief Justice’s wig moldering behind a glass case and wondered whether a day off would have been better spent window-shopping.