It's not all court work for DPPs

Deputy Public Prosecutor Yang Ziliang (right) having a discussion with a Traffic Police investigation officer at the site of a fatal road accident which occurred earlier this year.

SINGAPORE - Last Thursday afternoon, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Yang Ziliang stood by the side of the road and watched vehicles drive by.

With his shirt sleeves rolled up and coat and tie left behind at his work desk, he discussed the scene of a fatal accident with an investigation officer and penned notes on a clipboard of documents.

After collecting new insights into the case - such as where the victim might have tried to cross the road and the driver's road visibility - he climbed back into a waiting police van to return to the office.

Such visits may require long periods away from the office or courts, but they are an "integral and necessary" part of the job if the scene is relevant to an offence, said the 30-year-old prosecutor from the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC).

"Of course, there are plenty of pictures I can sit down and look at, but nothing beats actually being there to try and understand what may have transpired," DPP Yang told The Sunday Times. "If we bring charges, before the trial, it helps me put myself in the shoes of the accused, victim or witnesses so I can examine them more effectively in court."

These were just some of the insights into the job that the AGC hopes to give to Singapore's youth through its first Public Prosecution Outreach Programme.

Last week, 75 secondary school and junior college students attended court proceedings on one-day attachments to prosecutors such as DPP Yang. They also visited the police Criminal Investigation Department. The AGC has also set up, for the first time, a Facebook page to engage with the public as part of its outreach efforts. There will be a public exhibition at the National Library in Bras Basah this Friday and Saturday.

The public's perception of a prosecutor's main duties is likely to be those that take place in a courtroom - grilling witnesses and telling a judge why an offender deserves to go to jail. But just as important is the role played by some 220 prosecutors from the AGC in deciding whether criminal charges should be brought, said DPP Yang.

In between hearings, prosecutors also do legal research and interview investigating officers and witnesses. It is all part of the preparatory work that finds its way into thick files of documents carted to the Subordinate and High Courts each day.

In his two years with the AGC, DPP Yang has handled a range of cases from rioting to causing hurt to drug offences. He enjoys contributing to the broader process of helping parties reach closure, such as in establishing the circumstances surrounding a death.

But the prosecutor, who switched over from private practice in 2011, stresses that his work is ultimately about achieving what is fair for the parties. "Our work is to assist the court to reach a just result - not necessarily the maximum punishment for an offender, but the appropriate one."

This is among some misconceptions of the job that the AGC hopes to set right for young people in particular.

Attorney-General Steven Chong told one such group of students last Thursday that prosecutors are lawyers who "never win or lose" because their role is to protect the public interest. "Contrary to some beliefs, my role is not to extract a pound of flesh and inflict the worst possible punishment. We believe the punishment must ultimately fit the crime."

Students came away from the sessions with a new perspective.

"I used to think prosecutors went all out to get criminals punished," said Nicholas Kang, an 18-year-old Victoria Junior College student. "Now I understand the humane aspect of the process, since both aggravating and mitigating factors are considered for each accused person."

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