Professor Peter Mirfield delivers 16th Kwa Geok Choo Distinguished Visitors Lecture

Professor Peter Mirfield

NUS Law hosted the 16th Kwa Geok Choo Distinguished Visitors Lecture with Professor Peter Mirfield, from the University of Oxford, who delivered a public lecture titled, "The Right to Confront One’s Accusers: Did Sir Walter Ralegh Die for Nothing?" on 31 January 2019. The lecture was followed by a question and answer session chaired by Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy (Supreme Court of Singapore).
Speaking to an audience made up of members from the law fraternity and students, Professor Mirfield spoke about the idea of a “right of confrontation” that emerged at the 1603 trial of Sir Walter Ralegh, the (in)famous English adventurer (who was beheaded for treason in 1618).
The key “evidence” against Ralegh consisted of the written statements, read out in court, of one Lord Cobham. Ralegh objected most strongly, pointing out that Cobham is “alive and in the house”. Though many find the case the source of the general rule excluding hearsay evidence, Ralegh’s real complaint was that Cobham had not been brought to accuse him face-to-face.
In both the USA (6th Amendment) and under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (Art.6(3)(d)), a right to confrontation is recognised, though no such right is presently recognised in Singapore. The issue of the extent of any confrontation right or interest has been transfused with new blood by the emergence of issues concerned with protecting vulnerable witnesses and the wearing of head coverings that render the face invisible. In those respects, and more generally, it is important to be aware that, though many argue that any such right or interest has but instrumental value, Ralegh’s point was that this was no mere instrumental issue, or, as former President Dwight Eisenhower once put it, “… if someone … accuses you, he must come up in front. He cannot hide behind the shadow”.
About the Kwa Geok Choo Distinguished Visitors Programme
NUS Law established the Kwa Geok Choo Distinguished Visitors Programme as one of several initiatives to pay tribute to the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo, wife of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew (LL.D.’13 Honoris Causa). Under this programme, leading law academics are invited to teach a course at NUS and deliver public lectures on topical legal issues.
About the Speaker
Professor Peter Mirfield was, from 1981 until 2017, Fellow and Tutor in Law at Jesus College in the University of Oxford, latterly bearing the title, Sir David Lewis Fellow and Tutor in Law. Professor Mirfield read Law (Jurisprudence), then for the BCL, at Oxford from 1968 until 1972, and qualified in 1973 as a Barrister-at-Law of Lincoln's Inn. From 2014 until 2017, he was Professor of Evidence at the University of Oxford, and is now Professor Emeritus of the Law of Evidence at Jesus College. He has been Editor of the Law Quarterly Review since 2014, and an Honorary Bencher of Lincoln's Inn since 2015.
Professor Mirfield's research interests are in the areas of Evidence, Criminal Procedure and Criminal Law, as well as in the Constitutional Aspects of Human Rights Law. He taught “Character Evidence in the Common Law World” at NUS Law as the Kwa Geok Choo Distinguished Visitor.

L-R: Professor Simon Chesterman (Dean, NUS Law), Professor Peter Mirfield, Mrs Peter Mirfield, Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy (Supreme Court of Singapore), Judicial Commissioner Pang Khang Chau (Supreme Court of Singapore) and Professor David Tan (Vice Dean (Academic Affairs), NUS Law)

Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy delivering the welcome address

L-R: Question and answer session with panelists Professor Peter Mirfield and Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy

Professor Ho Hock Lai ’89 (NUS Law) participating in the question and answer session

Audience member raising a question to the panel