Centre for Asian Legal Studies

Public Prosecution and Criminal Justice

by Professor Kumaralingam Amirthalingam

This research project examines the role of the Attorney-General and Public Prosecutor in the administration of criminal justice. It will be carried out in two phases. Phase I involves research by the Principal Investigator who will prepare two articles, which will contain core ideas that will be explored in the second phase. Phase II (for which a separate grant application will be made in the latter half of Phase I) involves the organisation of a workshop with experts from around Asia for a comparative analysis of public prosecution in Asia. The workshop will result in an edited volume of essays.

This work is timely as interest in the role of the Public Prosecutor both in Singapore and elsewhere is high. There is a global shift in penal philosophy from deterrence to rehabilitation and restoration, giving rise to greater use of prosecutorial discretion and diversionary programmes. As a result, the Public Prosecutor's functions have become ever more complex and, in some cases, controversial. Prosecutorial discretion, traditionally limited to the decision whether to prosecute or not, is now ever more important as prosecutors decide not just whether to prosecute, but also on how to dispose of matters extra-judicially through diversionary programmes.

The project will be comparative in nature and will naturally draw on multidisciplinary insights from sociology and political science. The project will bring together theoretical and practical perspectives on criminal justice and will be of interest to academics, practitioners and policy makers. Phase I of the project will span a period of 21 months and will generate two articles and two conference papers. Some of the key themes to be explored in Phase I include the rule of law, the separation of powers and the discretionary nature of our criminal justice system. The research in Phase I will provide the framework for the workshop in Phase II.

The two broad themes to be explored are the independence of the Public Prosecutor in the context of the doctrine of separation of powers and the role of the Public Prosecutor in upholding the rule of law. These are critical issues as the Public Prosecutor is ultimately the guardian of the public interest and wields considerable power through the exercise of prosecutorial discretion which is largely immune from judicial review.

The comparative aspect of the research will allow for an exploration of different models of public prosecution and an analysis of the different functions of the public prosecutor in the administration of criminal justice. Asian jurisdictions are fertile grounds for such comparative study as they have inherited diverse legal systems, are at different stages of social, political and economic development, and offer a different lens through which to study the constitutional issues at the heart of this research.