Law enforcers must write better English

I don’t know what the Ministries of Home Affairs and Law need to or will do re the prosecutors and police investigators now that everyone knows what lay behind the prosecution, conviction and subsequent acquittal of Mr Ismil Kadar in the killing of an elderly woman in Boon Lay several years ago.

What I do know is that the writer behind the letter to The Straits Times yesterday — to set the record straight vis-a-vis the newspaper’s articles on the developments relating to the case — could do with some tuition in English and writing.

Let me take you through the letter reproduced below, with the troublesome words highlighted in bold and my comment in italic.

In the reporting of the case involving the Kadar brothers, The Straits Times has unfortunately continued to give the quite inaccurate impression that Ismil Kadar was facing a capital charge of murder in the Court of Appeal, and that he was acquitted of such a charge by the court. (Why ‘quite’ inaccurate? The impression is either inaccurate or it isn’t. Ismil Kadar either had a capital charge on his head when he appeared in the Court of Appeal or he hadn’t? By giving a qualifier, the writer in fact sowed new doubts!)

The High Court did convict Ismil of murder. But before the Court of Appeal, the prosecution had reviewed the position and informed the court that it was dropping the murder charge. (The word ‘before’ has several meanings. It could mean ‘in front of” — as in appearing ‘before’ a judge. Or it could mean ‘prior to’. So was the murder charge dropped before the Court of Appeal’s hearing or was it dropped during/at the start of the Court of Appeal’s hearing?)

Instead, the prosecution pursued against Ismil a charge of committing robbery with hurt, while maintaining the murder charge against his brother, Muhammad.

Muhammad’s DNA had been found on a purse belonging to the deceased victim. In statements that he had given to the police, Muhammad had implicated his brother Ismil in the incident. Ismil had also given confessions admitting his involvement. (My complaint here isn’t so much against the English but the writer’s parsimony with the truth at this juncture. After all, didn’t the Court of Appeal rubbish those confessions?)

On appeal, the Court of Appeal acquitted Ismil on the robbery charge because it considered that the statements which had been recorded from Ismil had not been recorded following proper procedure. The Court of Appeal also took the view that certain evidence had been provided by the prosecution to the defence later than it should have been. (‘Following’? ‘In accordance with’ would have been better! As for the adjective ‘proper’, it’s redundant, unless the police do have procedures that aren’t proper? 🙄 )

It is, therefore, highly misleading to give the impression that Ismil was cleared by the Court of Appeal of a charge of murder, and that Ismil was still facing the death penalty. (Hello, why has ‘quite inaccurate’ in the opening paragraph escalated to ‘highly misleading’? As for ‘that Ismail was still facing the death penalty — more confusion here; if Ismil was acquitted of the murder charge, how could the newspaper have given the impression — highly misleading or otherwise– that he was still facing the death penalty. Methinks the writer has his syntax all wrong! )

The police have clarified the reasons why the recording of Ismil’s statements did not conform with procedure. (The writer should have reiterated what these reasons were, because if the intention is to set the record straight, then it’s useful to remind the public who can’t be expected to remember all the finer points, all the time!)

As for the evidence that was provided by the prosecution to the defence, this relates to a statement by the husband of the deceased woman who was immobile and in one of the rooms at the time of the attack. This evidence was given to the defence in September 2007 before the close of the prosecution’s case, and was before the trial judge before he rendered his decision. (Three ‘befores’ in one short sentence confuse more than shed light! Moreover, two ‘befores’ here have a different meaning from the other ‘before’! As for ‘rendered’, did the writer intend it to be a synonym for ‘gave’ or ‘made’?)

The judge rejected this evidence as unreliable, among other things, because of the husband’s poor state of mind and health at the time of the incident.

Further, as confirmed by defence counsel R. Thrumurgan in his interview published in The Sunday Times yesterday, he had been aware by March 2007 that the police had heard from a witness that there had been one intruder.

Sure, one gets the drift of the official complaint but won’t it be better  if a complaint about a newspaper’s sloppiness in not understanding the nub of Ismil’s acquittal were made in less obfuscating prose? 🙄

Oh yes, in case the letter writer’s bosses are wondering where to send their English-challenged colleagues, here is a suggestion (and a plug 😀  ) for an acquaintance who offers small group coaching to non-English speakers and writers.

speak & write better English


6 thoughts on “Law enforcers must write better English

  1. Welcome, Uncle Myapplemenu! Confuse? Don’t think our law enforcers so Machiavellian 😆 As for spin: donch u think a better written letter would have made for better spin? another 😆

  2. You may wish to consult a dictionary as to the different meanings which “quite” has, and which one is clearly meant in the passage you’ve found difficulty with. It is also clear from the context that “before” means “in front of”. If you can’t make that out, then you need to read more widely. In addition, there is no such thing as “better English” – you may wish to let your friend, Ms Chung, know this. It is possible to learn to speak and write English better, or to speak and write in a better style of English (though that raises subjective questions about what makes one style “better” than another). But the English language is what it is.

  3. Temper, Temper! Most appropriate nick!

    1) Wah, u the writer of the letter? 😆 2) Wah, u also rite man. That “quite” could mean “very”. I quite taken aback by your comment. 3) U jump to conclusions and assume that Ms Chung put me up to this. She didn’t. Also, as I stated, categorically mind u, she is an acquaintance, geddit? 4) Better English as a header is perfectly OK, K!

  4. I always wondered who employs people who work in government facilities because apparently none of them know how to write, how to make spreadsheets, documents … well, anything for that matter 🙂

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