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Judicial CP - December 1932

Corpun file 23945 at

Singapore Daily News, 23 December 1932, p.1

Fines And Rotan For Chinese Schoolboys.

Eloquent Defence Fails.

"Not The Slightest Sympathy With Communism."

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At the conclusion of the case against certain of the students of the Chinese High School, Bukit Timah, the district judge convicted all the accused, binding them over for a year and imposing various fines and ordering the infliction of the rotan. His honour said he had been assured by the bailors, parents and school authorities that full inquiries were going to be instituted with a view to preventing any repetition of the incident.

Yesterday counsel delivered their speeches for the defence. Among the arguments advanced were that none of the students had the slightest sympathy with communism, there were no preparations among themselves for a procession, the arrests were made before the crowd became an unlawful assembly, and that the whole exhibition was more an exhibition of youthful exuberance than anything else.

One counsel contended that to bring "this poor little morsel" (a boy of 12) to court in an attempt to prove that he overawed the Government was ridiculous.

Mr. Barry, for the prosecution, said that the presence of the large number of youths was explained by the fact that the organisers of such demonstrations always put women and boys at their head.

It is understood that all the accused are appealing against the sentence.


Mr. J.C. Cobbett (for accused 7 and 11, both aged 14) said that his clients had been accused of throwing pamphlets which both denied. The evidence for and against them was about level and they should, therefore, get the benefit of the doubt.

As regards accused 37, aged 12, counsel submitted that there was no evidence against him except that he was arrested in the mob and this was the same as regards accused 42 and 45, both aged 14.

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"Like All Schoolboys."

There was really no evidence against any of these accused, continued Mr. Cobbett, except that they had been mixed up with the crowd. It was, however, not possible that they could have been there with any common object. It was very probable that like all schoolboys when they saw a crowd they went up to see what all the fun was about. The mere fact of their having done so did not make them members of an unlawful assembly.

Counsel then read out a relative passage from Maine which clearly stated that intention was an essential element, and insisted that it was essential to prove intention.

Mr. S.B. Tan prefaced his address by saying that he associated himself with all the arguments about unlawful assembly advanced by Mr. Cobbett.

He would, he said, like to give an assurance at the outset that none of the students had the slightest sympathy with communistic theories and also that none of them had the faintest idea of the meaning of Communism or the Aliens Bill.

It was essential to prove that each one of them had been animated with a common object and submitted that there was no evidence that they were members of an unlawful assembly, Even assuming that they were, the essential element of intention was missing. He would go even further, counsel continued, and say that the three essential features that had been abundantly proved went to prove that there had been no intention.

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The first of these was that they formed part of a Hylam procession. As a matter of fact none of these students was a Hylam. The extreme provincialism of Chinese was well known and nobody had ever heard of a procession of mixed provincials.

The second feature was the contention of the prosecution that this was an organised procession which had been planned long ahead and had come off according to plan. They attempted to prove this by the evidence of Inspectors Dale and Trewin and of Sub-Inspector Ah Long.

Counsel argued that if the students had really intended this to be an organised affair they would have made preparations among themselves and not joined in a procession organised by others.

There was no evidence to prove that the processions in Victoria Street and Arab Street were composed of students or even that they had been there in a body. As a matter of fact, each one of them had been arrested singly. This fact excluded the possibility of this having been an organised procession as far as the students were concerned.

The third feature, Mr. Tan went on, was that the crowds were in compact bodies and were doing no violence before the police took action. After reading extracts from Inspector Trewin's evidence and that of Sub-Inspector Ah Long and the detectives, counsel submitted that for a crowd of such an alarming nature as alleged by the prosecution there was no violence even when the arrests were being made. The only evidence of violence was in Inspector Trewin's case and even then the attempts at resistance were very half-hearted ones.

Arrested While Running Away.

Counsel again stressed the point that the crowd was in a compact body. All the shops in the neighbourhood were open and anybody who joined the procession could have had no knowledge that there existed any unlawful intention on the part of a few. The first intimation that the students could have had that there was something wrong was when the police took action. Directly they knew this they attempted to escape from an unfortunate predicament. The accused were in fact arrested while they were running away.

This fact, counsel maintained, did not prove any guilty knowledge on the part of the accused and submitted that no evidence had been adduced by the prosecution to prove that the students formed part of an unlawful assembly. There was decidedly no evidence that they had any guilty intention.

After reading extracts from Gour, counsel pointed out that the arrests were made before the crowd became an unlawful assembly.

The only point that the prosecution could emphasise against the accused was that twenty-eight of them had been arrested in the locality. This, argued Mr. Tan, was not an extraordinary coincidence in view of the circumstances. First, it was a holiday in the school, and the students were at liberty to go out; secondly, the junction of Queen Street and Rochore Road was a bus stand and thirdly, there were stalls in Arab Street where bargains could be had. Besides, counsel said, Chinese were always attracted by the glitter of night life.

Even assuming that the students knew that there was going to be a demonstration that evening and attended it, it could not he held that they were thereby propagating communist propaganda or protesting against the Aliens Bill. In these circumstances a conviction could not be justified.

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Shouting In Drain.

The only evidence against accused 20 was that he was shouting. There was nothing extraordinary in a boy of 13 shouting when he found himself in the drain.

Referring to the accused who were alleged to have literature or broomsticks, counsel suggested the possibility of a mistake. Among the number or people distributing pamphlets it was not possible to identify anybody with any degree of certainty.

Again there was the possibility of innocent possession. The police said that when some of the accused were arrested they had pamphlets in their possession. If they knew the nature of these, counsel submitted that they would have thrown them away before being arrested. The most probable explanation was that they received these handbills in the street and put them in their pockets to read later.

In conclusion, Mr. Tan said that he hoped the court would not brand the accused as Communists when they had no such intention and appealed that they should be given the benefit of the doubt. All of them were still young and an acquittal would prove a blessing in disguise and do more to show them the error of their ways.

Mr. D.P. Dunderdale, appearing for accused 19, associated himself with Mr. Tan with regard to the legal points raised. He, too, maintained that the mere fact that his client was present at the scene of the disturbance after the demonstration was not sufficient proof that he was a member of an unlawful assembly. The explanation put forward by his client from the box had been amply corroborated by three witnesses and brought him clearly out of the ruck of the other accused.

Difficult To Distinguish.

The reason for accused's presence was that quite fortuitously two constables came to his uncle's shop and gave the news which induced the boy to go out and investigate. In the midst of the number of spectators, it was difficult for the police to distinguish participants and lookers-on. Counsel submitted that this was a case in which the police had made a mistake.

Mr. Dunderdale then reminded his honour of the Chinese clergyman's evidence regarding his client and the demeanour of the accused in the box proved that he was of a reserved and studious disposition. His client had been arrested in company with accused 18 and had waited until the latter had been put into the police van and the constable had come back for him. If he had been really guilty the accused would have taken advantage of the respite and escaped.


The essence of the offence of unlawful assembly was force. Other considerations were the age and sex of the demonstrators, the weapons used and the effect of the demonstrators on other members of the community. With regard to the weapons used, broomsticks could not be regarded as weapons but as implements. In this instance the brooms used had been aptly described by Inspector Trewin as symbolic. With regard to the effect on the public, no person of ordinary courage or intelligence could have been intimidated by this mob.

Again the fact that the round-up occupied only five or ten minutes proved beyond doubt that the crowd had no intention of resisting the police.

The whole incident, concluded counsel, was more an exhibition of youthful exuberance than anything else. Accused 19 had nothing to do with the assembly and his presence was only an unfortunate chance.

Mr. W.H. Salt said that he had nothing to add to the legal points raised by Mr. Tan. If the police could have differentiated between participants and spectators of the demonstrations these accused would never have been charged. Inspector Trewin in particular could have seen very little of a definitive nature while he was down in a five-foot drain while the rest of the police evidence was equally open to conjecture.

His client (accused 15) was wholly unshaken by the rather severe cross-examination of the prosecution. Referring to the distribution of pamphlets, counsel argued that the shopkeepers and others who received them should also have been arrested.

Dealing with the carrying of broomsticks, counsel submitted that the prosecution had not made it clear at all that it was an offence. He jocularly compared it with Admiral Van Tromp sailing the English Channel with one lashed to his mast-head.

"Wee Timorous Mousie."

Accused 20 reminded him of Burns' description of a "wee timorous mousie" and to bring that "poor little morsel" to court and attempt to prove that he overawed the Government was ridiculous. Counsel contended that the prosecution had gone much too far and had thereby interfered with the liberty of the subject.

Curiosity, continued Mr. Salt, was an inherent quality not restricted to schoolboys and all they did was to see what the demonstration was all about. He submitted, in conclusion, that the charge was ludicrous.

Mr. D.N. Bannerjea said that the only actual demonstration according to the evidence was the one in Victoria Street which constituted about 200 Hylams. He wished particularly to draw his honour's attention to the fact that the other procession came from the direction of Queen Street. When the Hylams were tackled by Inspector Trewin they retreated and met the second procession at the corner of Arab Street.

Counsel urged that a distinction should he made between those who carried pamphlets and banners and others who were mere spectators. He suggested that the better course for the police to have pursued would have been to have exercised the discretion given them by the Criminal Procedure Code and turned the boys back.

Important Day.

Mr. J.C. Barry, A.S.P., said that Dec. 11 was the anniversary of the Canton uprising and was an important day in the Communist calendar. This year they had the added inducement of the Aliens Bill.

The presence of a large number of youths was explained by the fact that organisers of such demonstrations always put women and boys at their head.

It was impossible that such a number of students should be present together at one place should be only a coincidence, continued Mr. Barry. The locality where they all met was, besides, a very convenient one as it was at the terminus of buses coming from Bukit Timah.

He maintained that the police evidence against accused 19 (Mr. Dunderdale's client) was very clear indeed and proceeded to comment on the similarity of the defence put forward by the rest. If his honour would not see fit to convict the accused under the section they were charged under, he would call his honour's attention to a section in the Criminal Procedure Code and bind them over.

His honour said that he had been assured by the bailors, parents and school authorities that full inquiries were going to be made into the incident with a view to checking a repetition.

Before giving his verdict, he would like to say that the police had acted with the greatest possible tact, care and discretion.

There was nothing the police hated more than to deal with street disturbances and the care exercised could be gauged from the fact that only one case had been brought to his notice of a boy having been injured.

It was evident that the police took care only to go for people in the crowd and not for anybody on the pavements and this made it clear that all those who had been arrested had been taking part in the demonstration.

His honour thereupon convicted all the accused and sentenced them as follows:-- accused 4 (16 years old), $25 or one month and bound over in $200 for one year in one surety; accused 16 and 53 (15 years old), 6 strokes of the rotan and bound over in $200 with one surety for one year; accused 6, 18, 19, 26, 28, 30, 31, 35, 41, 42. 43 and 49 to a fine of $25 or one month and bound over in $200 in one surety for one month; accused 5, 11, 15, 27, 29, 34, 42 and 44 (all aged 14) to five strokes of the rotan and bound over in $200 with one surety for one year; accused 36 to be bound over for one year in $200 with one surety; accused 37 and 45 to the same sentence with the addition of 4 strokes of the rotan; and accused 17 and 20 (aged 12) to three strokes of the rotan and bound over in $200 for one year with one surety.

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