The Desire for Justice

By Chen Chongguang Daniel

The desire for Justice is innate in all of us. There need not be any other reason to strive for it, other than achieving Justice itself. This is regardless of the (deemed) gravity of the situation at hand, or our relationship (or lack thereof) with the person who stands to lose most from any potential injustice. A major hurdle encountered by the Innocence Project was proving that these were principles we stood by. The choice of “Innocence” within the Project title was unfortunate, as it gave some the erroneous impression that the Project existed solely to expose injustice perpetrated by any and all. The Innocence Project thus returned to its foundational aim of Justice. We understood the desire for Justice to give rise to the pursuit of two distinct aims: The acquittal of the innocent, and the conviction of the guilty. Having the same goals as the Criminal Justice System as a whole remedied the misunderstandings, over time.

Our conception of what an Innocence Project should be, and what it should do, was always constantly evolving, and perhaps rightly so. One of the first lessons we learnt was that individual Students, Professors, and Lawyers differed on what they thought was the best way to strengthen the Criminal Justice System, despite sharing the same desire to see Justice done. It is perhaps apt that such divergent views exist. The Criminal Justice System, and any system for that matter, stands to benefit from perspectives from a wide range of players, both within and outside the system.

‘The Innocence Project is a source of pride for Project members because it is the concrete realization of our shared desire for Justice.’

The challenge faced by the Innocence Project, then, was defining itself. It was vital to first reach consensus among the members of the Project. The process of mooting this to other stakeholders in the Criminal Justice System proved more difficult. Each party had its own perspective on how the Criminal Justice System could be strengthened, and it took some effort avoid giving the impression that our (new) perspective was an affront to the existing work being done by others.

To this end, efforts to reach internal consensus taught us how to defend a new perspective without being dismissive of other approaches. The Innocence Project is a source of pride for Project members because it is the concrete realization of our shared desire for Justice. It is the result of an ambitious attempt to contribute to the Criminal Justice System in a manner that did not exist before in Singapore. It would have been easy to adopt an already existing perspective on how we could contribute, but the perseverance of successive batches of students has brought to fruition a new addition to the Criminal Justice System, which we hope will contribute to the pursuit of Justice in novel ways.

Daniel, 24, is the former head of the Innocence Project and has recently graduated from the National University of Singapore. We are grateful for his extensive contributions to the cause and wish him all the best in his future endeavours.