photo: thesmartlocal.com

Judge of Appeal: jailed Bangladeshi worker should have been allowed to claim trial

High Court has quashed the conviction and sentence of a Bangladeshi construction worker who served a four-week jail term for making a false work-injury claim had both the conviction and sentence quashed on appeal to the High Court.

Worker should have been allowed to retract his guilty plea

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin had ruled that Md Rafiqul Islam Abdul Aziz (29) should have been allowed to retract his guilty plea before a district judge in June and have the case decided through a trial.

It was said that Rafiqul had pleaded guilty to the charge against him for falsely claiming work injury under the Work Injury Compensation Act on a date which the injury did not happen.

The judged noted that Rafiqul may have given the wrong date and, being a foreigner unfamiliar with the legal system, thought he was pleading guilty to this to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

However, the prosecutor acting on behalf of MOM decided to take the statement of the foreign worker as a confession to his offence.

TOC understands that the worker was not aware that he was pleading guilty to falsifying the accident.

On the day after his guilty plea, when mitigation and sentencing were due, Rafiqul sought through lawyer Priscylia Wu to retract the guilty plea, saying the accident had occurred a few days earlier than the date stated in the charge.

MOM prosecuting officer Pegan Chong countered that the retraction was an afterthought. The district judge found there were no valid grounds to retract and sentenced him.

The appeal judge ruled that when a guilty plea is modified during mitigation that materially impacts the offence charged, the court is mandated by law to reject the guilty plea and allow the accused to claim trial. He clarified that this is a safeguard which were provided under the law.

The judge noted Rafiqul had sought treatment for his knee injury that happened four days earlier at a hospital – as  recorded in a doctor’s notes – on 31 May 2013.

He pointed that the statement of facts and charge did not clearly say ‘no work accident’ occurred and he ruled such questions should have been probed at a trial to determine if the defendant was guilty or not.

The setting aside of the conviction means the charges, including two related items that were taken into consideration for sentencing purposes, are still valid.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) said yesterday (12 Dec) AGC and MOM will be reviewing whether the charges will be dropped.

HOME will assist worker to get fair compensation

Rafiqul, who had started to work in Singapore in 2008, has served his jail term and was repatriated on 22 July 2016.

The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (Home) has been helping him and his appeal has been carried out pro bono by Dentons Rodyk & Davidson lawyer Tang Jin Sheng, who have argued that the circumstances surrounding the guilty plea turned up serious doubt on it.

ST reported Desiree Leong, the Home volunteer who handled Rafiqul’s case, said, “We will monitor the case and hope he will get a fair compensation for the work injury suffered.”

Jolovan Wham wrote on his Facebook post, “The way in which construction worker Rafiqul Islam was treated by the prosecutors–slapping on last minute amendments to his charges and pressuring him to plead guilty– was quite shameful. Thanks to the hard work of the HOME legal and case work team, the conviction is set aside and quashed. But unfortunately, he had already served his jail term.”