27 civil society organisations in an open letter released on Friday (18 December) jointly urged President Halimah Yacob to convene a commission of inquiry (COI) to review Singapore’s justice system.
The letter was released in conjunction with International Migrants Day, particularly in the context of Indonesian former domestic worker Parti Liyani’s case and her subsequent acquittal by the High Court in September this year.
Stating that the case has revealed “flaws” in Singapore’s justice system, the letter also said that Ms Parti’s case has brought to attention “barriers” likely faced by “many low-income Singaporeans and migrants“ in the process of accessing justice.
Addressing the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC)’s review report of the case, which was discussed in Parliament on the 4th of November, “presented an incomplete picture”.
“We are also troubled by the introduction of new, untested evidence to the case in the Minister’s speech to Parliament. For example, it was claimed that Parti refused the employment agent’s help to file a complaint at MOM. As she does not have the right of reply in Parliament, it was inappropriate to make allegations against her which were untested in court,” the letter read.
The ministerial statement, the letter stated, “repeated allegations that were made by the prosecutor and which were already addressed by the defence lawyer in court”.
“Subsequent media coverage led to doubts being cast on Parti Liyani’s innocence, which has already been pronounced by the High Court. Repainting Parti’s case in this light obscures the underlying inequalities that face the disadvantaged accused, and the urgent need for reform,” the letter read.
Following that, the signatories of the open letter called on Madam Halimah to “appoint a commission of inquiry that includes—as commissioners, assessors, or witnesses—professionals with experience working with disadvantaged accused, such as sociologists, social workers, criminal defence lawyers, translators, and migrant rights activists”.
The signatories also advocated for “immediate steps” to be taken based on HOME’s recommendations “to mitigate the difficulties faced by accused migrant workers”.
“These include allowing video recordings of police interviews, establishing an independent police complaints mechanism, and expanding the legal aid scheme so that everyone can access legal representation when charged with a crime,” the letter read.
The signatories of the letter are CRL Response Team, Earthlink NTU, Foodscape Collective, Fridays for Future SG, Function8, Gender Collective, Green is the New Black, Green New Deal SG, LepakinSG, MaidforMore, Making Meaning SG, Minority Voices, Mother Earth Toastmasters Club, Mural Lingo, New Naratif, NTU Divest, NTU Kaleidoscope, NUS STAND, Queer NUS, SayurStory, SG Climate Rally, The Local Rebel, The Twain Have Met, The Youth Are Rising, Welcome In My Backyard, Your Head Lah! and TOC.
TOC’s own chief editor Terry Xu said that low-income Singaporeans and migrants both face “deeply-rooted inequalities” such as difficulty finding a Singaporean bailor when they are accused of crimes.
Low-income Singaporeans and migrants accused of a crime, he added, may have to “spend a lot of time in remand if they decide to claim trial”.
A spokesperson for migrant domestic worker advocacy group MaidForMore said that an independent review, “especially if it focuses on vulnerable persons such as low-income Singaporeans and migrants”, could “ensure that equal access to justice is available”.