The High Court’s decision to dismiss former domestic worker Parti Liyani’s compensation application against the Deputy Public Prosecutors (DPPs) in her case is “disappointing”, as her application sheds light on the “very concrete losses and obstacles” suffered by migrant workers while navigating Singapore’s criminal justice system, said the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME).
The verdict has also made clear the legal standpoint on compensation for acquitted persons under Singapore law, which will pave the way for similar applications, said the migrant worker rights group in a statement on Tuesday (22 June), a day after Justice Chan Seng Onn delivered his decision on Ms Parti’s application.
Ms Parti was accused of stealing items totalling S$50,000 from Mr Liew Mun Leong — her former employer — and his family members. Her case went to trial and she was found guilty by District Judge (DJ) Olivia Low, who sentenced Ms Parti to 26 months of jail in March 2019.
In clearing Ms Parti of her theft charges, Justice Chan Seng Onn in a written judgment observed that the prosecution had failed to demonstrate that there was no improper motive by the senior Liew and his son Karl in making the police report against Ms Parti.
Her application for compensation, made under Section 359(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code, is the first of its kind to have been made in Singapore under this section after it was introduced in 2010.
In his decision regarding Ms Parti’s application on Monday, Justice Chan said that Ms Parti had failed to meet the high threshold to prove the assertions made against the Prosecution.
He took the view that the scope covering the Prosecution under Section 359(3) refers to the decision to prosecute and to continue the said prosecution, and does not apply to the conduct of the prosecution during the proceedings.
Even if the DPPs had failed to disclose the functionality of the Pioneer DVD player Ms Parti was accused of stealing, that would only relate to one item of one of the charges. It is therefore insufficient to prove malice on the part of the DPPs, he reasoned.
HOME said on Tuesday that Ms Parti’s application “spotlights migrant workers’ very concrete losses and obstacles while navigating the criminal justice system”.
“Like Parti, who waited four years for her exoneration, accused migrant workers are left in limbo throughout their case, for months or even years,” it said.
“Migrant workers under investigation are often not allowed to work by the authorities, or unable to find employment due to the stigma of the accusations,” HOME added, noting that such barriers placed against migrant workers render them “unable to support their families” and leave them struggling with “meeting even their own basic needs”.
Many of such accused migrant workers, who are their families’ sole breadwinners, agonise for months about whether to share their plight with their loved ones, said HOME.
“Some workers come to HOME having slept in the street for days,” the organisation highlighted, noting that HOME is only one of the few organisations that provide them shelter, food, and medical upkeep.
HOME also provides migrant workers legal support and covers legal disbursements.
Ms Parti was only one of the many accused migrant workers subjected to such a predicament — HOME said that it sees many more of such cases each year.
Many other accused migrant workers are forced to result to pleading guilty even if they believe themselves to be innocent, as only a few tend to know their rights or what help is available to them, said HOME.
Relaying Ms Parti’s message regarding the High Court decision, HOME quoted her as saying: “Although I feel disappointed, I accept the decision of the Singapore High Court with gratitude that my application for compensation was heard.”
“I hold firmly to my hope that the Public Prosecutors will find wisdom and learn from my case, and that each Prosecutor shall always remember that their role is to achieve and enforce justice, not merely to convict,” she said.
Both HOME and Ms Parti extended their gratitude to her pro-bono defence counsel Anil Balchandani of Red Lion Circle, who has represented Ms Parti from trial through appeal and up to her compensation application.
Other than Mr Balchandani and his team, Ms Parti also thanked HOME for supporting her in her “tortuous struggle over the past four years”.
DPPs attempted to avoid corroboration of evidence with regards to faulty DVD player, defence counsel Anil Balchandani earlier argued
Ms Parti’s lawyer, Anil Balchandani had earlier argued that it is not the damage stemming from the DPPs, for example, if there is abusive conduct that lasted for a day, as it will be missing the point of pursuing the disciplinary proceedings against the DPPs.
The real point, he emphasised, is their concealment of the faulty DVD player which led to the lower court finding Ms Parti guilty of the theft charges against her.
That information, in terms of the DVD player that was not working, corroborated Ms Parti’s evidence.
Ms Parti testified at trial that she was told that it is was not working and that the family wanted to throw it away.
However, the DPPs did not provide this evidence.
“If we had not done the test, what would the prosecution have done? This is the issue of doing the right thing. Cannot hide behind the defence, that is the wrong answer. Leads the court needlessly to arrive at a conclusion that you did this for a specific case, promote a case of your victim, that the player was working.”
It was the corroboration of evidence that they were trying to avoid, said Mr Balchandani.
He argued that this is why the elements of frivolousness and vexatiousness exist, as this case should not have even made it to the court.
It ought to have been dismissed when certain evidence is weighed in, but the prosecution continued full steam ahead despite that, said Mr Balchandani.
According to court documents, Ms Parti had quantified her losses at S$73,100.
This encompasses S$37,500 in foregone salary, pay increments and “hong bao”, and S$29,400 for lodging provided by non-governmental group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME).
Justice Chan previously noted that the cost of court hearings for compensation order would exceed S$10,000, as the court needs to hear arguments on whether the prosecution was frivolous or vexatious.
The judge subsequently recommended out-of-court mediation with a third party to help both parties settle on a confidential amount of compensation.
Mr Anil replied at the time that while he will consider the prospect of mediation, he and his client are of the view that there has been “some amount of injustice that we wish the court to hear and order compensation”.
In October last year, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon gave Ms Parti the green light for her complaint against the two DPPs in her trial to be heard.
CJ Menon referenced the DVD player Ms Parti was accused of stealing, stating that Ms Parti “contends that the DPPs had, in their conduct of the trial, concealed material facts and thereby created the false impression that the device was fully functional”.
“She contends that but for the false impression that had been conveyed, she would not have agreed, under cross-examination, that the device was operational.
“On this basis, the DPPs suggested that she had lied about the circumstances in which the device came to be in her possession. However, if she had been apprised of all the facts, there would have been no basis for the DPPs to suggest that she had been lying,” ruled CJ Menon.
From trial to acquittal: Background on Parti Liyani’s case
Ms Parti was convicted in March 2019 of stealing items belonging to the senior Liew and his family — his son Karl Liew in particular. Ms Parti’s employment was abruptly terminated on 28 Oct 2016.
Mr Liew had asked Mr Karl to oversee Ms Parti’s termination and repatriation process to Indonesia, as the former was abroad at the time.
Prior to being sent back to her home country, Ms Parti was given only three hours to pack her belongings despite having worked for the family for almost nine years.
Mr Liew subsequently reported the purported theft on 30 October the same year after returning to Singapore.
Less than two months later, Ms Parti was arrested at Changi Airport on 2 December upon her return to Singapore.
Ms Parti was charged with stealing items totalling S$50,000.
The amount, however, was reduced to S$34,000 when District Judge Olivia Low removed several items from the charge sheet and reduced the estimated value of certain items, such as knocking down the value of a damaged Gerald Genta watched from S$25,000 to S$10,000.
Judge Low sentenced Ms Parti to two years and two months of jail after removing items from and reducing value on the allegedly stolen items that Mr Anil had successfully disproved in the State Courts hearing.
The prosecution originally sought a three-year jail sentence.
Ms Parti then filed an appeal against the conviction which was heard by Justice Chan Seng Onn.
After three days of hearings between Nov 2019 to August last year, Justice Chan on 4 Sep 2020 ultimately overturned the conviction from the lower court as he finds them unsafe.
In allowing Ms Parti’s appeal against her conviction and jail sentence of two years and two months, the High Court branded the Liew family as having “improper motives” against Ms Parti.
The “improper motives” revolved around Mr Liew and his son Karl Liew’s plans to lodge a police report against her to stop her from notifying MOM regarding the cleaning work she was made to do at Mr Karl’s home at 39 Chancery Lane and his office at Killiney Road.
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