Body-worn-cameras worn by officers of the Singapore Police Force.

SINGAPORE — A man who was wrongly imprisoned for less than a day in 2017 was awarded S$20,000 by the High Court last month for damages after the presiding judge found that a Singapore Police Force (SPF) officer had “acted in bad faith in apprehending” the man.

Mah Kiat Seng, the man who was wrongfully arrested, had to appeal his case after the previous judge threw his case out as she believed the accounts of the officers as stated in their affidavits.

Justice Valerie Thean wrote in her judgement:

There is no basis to suggest that SSgt Rosli had lied about his interaction with Mr Mah. SSgt Rosli’s evidence was consistent with the opinion of the female complainant and the Suntec City security personnel. Moreover, SSgt Rosli’s observation of Mr Mah’s incoherence was corroborated by Dr Lim’s medical notes.

Inspector Tan, the Investigation Officer assigned, also affirmed that SSgt Lawrence Tan was not one of the officers who escorted Mr Mah on 7 July 2017, nor was there any need to escort Mr Mah to any other cell for toilet facilities as there was a toilet in the cell where Mr Mah was placed in custody.

However, Judicial Commissioner Philip Jeyaretnam, who heard the appeal, after viewing the footage obtained by Mah against the objection of the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), found that the police officer who had arrested the man had made up things said in his affidavit and that the basis for arresting Mah was unfounded.

He wrote,

“The video and other evidence adduced at trial has led me to conclude that not only did Mah not talk to himself when being interviewed by the apprehending officer, neither did he do so when he was seen by the medical practitioner at the lock up, contrary to the medical report on which the learned Judge relied in refusing leave.”

“I find that Rosli made up the observation that Mah was “mumbling to himself” and made it on the night of the apprehension. This was not his only embellishment. Rosli also claimed that Mah spat into a plastic bag but this was not captured on the BWC footage nor was any plastic bag containing spit found later. I do not accept the AG’s submission that such a despoiled bag might have been in Mah’s bag but was overlooked by the police when they searched it at the lock up. Rosli further claimed that Mah described himself as “OCD”. Mah has denied doing so. No such description was captured on the BWC footage although there were some interactions that were not captured because the battery apparently ran out. However, on this point I again accept Mah’s account. Having heard Mah both as witness and litigant-in-person, this is not the sort of description Mah is likely to have applied to himself. Moreover, it is hard to see how a person describing themselves as OCD would fortify even a lay person’s belief that that person was dangerous by reason of mental disorder.

I conclude that Rosli did not have an honest belief that Mah was a danger to other persons by reason of mental disorder. I find that Mah’s behaviour as shown in the BWC footage did not suggest that he was dangerous to others, and as far as soundness of mind is concerned only showed a degree of eccentricity falling far short of appearing mentally disordered.

After viewing the CCTV footage, JC Jeyaretnam found that the other officer, SSgt Lawrence Tan, whom Mah had also complained against, did not intentionally injure Mah while escorting him.

However, contrary to what was earlier told to Justice Thean by the two officers in their affidavits, Tan had indeed escorted Mah at the lock up.

And as for Dr Lim Hanjie of Healthway Medical Group Pte Ltd in the Regional Lock-Up unit, whose affidavit was relied on by Justice Thean, JC Jeyaretham had this to say:

I must note four peculiarities in Dr Lin’s medical report dated 12 September 2017. First, in his medical report written more than two months after seeing Mah (during which time by his own reckoning he would have seen many persons apprehended under s 7 of the MHCTA, roughly “a couple every day”), he wrote that Mah “did not seem to be making sense in his conversation and was constantly talking to himself” when no such observation is found in his notes made on 7 July 2017.

I did not believe his explanation that somehow he recalled this particular case and so added a critical detail from memory that was not in his contemporaneous note. Apart from my observation of his demeanour when he gave this explanation, the CCTV footage did not support the assertion that Mah was constantly or even sometimes talking to himself. Although there is no sound, Mah appears to look at Dr Lin throughout and seems to be conversing with Dr Lin, as Dr Lin acknowledged after reviewing the footage in court. Secondly, he omitted from his report that Mah complained to him of pain in his abdomen instead saying that he “had no other complaints”.

In fact, the CCTV footage shows that Mah did speak to Dr Lin about his abdomen as Dr Lin can be seen examining his abdomen. Dr Lin acknowledged this upon reviewing the footage. Thirdly, Dr Lin described Mah as being “ambulant with a normal gait” when the footage shows that Mah was supported throughout by two police officers and Dr Lin appears to have had no real opportunity to observe him walking unaided with a normal gait. Fourthly, the duration of Dr Lin’s examination is given as 11 minutes from 10.19pm until 10.30pm, when based on the CCTV footage Mah was in the consultation room for only three minutes and six seconds.

While the question of Dr Lin’s good faith is not strictly material to the outcome of this case, and he is also not a party to the proceedings, I consider that Dr Lin’s inclusion in his medical report that Mah “did not seem to be making sense in his conversation and was constantly talking to himself” raises the concern that he may have embellished his report after the fact to justify Mah’s apprehension by the police. The scheme of the MHCTA depends on the integrity of the medical practitioner just as much as it depends on the integrity of the apprehending officer.

In response to queries by Channel News Asia, the police said that they, along with the AGC, “are studying the judgment delivered” before deciding on the next course of action.

Such examples of officers and witnesses telling untruths in their affidavits or statements are not uncommon in Singapore as one would assume it to be.

In another case that TOC has been following up on since 2016, it was found that an officer from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had fabricated statements of witnesses to incriminate a couple who were the first in Singapore to be charged under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA).

TOC understands that the migrant workers formerly employed by the husband were told to give evidence that was determinantal to their employer through a translator. The interviews, which were conducted in Bengali and the statements documented in English, were found to have multiple paragraphs with duplicated points which were determined to be made by the officer instead of the witnesses. The wife was acquitted due to the lack of evidence in December 2022, and the charge against the husband was subsequently dropped.

The officer, who fabricated the evidence and coerced the former employees to provide false testimony, was said to have been deployed overseas and did not appear in court when the hearing took place at the State Court.

Like Mah, the acquittal came at a huge cost, as the couple had to sell their house to finance the legal fees and lost their businesses as a result of the fabricated charges against them. No compensation was provided for the loss suffered by the couple over the course of four years.

In the case of Parti Liyani, the prosecutors—who apparently misled the judges into believing the discarded DVD player—were not faulted by AGC for their behaviour in court. Liyani was trapped in Singapore for four years due to the false charges by the Liew family and nearly had to suffer 26 months of imprisonment if not for the acquittal at the High Court.

Karl Liew, while being charged for providing false evidence to the police in November 2020 after Liyani’s acquittal and public outcry, is still out at large, with his next hearing date unknown in 2023.

Then we have the case of an anaesthetist accused of molesting a woman who was cleared of all four criminal charges filed against him after the state prosecutors filed an application to withdraw the charges. This was after his defence lawyers got the alleged victim to confess that she had been lying on the stand. After the acquittal of the anaesthetist, AGC declined to charge its witness for perjury.

The same goes for the prosecutors who told the Court of Appeal in 2020 that the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) did not forward any other correspondence of prisoners to AGC. But it was later revealed through a pre-action discovery application in 2021 by 22 inmates that 13 inmates out of the 22 inmates had their correspondence — which included legal advice — forwarded to AGC.

The Chief Justice has instructed AGC to collect and submit the necessary affidavits containing the information of the correspondence being forwarded between SPS and AGC.

Section 193 of the Penal Code reads, “Whoever intentionally gives false evidence in any stage of a judicial proceeding, or fabricates false evidence for the purpose of being used in any stage of a judicial proceeding, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7 years, and shall also be liable to fine; and whoever intentionally gives or fabricates false evidence in any other case, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

AGC, as the state prosecutor, has the discretion of who to charge when it comes to giving false evidence. However, I do not recall having heard of any officer who has been acting at the behest of the government and caught lying to the court in their affidavits being taken to task by AGC.

That brings us to the question, can we trust the words of a police officer, civil servant or their witnesses even if he or she files an affidavit in light of how AGC under 69-yr-old Lucien Wong exercises its discretion on who to charge for perjury? Particularly when it is AGC and its prosecutors who might be lying to the court.

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