The case of Parti Liyani vs the Liew family has gripped the consciousness of Singaporeans this past week. Many people took to Facebook to question the district court judge, Olivia Low’s decision to find Parti guilty of the offences lobbied against her by the Liew family, especially when details begin to emerge on how various inconsistencies were ignored by Judge Low during the trial.
Parti Liyana was the domestic helper for the family of one Liew Mun Leong who held high positions in Surbana Jurong, Changi Airport Group, Temasek Foundation and Temasek International.
He has since resigned from all these positions following public outcry, but not before Temasek Holdings made a statement to remind the public that “Liew Mun Leong has contributed to Singapore and its people, and his track record at various firms attests to that.”
On 4th September, the official 101-page statement by Justice Chan Seng Onn, who was the preceding judge in the Appeals court for Parti Liyani, was released. In it, he elaborated on how he arrived at his decision to acquit Parti of all the charges she was previously found guilty of, and in essence, overturning Judge Olivia Low’s decision wholesale.
I had a thorough reading of all 101 pages to find out for myself what went wrong. What I discovered instead, was a point-by-point criticism by Justice Chan on how the investigating officers from the Singapore Police Force made several critical mistakes that resulted in the wrongful conviction of Parti Liyani.
According to its website, the Singapore Police Force holds itself accountable through four values. Two of them are:
Integrity: We never forsake our ethics in order to attain our objectives. Our actions are guided by our principle, not expediency.
Fairness: We are fair in our dealings with people, irrespective of their race, religion, gender, age, standing in life and irrespective of whether they are victims, suspects or convicts. We also apply the same standard to the members of the SPF.
Here are the four things the police did wrong as detailed by Justice Chan.
1. Corrupt handling of evidence by the police
The police allowed the Liew family to take out their personal belongings from the jumbo boxes that were allegedly stolen by Parti and allowed them to handle it for their daily use.
Justice Chan said:
56. I now turn to the issue of the break of chain of custody of the evidence found in the three jumbo boxes. The Defence submits that there was a break in the chain of custody of evidence in respect of the three jumbo boxes after Parti left the house on 28 October 2016 to the time when the evidence was taken into custody by the police. (Pg 29)
57. After the Video was taken on 29 October 2016, Mdm Ng testified that she put Parti’s belongings back into the boxes and took out the Liew family’s belongings from the boxes for daily use.71 This aspect of the evidence is crucial because these exhibits were not seized by the police immediately – the complainants took back their belongings that were allegedly stolen by Parti in three jumbo boxes and handled them for their daily use. This means that not every item from the three boxes at the point of discovery was placed back into the three jumbo boxes. (Pg 29)
2. Investigation Officer Tang Ru Long & the 501 days gap of evidence submission
The police report against Parti was filed on 30 October 2016. But the investigating officer (IO) Tang only visited the home five weeks later on 3 December 2016. (Pg 29, #59)
According to Justice Chan:
59. The items in the three jumbo boxes which were the subject of the charges were not personally seized or taken into custody by IO Tang as he did not wish to result in the “re-victimising” of the complainants. The complainants were allowed to use the items because they were “daily use items”. (Pg 30)
Eventually, the alleged stolen items were only received into police custody on 18 April 2018. (Pg 30, #60)
That is some 1 year 4 months later or exactly 501 days.
3. The Police failed to offer a Bahasa Indonesia interpreter to Parti for statements P32 & P33
Justice Chan said:
62. I observe that in the Judgment, the Judge did not consider the accuracy of the statements, or even if she did, she did not make any observations or finding on the accuracy of the statements. (Pg 31)
Justice Chan pointed out that Parti was interviewed by the Police in languages that are not her native tongue, Bahasa Indonesia, and further without an official interpreter present or offered.
According to the judgement, four statements were recorded by IO Amir between 3 Dec and 19 Dec 2016, some with IO Tang present. Two statements in particular (P32 and P33) were recorded in English and translated in Bahasa Melayu although Parti spoke Bahasa Indonesia.
It was also mentioned that at times, IO Tang would also ask the questions in English and IO Amir would translate the question in Bahasa Melayu.
In his testimony, IO Amir said that after recording the statements, he read it out in English to Parti and then translated it to Bahasa Melayu. However, in statement P32, it was stated that the “statement was read back to Parti in English, which was not her native language.” (p34, #67).
When cross-examined, IO Amir “conceded that there was a difference between Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia and he could have interpreted some of the Bahasa Indonesian words in a different way than it had been intended.” (p34, #68)
Parti also testified that she was uncomfortable speaking in Bahasa Melayu and when in lock-up, was not offered or told that she could request for a Bahasa Indonesia interpreter. (pg 35, #70)
Justice Chan concluded that the actions of IO Amir in recording Parti’s statement without an official interpreter was in violation of s 22(4) of the Criminal Procedure Code where:
Power to examine witnesses
22.—(4) Where a statement made by a person examined under this section is recorded in writing, the statement must —
(a) be read over to the person;
(b) if the person does not understand English, be interpreted for the person in a language that the person understands; and
(c) be signed by the person.
4. Questionable accuracy of statement P31 about the Pioneer DVD player
Statement P31 was in relation to the working condition of the allegedly stolen Pioneer DVD player.
There were “68 questions and the recording of P31 was done by ASP Lim with the assistance of an interpreter Ms Siti Fauziah Jamal, and was conducted over a period of four hours.” (p38, #77)
When cross-examined, Parti said she did not understand some parts of the statement read back to her because the interpreter read it in a mixture of Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia.
Parti also alleges that “there were differences between what she had explained and what was recorded,107 and the interpreter was “talking too fast” such that Parti could not “understand everything”. (p39, #77)
Further proof of the questionable accuracy of statement p31 was put across by the Defence team who said that there were 2 factual errors in the recording—Parti’s identification number was recorded wrongly, and “When documenting her questions and answers, ASP Lim wrongly referenced photographs on four instances (Q11, Q64, Q65 and Q66).” (p39, #78b)
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