Something has gone wrong and has to be set right, Shanmugam says on handling of case involving ex-maid

MR K. SHANMUGAM, Home Affairs and Law Minister
MR K. SHANMUGAM, Home Affairs and Law Minister

The authorities take very seriously the judge's comments on the case of former domestic worker Parti Liyani - who was acquitted of stealing from Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family - and will deal with what had gone wrong in the process, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

"Something has gone wrong in the chain of events. We have to look at that, and deal with what went wrong," he said yesterday.

"In the process, we should not be defensive. It should not be a witch hunt. It has got to be a fair process. We have to find out what happened, why it happened, and then deal with it. And be accountable.

"That is the best way to build trust (with the) public and in the system. To come out in public and say what steps we have taken once the reviews are done," said Mr Shanmugam, who was speaking to reporters virtually on the sidelines of a grassroots event.

He was asked for his comments on the case, which had sparked a public outcry.

Ms Parti, 46, who worked for the Liew family from 2007 to 2016, was accused of stealing over $34,000 worth of items from them. After a trial in the State Courts, she was found guilty on four counts of theft and sentenced to two years and two months in jail in March last year. She appealed to the High Court against her conviction and sentence, and was acquitted last Friday.

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC), police and Ministry of Manpower have said they are reviewing the judgment to see whether further action has to be taken as a result of the judgment.

Yesterday, Mr Shanmugam cautioned against prejudging what part of the process had gone wrong. "That is why reviews are being conducted. We should wait for the outcome," he said.

The case also led some to question whether the class and status differences between Ms Parti and the Liews had contributed to unfairness in the way the case was handled. Asked about this, Mr Shanmugam said it is good to see justice delivered, based on the High Court's judgment. However, he stressed that the justice system is impartial to all and fair, and the status and position of the parties involved does not matter.

Noting that Ms Parti was charged in a criminal case based on a complaint by a very prominent business person, he added: " The judge's judgment goes through the facts very carefully. It sets out what the break in the chain of evidence is, and in that way, it is good to see that justice is both blind and that justice has been delivered."

He also commended Ms Parti's lawyer, Mr Anil Balchandani, who acted pro bono. He said that though he has not read Mr Balchandani's submissions, he was told the lawyer had picked up on various inconsistencies in the evidence and why his client ought not to be convicted.

IMPARTIAL AND FAIR

The judge's judgment goes through the facts very carefully. It sets out what the break in the chain of evidence is, and in that way, it is good to see that justice is both blind and that justice has been delivered.

MR K. SHANMUGAM, Home Affairs and Law Minister, on the appeal verdict.

A THOROUGH DEFENCE

He did a thorough and good job of it. That is a lawyer's job. To be thorough, to be clear, to put forward everything fairly to the court. Based on what I have heard, I think he ought to be commended.

MR SHANMUGAM, commending Mr Anil Balchandani, the lawyer for former domestic helper Parti Liyani.

"He did a thorough and good job of it. That is a lawyer's job. To be thorough, to be clear, to put forward everything fairly to the court," said Mr Shanmugam. "Based on what I have heard, I think he ought to be commended."

Justice Chan Seng Onn, in his 100-page judgment on the case, found the trial judge's conviction against Ms Parti to be unsafe.

He cited the handling of the evidence by the police, the recording of the allegedly stolen items and the improper motive behind the allegations of some family members.

The AGC said on Sunday that it will study Justice Chan's judgment to assess what further action, if any, ought to be taken in this case.

 
 
 

The police also said they would be looking into several observations on police investigations made by Justice Chan.

The judge had found a break in the chain of custody of evidence, and this created reasonable doubt as to whether some of the allegedly stolen items discovered by the family were accurately documented by the photographs taken by the police some five weeks later.

During this period, the family were also told by the police that they were free to use the items. They took and put back items into the boxes, but it was not clear if the items that were put back were the same ones removed earlier.

Justice Chan also found that two statements were taken from Ms Parti without an interpreter.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2020, with the headline 'Something has gone wrong and has to be set right, Shanmugam says on handling of case'. Print Edition | Subscribe