Retrial for woman cleared of slapping sister's maid

High Court allows prosecution's appeal, concludes there was judicial interference during trial

A 42-year-old woman who was cleared last year by a district judge of slapping her sister's maid nearly four years ago will go through a retrial, after the High Court overturned the acquittal yesterday.

The prosecution had appealed against the acquittal of Kathleen Chua Siew Wei, arguing the district judge's various interventions during the trial prevented Deputy Public Prosecutor Yang Ziliang from properly cross-examining her.

The prosecution also argued that the trial judge's findings were against the weight of the evidence. The trial judge, who was not named in the appeal, had told the DPP to focus only on what was relevant to the charge of causing hurt.

He disallowed the DPP from questioning Chua on, among other things, her past experience in hiring maids, the frequency with which she scolded the maid, and an allegation that the maid was not paid her salary for the first seven months because it was set off against a loan Chua had given her.

Yesterday, Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon, in allowing the appeal, noted that allegations of judicial interference rarely succeed but he had to "reluctantly" conclude this was such a case.

It would be appropriate "in the interests of justice" for a retrial before another judge, he said. He found the trial judge had "narrowed his focus unduly" by considering only testimony directly related to the alleged slapping incident. "In so doing, he had not only unfairly restricted the ambit of the prosecution's cross-examination and impeded their ability to present their case fully, but had also impaired his own ability to evaluate and weigh the case presented by each side," he said.

After reviewing the trial transcript, he was satisfied the DPP's questions were not irrelevant, but were curtailed many times. The trial judge had failed to consider essential pieces of evidence in arriving at his conclusion, he said.

Chua, her elder sister, Chua Siew Peng, 44, and their mother, Lum Wai Lui, 75, were separately tried for abusing Filipina Jonna Memeje Muegue, who escaped from their sixth-floor Maplewoods condominium in Bukit Timah by jumping out from a window in October 2012.

Ms Muegue's employer, the elder Chua, is awaiting sentencing for wrongfully confining and slapping her. The sisters' mother was put on 21 months' probation in February.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'Retrial for woman cleared of slapping sister's maid'. Print Edition | Subscribe