Twists and turns as CJ hears case of animal cruelty

A 43-year-old woman tried yesterday to retract her guilty plea for ill-treating three pet dogs, arguing she had pleaded that way because her former lawyer had put her under "fear and extreme pressure".

While Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon did not allow her application, he adjourned the case when he discovered she had been told what she was pleading guilty to, on only the day itself.

Chng Leng Khim said she agreed to the guilty plea because her lawyer had told her she could be remanded at a mental institution if she claimed trial instead.

She was also worried about the impact of a trial on her daughter, who is on probation for kicking a policewoman.

She sobbed as she read out her handwritten notes, asking to be "given a fair trial to uncover the truth in the interest of justice".

The Chief Justice was initially unmoved, pointing out she had understood the consequences. "The law is such that you can't be flippant about it".

He noted that at a pre-trial conference on Feb 5, five days before she made her plea, her lawyer had said she would likely accept the prosecution's plea bargain offer.

But he later found out, on questioning the prosecutor responding to Chng's appeal, that she had been given the statement of facts - a document setting out details of her offences to which she had to admit without reservation - only on Feb 10, the very day she pleaded guilty.

The Chief Justice adjourned the case for the prosecution to submit a written explanation for what transpired between Feb 5 and 10. Specifically, he wanted details about the negotiations under which the plea was taken and when, or whether, Chng's ex-lawyer had been given the statement of facts.

He told Chng that he did not find her arguments on the merits of her case "convincing". But he told her to make a statutory declaration to state, on oath, how she had been pressured. He warned her there were consequences to making a false declaration.

Chng had moved out of her Paya Lebar Crescent house in June 2013, along with her three children, after she stopped paying rent of $1,500 a month.

She left behind a bull mastiff and a chow chow, which were found by the landlord two days later. Both were ill and thin, infested with ticks, and surrounded by their urine and faeces. An emaciated and tick-infested poodle found near the house was traced back to her via a microchip.

The chow chow and poodle were rehomed, but the bull mastiff had to be euthanised.

Chng was arrested on June 30 last year. On Feb 10, she pleaded guilty to two counts of animal cruelty, two counts of keeping a dog without a licence, and a count of failing to comply with an AVA order. Two other charges - for animal cruelty and for keeping a dog without a licence - were taken into consideration.

At a sentencing hearing on Feb 19, she told the court she wanted to retract her guilty plea. Her lawyer also applied to discharge himself.

Sentencing was adjourned to give another lawyer time to prepare her mitigation plea. But the second lawyer also discharged himself on Feb 23, when she was sentenced to 10 days' jail and a fine of $3,100.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2016, with the headline 'Twists and turns as CJ hears case of animal cruelty'. Print Edition | Subscribe