A migrant worker who was accused of faking a workplace injury to cheat his company was acquitted in the State Courts yesterday.
Mr Kirpal Singh, 24, was charged on April 8, 2019, with making fraudulent claims for compensation and lying to an investigating officer, after he cut his thumb while operating a grinder at work on Feb 20 the same year.
Yesterday, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) prosecutors withdrew the charges, and the former construction worker was handed a stern warning and a discharge amounting to an acquittal.
This means the Indian national cannot be charged again over the same offence.
No reason was given in court as to why the charges were dropped, but The Straits Times understands that it was due to a lack of evidence after Mr Singh's lawyers made formal representation to the ministry on his behalf.
The case had gone to trial on Sept 15 this year but was put on hold, with Mr Singh advised to seek legal assistance from the Community Justice Centre (CJC), an independent charity at the State Courts.
On the second day of the trial, the CJC called on volunteer lawyers to represent Mr Singh on a pro bono basis. Mr Josephus Tan and Mr Cory Wong from Invictus Law Corporation stepped forward and later asked for the case to be stood down.
After Mr Singh's acquittal, Mr Tan told ST that his client, facing serious charges, felt lost during the trial because of his inability to understand English.
Although he had an interpreter, he was unable to comprehend the legal proceedings, Mr Tan added.
Mr Singh, who speaks Punjabi, told ST through an interpreter: "I was lost during the trial proceedings. Whatever the lawyers told me, I just followed.
"The idea of getting a lawyer never popped up because I have no money. I'm glad they (Mr Tan and Mr Wong) came to help me because I couldn't understand the whole legal process."
The acquittal marked the end of a two-year wait, during which he was out of work due to his injury and the ongoing case.
He said: "Over those two years, I was living off the kindness of friends who offered me a place to live in, and temples in Little India and Boon Keng which provided free meals."
Mr Singh said he was elated at the outcome as it means that he can return to his home country soon to see his parents and grandfather. It is not known when he will be repatriated to India.
He plans to work at his father's small shop in Amritsar, Punjab state, where his family lives near the Golden Temple.
Deputy Presiding Judge Jennifer Marie thanked the prosecution for the review of the case and the defence lawyers for representing Mr Singh at the last minute.
CJC executive director Leonard Lee said that if Mr Singh had refused help in the case - one of the centre's first under the pilot Aid-in-Persons scheme - he might have ended up facing jail time.
The scheme provides legal counsel for the underprivileged, such as lower-income groups and migrant workers, in urgent cases.
Under the scheme, a pool of volunteer lawyers and law students provide consultation for the needy - such as those facing financial difficulties - and help them with mitigation statements and other legal matters.
In urgent cases, the lawyers may also represent them.
"When there is a knotty problem (in court), these volunteer lawyers are willing to step forward and help," said Mr Lee.