SINGAPORE: Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on Friday (Oct 23) granted Ms Parti Liyani leave for an investigation to be conducted into her complaint of misconduct against two prosecutors in her theft trial.
Ms Parti has accused Deputy Public Prosecutors Tan Yanying and Tan Wee Hao of misconduct in handling her trial.
The Indonesian woman was convicted in March last year by a lower court of stealing S$34,000 from ex-Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family when she worked for them as a domestic helper. The conviction was overturned by the High Court on Sep 4.
Ms Parti alleged a "lack of candour" on the part of the prosecutors in the way they cross-examined her, and in the way they presented their position to the court. As a result, alleged Ms Parti, she was cross-examined unfairly and both she and the court were possibly misled.
There are two steps in considering whether to grant leave for such an investigation - first, if the Chief Justice is satisfied that there is a prima facie case, and if so, are there any relevant factors in favour or against the investigation.
The Chief Justice found that there was a prima facie case of misconduct on the evidence and that there were no relevant factors against the granting of leave.
READ: Timeline: How former maid Parti Liyani was acquitted of stealing from Changi Airport Group chairman's family
He said the central consideration in the present case was the need to uphold the proper administration of justice and to safeguard the integrity of the public service, and the complaint struck at the very heart of the obligations which the prosecutors owed to the court.
There was an overriding public interest in testing and establishing the validity of the allegations that have been raised, he said.
THE DVD PLAYER DEMONSTRATION
Ms Parti's complaint is over the way the prosecutors led evidence on a Pioneer DVD player she was accused of stealing, the Chief Justice said on Friday.
In particular, Ms Parti contends that the prosecutors had "concealed material facts and thereby created the false impression that the device was fully functional", said the Chief Justice in his judgment.
Ms Parti said that if not for the false impression, she should not have agreed under cross-examination that the device was operational.
On this basis, the prosecutors suggested that Ms Parti had lied about how the player came to be in her possession, and there would not have been any basis for the prosecutors to suggest she had been lying if Ms Parti had known all the facts.
Ms Parti had argued at trial that the DVD player was faulty and Mr Liew's wife had told her so and indicated that she wanted to throw it away, which was how Ms Parti came to possess the device.
During a cross-examination of Ms Parti during the lower court trial on Sep 26, 2018, the prosecutors conducted a demonstration of the DVD player, displaying some images on a monitor connected to the device.
The prosecution did not inform the court, Ms Parti nor her lawyer Anil Balchandani that the player had been operating in HDD mode or that they had difficulties playing a DVD that had been found in the player earlier that morning.
When asked by the district judge, Ms Tan said she had not inserted anything into the DVD player before her demonstration.
Under Ms Tan's cross-examination, Ms Parti agreed that the DVD player had been working during the demonstration. Ms Tan put to Ms Parti that she had been lying when she claimed that Mr Liew's wife had told her the device was spoilt.
During the lunch recess on Sep 27, 2018, Mr Balchandi was allowed to inspect the DVD player with the assistance of the prosecutors and later told the court that the device was not functional despite the earlier demonstration.
On Nov 20, 2018, Mr Balchandi told the district judge that the prosecutors had used equipment which was not part of the courtroom in the demonstration and that he was at a disadvantage.
He argued that the judge should consider the fact that the prosecutors had not shown how the Liew household had used the device, implying that the specific setup might have a bearing on the functionality of the DVD player and the veracity of Ms Parti's defence.
Ms Tan replied that the demonstration proved that the device was indeed working.
DVD MODE AND HDD MODE
On Dec 4, 2018, Mr Balchandani conducted his own demonstration of the DVD player, and it was shown that the device could function in two modes - in DVD mode and in HDD mode, where images were recorded on the hard drive and played back.
Mr Balchandani showed with other DVDs he brought along that they could not be played in the DVD mode, and when the HDD mode was used, the footage that had been displayed during the prosecutors' demonstration appeared on the monitor.
He then stated that the prosecutors had not informed the court that they had operated the DVD player using the HDD function during their demonstration.
In light of this sequence of events, Ms Parti alleged that the prosecutors' actions showed "a larger scheme ... to mislead the court", because the device could not have been operating in HDD mode unless it was deliberately engaged.
She alleged that the prosecutors "knew they were fudging the facts so they could score an immediate victory" and discredit Ms Parti, performing their demonstration in the shortest time possible to catch Mr Balchandani off-guard.
The prosecutors said in an affidavit filed in August this year after Ms Parti applied for a disciplinary inquiry into their alleged misconduct that they had tested the player on their own before the hearing commenced on Sep 26, 2018.
When the device was in the DVD mode, it could not play the DVD inside, but was able to display some images when it was in HDD mode and plugged into a monitor in court.
"Notwithstanding this, the DPPs had made no mention of their difficulties playing the ... DVD during (Ms Parti's) cross-examination or in their closing submissions," said the Chief Justice.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE'S REASONS FOR GRANTING LEAVE
Explaining why he is allowing the investigation, Chief Justice Menon said the materials before him suggest that the prosecutors "could or might have had reason to think that there were issues with the device's functionality".
Also, the evidence further suggests that the prosecutors did not tell the judge, Ms Parti nor Mr Balchandi that there was a possibility the device was faulty, nor that there were two functions in the player.
Ms Parti said in her affidavit that she had not known at that point that the DVD player had two functions, and only learned of this after Mr Balchandani's examination and demonstration of the device.
Chief Justice Menon added that it seemed arguable that the prosecutors had gone further to suggest that there were no problems with the functionality of the device.
"The DPPs’ demonstration and the questions put in cross-examination could arguably be said to have created a misleading impression that there were no problems with the functionality of the device," said the Chief Justice.
"On the evidence, it seems to me that there is a prima facie case that it was improper for Ms Tan to have put to the applicant that she had been lying based on an admission that might have been procured in an unfair and misleading manner."
He added that it is "a basic proposition that the prosecution is under a fundamental duty to assist in the administration of justice, and must present the evidence against an accused person fairly and impartially, and without malice, fear or favour, in accordance with the law".
Chief Justice Menon reiterated that prosecutors are "ministers of justice who must always act in the public interest", and this requires "a willingness to disclose all relevant material to assist with the court's determination of the truth, even if it may prove unhelpful or detrimental to the prosecution's case".
He noted that the prosecutors do not oppose the investigation, and said he welcomes this "since it is as much in their interest to vindicate themselves".
Now that leave has been granted, a disciplinary tribunal will hear the case and investigate the complaint, before submitting a report to the Chief Justice.
If the tribunal finds no cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action against the prosecutors, the Chief Justice will dismiss the complaint, according to the Legal Profession Act.
If cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action is found, the Chief Justice may appoint an advocate and solicitor or a legal service officer to apply for an order to impose sanctions on the prosecutors.
These include censures, having them struck off the roll, prohibiting them from applying for a practising certificate for up to five years, ordering a penalty of up to S$20,000 or other punishments.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct an erroneous mention of the public prosecutor, when it should have been the applicant. We apologise for the error.