SINGAPORE: Ms Parti Liyani, who was acquitted of theft last month, took to the High Court on Tuesday (Oct 27) to seek a compensation order for the case, estimating her losses to be about S$71,000.
Ms Parti was convicted in March last year in the State Courts of stealing S$34,000 worth of items from former 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, and she was acquitted of all theft charges.
Her lawyer Anil Balchandani told Justice Chan Seng Onn on Tuesday that while he had originally planned to approach Mr Liew and his family directly for compensation, his client's instructions were "not to add more to (Mr Liew's) problems", as he "(had) to resign" from various positions at Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong after she was acquitted.
Therefore, Mr Balchandani sought a compensation order from the court instead.
Under the Criminal Procedure Code, if an accused person is acquitted of any charge for any offence, and if it is proven that the prosecution was frivolous or vexatious, the court "may order the prosecution or the complainant or the person on whose information the prosecution was instituted to pay as compensation to the accused a sum not exceeding $10,000".
Explaining how he got the figure of S$71,000, which exceeds the maximum sum of S$10,000 allowed for, Mr Balchandani pointed to Ms Parti's salary losses of about S$41,000 for about four years between October 2016 and October 2020. This figure was derived from her salary of S$750 per month as a maid with 20 years of experience.
The S$71,000 figure also included expenses for accommodation incurred by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), which gave Ms Parti shelter after she was dismissed.
"There has been, in our opinion, some amount of injustice that we wish the court to hear and to order compensation, and the prosecution has to show why they commenced prosecution," said Mr Balchandani.
He added that Ms Parti was asking for "a nominal amount to show that something went wrong".
"The appellant, who is now a free person, was wronged, and the AGC could be a little wiser the next time round. That's all. This is not meant to prolong an already lengthy trial as well as appeal," said the lawyer.
Justice Chan raised several issues with the figure of S$71,000, pointing out that the maximum sum Ms Parti can be compensated is S$10,000, and questioning if the accommodation costs can be claimed for if HOME voluntarily housed Ms Parti.
He urged both sides to turn to third-party mediation instead, with an external compensation given outside the court, since Mr Balchandani and the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) had tried negotiating on this matter but failed to agree.
"You know, there's many considerations in this case," said Justice Chan. "The amount is only S$10,000. It's not very big. If we go through with this case, we have the hearing fixed for one day, two days, you know the cost of this case is going to be far more than S$10,000. The costs, even the court's fees, actually are public-funded ... for you, there's a cost also, you know, doing pro bono," he told Mr Balchandani.
He added that if they proceeded with the case, there were several legal issues that had to be argued, such as who bears the burden of proof and what is the meaning of frivolous and vexatious.
"Basically, it's not so straightforward," said Justice Chan. "It will take certainly more than a day. So I don't think it's worth it."
The brief hearing was attended by Deputy Public Prosecutors Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir and Sarah Siaw, with Senior Counsel Faizal saying that the application was "quite unparalleled" and will be "quite legally and factually challenging".
The judge sent both sides back to consider third-party mediation. If this falls through, both Mr Balchandani and the prosecution will return at a later date to resume arguments on the compensation order.
This development comes after Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon granted Ms Parti leave or permission last week, for an investigation to be conducted into her complaint of misconduct against two prosecutors in her trial.
READ: Chief Justice grants investigation into Parti Liyani's complaint of misconduct against prosecutors
Ms Parti alleged that Deputy Public Prosecutors Tan Yanying and Tan Wee Hao showed a "lack of candour" in the way they cross-examined her and presented their position to the court.
As a result, she was cross-examined unfairly and misled along with the court, she alleged.
The issue stemmed from a DVD player she was accused of stealing from Mr Liew's family, that turned out to be faulty but had been presented as working fine by the prosecution.
READ: Timeline: How former maid Parti Liyani was acquitted of stealing from Changi Airport Group chairman's family
The Chief Justice granted the investigation after finding evidence that there was a case for it.
A disciplinary tribunal will hear the case and investigate the complaint. If cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action is found, the Chief Justice could make orders for sanctions such as censures, being struck off the roll and penalties of up to S$20,000.