SINGAPORE: The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) said on Tuesday (Aug 31) it will not be taking action against a woman who complained that a doctor had molested her, after the doctor was acquitted.
On Aug 16, Dr Yeo Sow Nam, 52, was given a discharge amounting to an acquittal for four counts of outraging a 32-year-old woman’s modesty at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in October 2017.
The woman had accused the doctor of hugging her, squeezing her waist, gripping her breasts and kissing her head.
Prosecutors decided to withdraw the charges after considering the evidence as well as the defence lawyers' representations.
In its media statement on Tuesday, the AGC said its assessment is that a case for giving false evidence against the complainant is “unlikely to be made out”.
“The inconsistencies in the complainant’s evidence did not, in the main, relate to the substance of her allegations against Dr Yeo for outrage of modesty,” said the AGC.
“There is also no evidence to suggest that the complainant fabricated her account of events regarding the alleged outrage of modesty.
“Critically, there is no finding by the court in this case that the complainant had lied or had even given inconsistent evidence.”
In the circumstances, AGC will not be taking any action against her, said the statement.
The AGC said if there is clear evidence that a person has lied under oath in legal proceedings, it will “seriously consider” opening proceedings against the person for perjury.
“There is at present a case pending before the courts where such proceedings have been commenced, and investigations are ongoing in respect of other cases,” said the AGC.
“One indication of clear evidence will be if the presiding court or tribunal has opined that a witness has lied under oath.
“Even then, AGC will have to assess all available evidence and take a view on whether an offence has been committed because, in any subsequent proceedings, the earlier court or tribunal’s views will be treated only as its own opinion. AGC will still have to prove the offence beyond reasonable doubt.”
WHY CHARGES WERE WITHDRAWN
The prosecution did not reach its decision to withdraw the charges against Dr Yeo on the basis that the woman had been untruthful about the alleged outrage of modesty, said the AGC.
In sexual offence cases, where an accused person is tried on the testimony of a complainant alone, the law requires that the complainant’s evidence is “unusually convincing” before an accused can be convicted, said the statement.
Charges were raised against Dr Yeo after several prosecutors assessed that the woman’s evidence was “very convincing”, and that the charges against the doctor “could be proven”, said the media statement.
“During the trial in March 2021, however, some inconsistencies arose in the course of the complainant’s evidence in court.
“Most of these did not involve the complainant’s account of the alleged outrage of modesty.
“Nevertheless, the prosecution assessed that the inconsistencies, taken as a whole, would likely affect the assessment of the complainant’s overall evidence,” said the AGC.
“There was a risk that the complainant might not meet the high threshold set in such cases, of showing that she was unusually convincing.”
This was why the prosecution decided to withdraw the charges against the doctor, it said.
DEFENCE LAWYERS’ STATEMENTS “MISLEADING”
Dr Yeo’s lawyers from Eugene Thuraisingam LLP issued a public statement shortly after his acquittal, claiming the complainant “admitted to lying in court about ‘material elements’ of her allegations of outrage of modesty”, said AGC.
“These statements are misleading and regrettable,” said the AGC.
The woman “specifically denied” the defence lawyers’ accusations that she had “lied and fabricated the alleged acts of outrage of modesty in respect of all the charges against Dr Yeo”, added the AGC.
“With respect to the charge that Dr Yeo had squeezed her waist, the complainant was not consistent and clear as to whether she was seated or standing at the time of the alleged incident.
“She first said she was seated and later said she could not recall if she was seated or standing. She nonetheless disagreed with Dr Yeo’s lawyers when they accused her of fabricating the incident,” said the AGC.
“With respect to the complainant’s evidence on Dr Yeo’s alleged touches on her hip, the complainant testified under cross-examination that she could no longer recall whether Dr Yeo had patted, tapped or rested his hand on her hip.
“She maintained that Dr Yeo had nonetheless touched her hip. When Dr Yeo’s lawyer asserted that Dr Yeo had not touched her hips in any way, the complainant disagreed. Importantly, this alleged incident did not form the basis of any of the charges against Dr Yeo.”
Defence lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam also “used the court process” to advance similar allegations against the woman, said the AGC, adding that he “changed his position” before the court could rule on the allegations.
The prosecution had informed the defence lawyers in June 2021 that it would be withdrawing the charges against Dr Yeo at the next pre-trial conference in chambers on Jun 29.
“However, Mr Thuraisingam asked at the pre-trial conference for the withdrawal to be heard by the trial judge on a later date when it could be recorded in open court,” said the AGC.
“Mr Thuraisingam also indicated at the pre-trial conference that he intended to apply and make submissions to the trial judge to lift the gag order for the complainant’s identity to be made public. The prosecution filed written submissions resisting that application.”
Gag orders are generally issued by the court in sexual offences cases to “protect complainants from embarrassment”, said the AGC.
The matter was heard in open court on Aug 16, when Mr Thuraisingam “quoted extensively from selection portions” of the woman’s evidence and his written submissions to lift the gag order, and “accused the complainant of being a liar”, said the AGC.
After concluding his submissions, the defence lawyer “abruptly changed his position”, said the AGC.
“He suddenly agreed with the prosecution that there was no basis to lift the gag order, and withdrew his application,” added the AGC.
“As a result, the prosecution did not present its oral arguments, and the court did not make a ruling on the allegations that the complainant had been deliberately untruthful.”
The AGC has written to Mr Thuraisingam asking for “an explanation of his conduct”, as an officer of the court.
LAW FIRM RESPONDS
In response to AGC's statement, Eugene Thuraisingam LLP said it is "not true" that the law firm's statements were misleading.
"The complainant’s evidence was that Dr Yeo molested her by touching her breasts with his palms facing outwards. She later agreed under cross-examination that it was impossible for Dr Yeo to have done so as he was standing behind her," said the statement from the law firm.
"The complainant testified that when Dr Yeo molested her, she raised her arms up towards the ceiling to try and get away from him.
"She also physically demonstrated this in court. She later agreed under cross-examination that despite having no actual recollection of this (that is, raising her arms towards the ceiling), she was nevertheless prepared to say and demonstrate this to the court.
"She admitted that when she told the court that she remembered Dr Yeo resting his hand on her hip, she was telling a lie.
"She admitted that she told the court things that she did not have any recollection of, and that by doing so she was knowingly giving false evidence in court.
"She also admitted that she had lied so many times that she could not remember when she was telling the truth and when she was lying.
"She admitted that the evidence she gave in court in relation to her movements in the room after Dr Yeo allegedly cupped her breasts was false because she did not have any independent recollection of where she moved to."
While the application to lift the gag order was withdrawn at the hearing on Aug 16, the law firm said it made it clear to the court that Dr Yeo reserved the right to bring an application to lift the gag order if the prosecution brought charges against the woman for "telling the lies stated above".