SINGAPORE: A disciplinary tribunal has dismissed Ms Parti Liyani’s complaint alleging misconduct by two prosecutors over how they led evidence on a DVD player she was accused of stealing from her former employer.
In grounds of decision dated Mar 10, 2022, the tribunal found “no cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action” against two deputy public prosecutors: Ms Tan Yanying and Mr Tan Wee Hao.
The two-member tribunal comprising Senior Judge Chao Hick Tin and senior lawyer Patrick Ang was unanimously of the view that Ms Parti’s complaint should be dismissed.
Having considered all the circumstances, the tribunal also made no order as to costs against the unsuccessful complainant.
Ms Parti had worked as a domestic helper for Mr Liew Mun Leong, the former chairman of Changi Airport Group.
She was initially convicted on Mar 20, 2019 of stealing S$34,000 worth of items from Mr Liew and his family.
A High Court judge overturned the conviction on Sep 4, 2020, outlining several issues with the conviction findings and how the case was handled.
After her acquittal, Ms Parti applied through her lawyer Anil Balchandani for a disciplinary tribunal to be set up to look into the case.
She sought disciplinary proceedings against the two legal service officers who were assigned to the case by the Attorney-General's Chambers.
Both prosecutors did not object to a disciplinary tribunal, welcoming “the opportunity to present their account of what transpired and to explain themselves fully”.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon granted leave for the disciplinary tribunal in October 2020.
THE DVD PLAYER
The crux of Ms Parti’s complaint was that Ms Tan and Mr Tan gave the false impression that the DVD player was fully functional when it was not.
Ms Parti’s defence in her trial was that Mr Liew’s wife, Mdm Ng Lai Peng, wanted to throw away the DVD player as it was broken. She said Mdm Ng gave her consent to take it and have it repaired in Indonesia if she wanted to.
Mdm Ng gave evidence during the trial that the machine was not spoilt and that she had never consented to Ms Parti taking it.
During cross-examination of Ms Parti on Sep 26, 2018, the prosecutors used the DVD player to play some images on screen.
This led Ms Parti to concede that the DVD player was fully working. Ms Tan then put it to Ms Parti that she had been lying when she said Mdm Ng told her the device was spoilt.
However, the prosecutors did not disclose to the court that they had faced problems playing a DVD in the player earlier that day, that the player had dual functions - DVD and HDD - and the images played in court came from the HDD source instead.
WORKING OR NOT WORKING
Ms Tan’s defence was that her understanding was “the relevant issue of fact at the trial was whether the device worked or did not work”.
The thought of the device being partially working was “not in her mind at all”.
Ms Tan said that when she tested the DVD player on Sep 26, 2018, her objective was to ascertain whether it was not working at all.
When a disc that was already inside the device failed to play, she “pressed some random buttons”. The device then went into HDD mode and played some video footage. This satisfied her that it was not true the device was not working.
Whether the disc could be played or not was “immaterial” as all she needed to rebut Ms Parti’s defence was to show that the DVD player was working.
Mr Tan similarly said his understanding of the term “spoilt” was that the device was not working.
Both prosecutors also said they believed any problems in playing the DVD could be attributed to the disc rather than the player.
MS PARTI WAS NOT MISLED: TRIBUNAL
The tribunal said that both the prosecution and defence shared the view that “when the device was described as spoilt or broken, it meant that the device was not working, that was all”.
They said the question that arose was whether the prosecutors “knowingly misled the court as to the workability or functionality of the device”.
The prosecutors’ intention at trial was to rebut Ms Parti’s defence that she had consent to take the DVD player, said the tribunal. They hoped that by showing that the device was working, they would debunk her claim.
The tribunal noted that even though prosecutors could not recall the error message that appeared on screen when they failed to play the DVD, it could be assumed the message would be the same kind that Mr Balchandani got when he tested the player with the same disc.
These were messages saying “could not initialise disc” and “incompatible and unreadable disc”.
“Having deliberated long and hard over it, we find it difficult to fault the (prosecutors) for thinking that the device was working as demonstrated even though they could not play the ... disc,” said the tribunal.
“Far less could it be said that the (prosecutors) knew that the DVD function of the device was faulty and deliberately chose to suppress that fact.”
The tribunal said that Ms Parti “was not misled by anyone” on the state of the DVD player, “because in her mind ‘spoilt’ and ‘broken’ meant the device could not work”.
They also said it was significant that Ms Parti’s defence at the trial was never amended, and continued to maintain that the DVD player was not working at all, rather than not fully working.
In hindsight, the tribunal said it could be argued that the prosecutors should have done more to ascertain the condition of the DVD player.
The device’s “DVD loader mechanism was likely to be defective”, according to an Oct 2, 2020 report by Mr Kueh Chee Meng of Pioneer Electronics Asia Centre.
“If the issue at trial had turned on specifically whether the DVD function was working, then the (prosecutors) should have disclosed their problems with playing the DVD disc,” said the tribunal.
“However, as the issue all along was whether the device was working, and as mentioned before, the messages shown on the device when the DVD disc was sought to be played by the (prosecutors) did not inform them that the device was at fault, the respondents cannot be faulted for lack of candour.”
A spokesperson for the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said on Wednesday night that the prosecutors "cooperated fully in the inquiry and were appreciative of the opportunity to present a full and transparent account of what transpired during the trial".
"They take their duties as prosecutors seriously and will continue to prosecute cases in the public interest," the spokesperson added.
"The AGC continues to hold our legal officers to high standards of integrity and professionalism as officers of the court."