Call for an Independent Review

Call for an Independent Review – the Parti Liyani case

Parti Liyani’s case has hogged headlines this past week. High Court Judge Justice Chan Seng Onn wrote a detailed judgement weighing every piece of evidence and witness statement before setting out clear reasons for acquitting Parti.

Singaporeans are rightly delighted that Parti finally found justice. We owe it to Justice Chan, Parti’s lawyer Anil Balachandi and the team from HOME (Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics is a Singapore-based charity founded in 2004). Anil Balachandi in particular deserves special mention for working diligently on this case for 4 long years free of charge.

While we celebrate every victory for justice and fairness, let us not forget to take a long hard look at ourselves and correct the faults that put Parti through her ordeal for 4 lost years.

It is important to understand the chronology of events.

28 October 2016 – The Liew family sacked Parti and she left Singapore the same day.
30 October 2016 – 2 days later, the Liews lodged their police report.
2 December 2016 – Parti came back to Singapore and was arrested.
3 December 2016 – The Investigating Officer attended to the crime scene.
December 2016 to April 2018 – All the evidence was left with the Liews by the Police.
18 April 2018 – The Police retrieved the evidence into their custody (1.5 years later).
23 April 2018 – 6 days later, the trial began.

The case was then conducted over 22 trial days between April 2018 to March 2019.

Much has been said over the conduct of the various policemen, prosecutors, trial witnesses and the District Judge. I won’t add to those comments. The details are in the case law reports.
What concerns me however, is the combination of lapses that produced a perfect storm to hit Parti Liyani.

The backbone of our criminal justice system has 3 components: the Police, the Prosecution and the Criminal Court.

Justice Chan’s judgment observed lapses occurring in every one of these 3 components – at the Police level, at the Prosecution level, and at the Criminal District Court level.

We must prevent this from happening again.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has promised a review “ to find out what happened, why it happened and then deal with it. And be accountable.” He admits something has “gone wrong in the chain of events”. The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC), the Police and Ministry of Manpower are also looking into Justice Chan’s findings.

I have no doubt that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and AGC will produce their reports in due course. But the review should not be conducted in isolation or silos. After all, MHA and AGC are reviewing their own flaws. Are they independent enough to be 100% objective? Instead, the Government should convene an Independent Review Body to critically and holistically assess MHA’s and AGC’s version of events, what went wrong, and make recommendations to prevent the same wrongs from re-occurring.

Proper accountability demands that we find the root causes for these lapses. Not just whether mistakes were caused by individual human errors. Scapegoating or witch hunts will do us no good. The solution has to go further than blaming or removing personnel in question. We must examine if there are underlying systemic faults – whether there are any failures in safety processes, protocols, checks and balances. If not, we risk repeating the same mistakes again.

There are, of course, some obvious questions that an independent review must address. They include:

• Why did the Investigating Officer only attend to the case the day after Parti returned to Singapore?
• Why did the Police leave evidence with the Liews for 1.5 years?
• Why did the Police only take custody of the evidence on 18 April 2018, which was barely 6 days before the start of trial on 23 April 2018?
• Did this give AGC enough time to assess the quality of evidence before deciding to go for trial?

But more than that, the review also needs to ask:
• Whether the relevant policemen, Prosecutors and the District Judge received sufficient supervision, training and resources to discharge their tasks well?
• Was the case assigned to the right personnel with the correct skill-set and experience to do their job in the first place?
• What measures will the relevant agencies put in place to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated again?

These are uncomfortable questions to answer. But answer them they must.

Singaporeans want a criminal justice system that is efficient and fair to all. By and large, our police, prosecution and judiciary have performed well in the past.

But this incident tells us that things can be better, and calling for an Independent Review Body is a step in the right direction.

Singaporeans are waiting for good answers. And they are watching.

Secretary-General of PSP, Dr Tan Cheng Bock

You can read more details of the case here

You can read about the challenges faced by lawyer Anil Balchandani here

Also, the work of HOME here

Photo Credit: HOME, (Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics)

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