S'porean lawyer who defended pro bono wrongly accused & convicted helper wins high praise from judge

The judge praised him for his meticulousness and dedication.

Belmont Lay | September 05, 2020, 03:47 PM

A Singaporean lawyer who successfully appealed against the conviction of an Indonesian domestic helper on a pro bono basis has won high praise from the High Court judge for his meticulousness and dedication to the cause.

Justice Chan Seng Onn made a special mention in the concluding paragraph of his 101-page judgement reserved for the lawyer, Anil Balchandani, who acted for the accused, Parti Liyani, 46.

Balchandani had in total produced 500 pages of trial and appeal submissions, and stayed the course for 22 days of the trial that spanned months and three days of appeal.

Justice Chan wrote:

"I would like to commend Mr Anil for the pro-bono services that he has rendered for this case: the trial itself took 22 days with extensive cross examination of the Prosecution witnesses; his trial submissions for both conviction and sentence totalled 279 pages (excluding authorities and other attachments); the appeal hearing stretched over 3 days; his submissions for the appeal totalled 221 pages (excluding authorities and other attachments); his written submissions were detailed and well-footnoted; his arguments were persuasive; he explored carefully every aspect of the Prosecution’s case and scrutinised the voluminous evidence in the transcripts in order to mount his client’s defence both at the trial and the appeal with clarity; he analysed the grounds of decision of the trial judge in great detail to submit on areas where the trial judge had erred in her findings; he handled all these matters singlehandedly and had shown much dedication in his pro-bono work for this case."

Justice Chan allowed the helper's appeal eventually and overturned her conviction on four theft charges.

Disagreed with judge who convicted accused

Parti was sentenced in March 2019 to two years and two months' jail after a district judge convicted her of three counts of theft in dwelling and one charge of theft as a servant.

In his appeal judgement on Sept. 4, Justice Chan disagreed with the district judge's grounds for conviction.

Justice Chan said: "It is unclear how the (district) judge could have arrived at the conclusion that this was a result of Karl’s 'inability to recall if some items had ever been in his possession', especially when some of the items were observed by the (district) judge to be 'smaller-sized female clothing' and wallets that 'did not appear to be men’s wallets."

The Liew family had reported Parti to the police for stealing from them.

Justice Chan added that the district judge's assessment of an accuser to be "largely credible" was "plainly wrong and against the weight of the evidence".

Karl told the court he was a cross-dresser after he claimed the female clothing Parti allegedly stole were his own.

Successful appeal

Following the successful appeal, Balchandani spoke on camera while maintaining his composure.

He said:

"We just exited court 4C where the judge acquitted Parti Liyani of all four charges. He found that the prosecution was not able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. He also found that there was collusion or conspiracy. He also found that there was a break in the chain of evidence, and importantly, that the prosecution witnesses were not credible."

Emotional appeal

His calm presentation contrasted with the scenes in the court room earlier.

After the verdict, the accused sobbed and hugged Balchandani and staff from the migrant workers group that had been helping her.

Parti told reporters: "I'm so glad that I'm finally free. I've been fighting for four years now and I have been strong all this while."

Non-governmental organisation pays tribute to lawyer

In a tribute to the lawyer and his dedication to right a wrong, Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), a Singapore non-governmental organisation thanked Balchandani.

HOME, which had stood by Parti and assisted over the past four years, wrote:

"HOME would also like to express our deep appreciation for Mr Anil Balchandani, who has worked tirelessly to represent Yani at the trial and appeal stage. We are also very grateful for the many volunteers and interns who have been involved in Yani’s case and who helped her manoeuver the complexities of her case."

Consequences of the police case

Parti, an Indonesian domestic helper, spent the last four years of her life living in a shelter by HOME as a result of the police case against her.

She was arrested on Dec. 2, 2016, and charged on Aug. 31, 2017.

The four years in the shelter was spent waiting for the conclusion of her case and clearing her name.

HOME also provided Parti a bailor for the sum of S$15,000, an option which is not available for most migrant workers accused of crimes in Singapore.

During the four years, Parti was not allowed to work, and was reliant on HOME to provide shelter, food, and financial assistance.

She was not allowed to leave the country, and see her family back home.

The judge was of the opinion that Parti was dismissed and given a two-hour notice back in 2016 because she wanted to go to the Ministry of Manpower to complain about the Liew family who had employed her for nine years.

Parti was made to clean another family member's residence and office.

There was “ample basis” for Parti to file a complaint to MOM, Justice Chan said in his judgement, given that she had been asked to clean her employer's son's residence and office, besides her employer's home.

“In my judgment, there is reason to believe that the Liew family, upon realising her unhappiness, took the pre-emptive first step to terminate her employment suddenly without giving her sufficient time to pack, in the hope that Ms Parti would not use the time to make a complaint to MOM,” Justice Chan added.

"Once she made express her desire to complain to MOM after her sudden termination on Oct. 28, 2016, the Liew family followed up with the police report to ensure her return would be prevented."

About the case

Parti had been accused by her previous employers of stealing 144 items worth S$50,856.

She faced four charges.

A fifth charge was stood down at the start of the trial.

The second of these four charges was amended by District Judge Olivia Low on March 20, 2019 when the verdict of Yani’s trial was released.

Judge Low removed five items and lowered the total value of items stolen to S$34,456.

Several items, including two wallets and five items of clothing, were removed as there was doubt as to whether the items belonged to the victim, Karl Liew.

The value of one of the items, a “damaged ‘Gerald Genta’ watch”, was also significantly reduced from S$25,000 to S$10,000.

The investigations against Parti commenced on Dec. 3, 2016.

Since then, she has been staying at HOME’s shelter.

HOME has assisted her in obtaining pro-bono legal support.

She was found guilty in March 2019 of all four charges, and was sentenced to 26 months’ jail.

She appealed against the verdict and sentencing.

She was represented at trial and at the appeal by Anil Narain Balchandani of M/s Red Lion Circle.

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Top photo via HOME & Red Lion Circle