S'porean doctor acquitted of molest: AGC will not charge woman, defence calls AGC's statement 'unfair'

AGC called a statement by the defence "misleading and regrettable", and had its own statement called into question.

Nigel Chua | August 31, 2021, 10:00 PM

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The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) has responded to queries on whether it would take action against the complainant in the case of Yeo Sow Nam, a doctor who was accused and acquitted of molest.

Defence lawyers from law firm Eugene Thuraisingam LLP called the woman a "self-confessed perjurer" after she admitted in court that she had told several lies.

However, AGC said "inconsistencies" in her evidence did not relate to their substance on the whole, and that it would not take action against her, in a statement on Aug. 31.

It also slammed the lawyers' public statement on the case which said the complainant admitted to lying in court about "material elements" of her allegations, and called the statement "misleading and regrettable".

Within the same day on Aug. 31, Eugene Thuraisingam LLP responded to the AGC statement with its own statement, together with portions of redacted trial transcripts, which sought to show that its statements were not misleading.

Eugene Thuraisingam also made two Facebook posts in the evening of Aug. 31 outlining his disagreements with AGC's stance, saying in his second post that it was "unfair of AGC to only give part of the facts".

Why did AGC prosecute Yeo, then withdraw the criminal charges?

The law requires that the complainant’s evidence is "unusually convincing" before an accused can be convicted of a sexual offence, in cases where an accused person is tried on the testimony of a complainant alone, AGC said in its statement.

It explained that "several prosecutors" assessed the evidence and found it to be "very convincing".

Thus, AGC made the call for Yeo to be charged.

However, during the March 2021 trial, "some inconsistencies arose in the course of the complainant’s evidence in court", AGC said.

While most of the inconsistencies "did not involve the complainant’s account of the alleged outrage of modesty", AGC said, the prosecution made an assessment that the inconsistencies would likely affect their earlier assessment of the complainant's evidence.

"There was a risk that the complainant might not meet the high threshold set in such cases, of showing that she was unusually convincing," said AGC's statement.

Therefore, the prosecution decided to withdraw the criminal charges against Yeo.

AGC highlighted that this was not a decision that was made based on the fact that the complainant had been untruthful about the alleged outrage of modesty.

When will AGC prosecute someone for giving false evidence?

AGC also explained its position on prosecuting those who give false evidence.

It said that it would only do so "if there is clear evidence that a person has lied under oath in legal proceedings".

One indication of such clear evidence will be if the presiding court or tribunal has opined that a witness has lied under oath, AGC said.

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.

This is because AGC will still have to prove the offence of perjury beyond reasonable doubt.

AGC also pointed out that one such case is currently pending before the courts, where proceedings against a person for perjury have been commenced, and said that investigations are ongoing in respect of other cases.

Why will AGC not prosecute the complainant in Yeo's case?

AGC said that it would not take action against the complainant in Yeo's case because of the following factors:

  • The inconsistencies in the complainant's evidence did not relate to the substance of her allegations on the whole.
  • There is no evidence to suggest that the complainant fabricated her account of events regarding the alleged outrage of modesty.
  • The court did not find that the complainant had lied or given inconsistent evidence.

AGC: public statement by defence lawyers is "misleading and regrettable"

AGC also labelled a public statement on the case by the defence lawyers as being "misleading and regrettable".

That statement was issued by Yeo's lawyers on his behalf, on the same day that Yeo was acquitted, Aug. 16.

It said that "the complainant confessed to knowingly lying to the court about material aspects of her allegations" and that "with her lies, the complainant has jeopardised the good, necessary, and difficult work of ensuring access to justice for real victims of sex crimes".

AGC pointed out the following in response:

  • The complainant denied the lawyers' accusations that she lied and fabricated the alleged acts of outrage of modesty.
  • The complainant disagreed with Yeo's lawyers when they accused her of fabricating an incident where he allegedly squeezed her waist, even though she "was not consistent and clear as to whether she was seated or standing at the time of the alleged incident", as she first said she was seated and later said she could not recall if she was seated or standing. This alleged incident led to one of Yeo's charges.
  • The complainant disagreed with Yeo's lawyers when they asserted that Yeo had not touched her hips in any way, maintaining that Yeo had in fact touched her hip. She had, however, testified under cross-examination that she could no longer recall whether Yeo had patted, tapped or rested his hand on her hip. AGC highlighted that this alleged incident was not the basis of any of Yeo's charges, however.

Yeo's lawyers responded with further examples of inconsistencies and admissions on the part of the complainant.

They also attached portions of its written submissions to lift the gag order, as well as redacted trial transcripts, which corresponded to the admissions that it had pointed out.

The complainant's admissions were described in the lawyers' statement as follows:

  1. The complainant said that Yeo molested her by touching her breasts with his palms facing outwards, but later agreed that it was impossible for him to have done so as he was standing behind her.
  2. The complainant said that when 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, but later agreed that despite having no actual recollection of raising her arms towards the ceiling, she was nevertheless prepared to say and demonstrate this to the court.
  3. She admitted that when she told the court that she remembered Yeo resting his hand on her hip, she was telling a lie.
  4. 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, and that she had lied so many times that she could not remember when she was telling the truth and when she was lying.
  5. She gave evidence in court about her movements in the room after Yeo allegedly cupped her breasts, but later admitted that the evidence was false, because she did not have any independent recollection of where she moved to.

Why is there still a gag order on the complainant's identity?

AGC also said that Yeo’s counsel, Eugene Thuraisingam, also "used the court process to advance similar allegations [of giving false evidence] against the complainant", and said that he changed his position before the court came to a decision on his allegations.

It outlined the following sequence of events:

  • Jun. 2021: Prosecution informed Eugene Thuraisingam LLP that it would be withdrawing the charges against Yeo at a pre-trail conference, scheduled for Jun. 29, 2021.
  • Jun. 29, 2021: At the pre-trial conference, Thuraisingam asked for the withdrawal to be heard by the trial judge on a later date, when it could be recorded in open court. He indicated at the time that he intended to take action to apply for the gag order to be lifted, for the complainant's identity to be made public.
  • The prosecution then filed written submissions resisting the application for the gag order to be lifted.
  • Aug. 16, 2021: The matter was heard in open court. Thuraisingam, according to AGC, "quoted extensively from selected portions of the complainant’s evidence and his written submissions to lift the gag order, and accused the complainant of being a liar." However, Thuraisingam "abruptly changed his position" after concluding his submissions, "suddenly agreed with the prosecution that there was no basis to lift the gag order, and withdrew his application."

AGC said the result of this was that the prosecution did not present its oral arguments against the lifting of the gag order and that the court did not make a ruling on the allegations that the complainant had been deliberately untruthful.

In reply to this, Yeo's lawyers said in their statement on Aug. 31 that they had "made it clear to the court" that Yeo was reserving his right to apply to have the gag order lifted, in the event that the Prosecution charged the complainant for giving false evidence.

Why did Yeo's lawyers withdraw their application to lift the gag order?

In his second Aug. 31 Facebook post on the matter, Thuraisingam said that he had agreed with the prosecution's position that the court could not lift the gag order unless the complainant was charged and convicted for lying, and therefore withdrew the application for the gag order to be lifted.

He then explained that it was significant that Yeo had reserved his rights at the point of withdrawing the application.

Reserving those rights, Thuraisingam explained, was so that the prosecution cannot argue in future that he can no longer apply to lift the gag order because the previous application was withdrawn.

"In other words, it keeps the issue alive notwithstanding the withdrawal of the application on that day," said Thuraisingam.

He then contended the AGC had made a "significant omission" in its statement, as it had not told the press that Yeo's rights to bring a fresh application had been reserved. This, Thuraisingam said, gave the impression that he had "no reason on that day to bring the court through the complainant's lies".

Top image via Mount Elizabeth and Eugene Thuraisingam on Facebook

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