Chee’s trial: The Prosecution at it again

January 30, 2007
Singapore Democrats

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The trial of Dr Chee Soon Juan, charged with attempting to leave Singapore without a permit, resumed with another clanger from the Prosecution.

Prosecutor Ms Kamala, from the Official Assignee’s office, stood up to re-examine her witness, Ms Kala who holds the position of Manager in the OA’s office. (Yes, they are, in fact, colleagues in the same office. More about this later.)

During re-examination, Ms Kamala had asked Ms Kala about an email which the Prosecutor wanted to introduce as part of the evidence.

On seeing this Mr Alfred Dodwell, Dr Chee’s lawyer, immediately objected on two grounds:

One, it was inappropriate for the Prosecution to introduce evidence under re-examination. (Under court rules the prosecution first leads the witness in evidence, followed by cross-examination by the defence counsel. The prosecution is then allowed to re-examine the witness but only to clarify the witness’ testimony, not to adduce fresh evidence.)

Judge Aedit Abdullah admitted that it was “not proper” for Ms Kamala to do so.

Two, and a much more serious matter, while under oath, witness Kala had obviously been communicating with Prosecutor Kamala. This is a grave breach of legal practice.

The Judge had warned the witness when the trial was adjourned, that she was still on oath and that she was not to discuss trial matters with anyone else.

Mr Dodwell pointed out that it was clear that Ms Kala had been communicating with Ms Kamala when the proceedings was stood down. Ms Kamala admitted that Ms Kala had brought to her attention (when the court was not is session) an email which she wanted to introduce as part of the evidence.

Mr Dodwell said that this was highly improper and raised the question of whether there was any more communication between the two. He then told the Judge that, as a result, the entire evidence of Ms Kala was tainted and had to be ruled out.

Mr Dodwell then indicated that he was making an application to that effect. Judge Aedit stood down the hearing and allowed Mr Dodwell time to prepare submissions for the application.

Under the strange setup, Ms Kamala is not only the legal officer prosecuting the case but also holds the position of Assistant Official Assignee and Public Trustee/Official Receiver.

In other words, she works in the same office of the Insolvency and Public Trustee’s Office (IPTO) and under the same boss, the Official Assignee, as Ms Kala.

Worse, emails exchanged between the OA officers handling Dr Chee’s case before the trial began, or for that matter, before the decision was made to charge the SDP secretary-general, were copied to Ms Kamala.

Such proximity between prosecutor and witnesses raises questions about propriety. The Judge himself had earlier noticed this and raised his concern.

When parties subsequently appeared before the Judge in chambers, Ms Kamala offered to retract the latest evidence which she and Ms Kala wanted to introduce during re-examination.

But the cat was already out of the bag. The two had been found to have been communicating with each other.

In an earlier case involving Dr Chee, Mr Gandhi Ambalam, and Mr Yap Keng Ho, the Prosecution was also caught with an egregious breach of the rules of court. In that case, Deputy Public Prosecutor Ms Lee Lit Cheng had asked one of her witnesses to be in the courtroom while other witnesses were testifying. This particular witness was also seen to have been communicating with other witnesses who had not yet take the stand.

These instances bring up two questions: One, were the state prosecutors so confident of securing a conviction that they became complacent about adhering to court rules?

Or was it a case of arrogance leading them to conclude that they could get away with such breaches of procedure?

Or maybe it was a combination of the two.

Either way, it does not reflect well on the Government, First World or otherwise.

The hearing continues tomorrow at 10 am in Subordinate Court 15.