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Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse…
On the second day of the trial the DPP Ms Lee Lit Cheng dropped the ball when it was discovered that one of her police witnesses was sitting in the courtroom listening to the testimony of other police witnesses.
This is disallowed because witnesses are required to testify independently and not collaborate with each other.
The trial involves Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Dr Chee Soon Juan, and Mr Yap Keng Ho who have been charged with speaking in public without a permit on 22 Apr 06 during the election period.
Halfway through the hearing, Dr Chee asked the DPP to identify the persons who were seated behind her.
After saying that one of them was ASP Jeremy Koh from Jurong Police Division, the Investigating Officer (IO) of the case and who is the last of a list of 12 police witnesses, the DPP quickly acknowledged the obvious: “It was my omission to have sought the Court’s permission to have the IO present in the courtroom.”
She apologized for the oversight and explained that she had asked ASP Koh to be present so that she could “activate him to contact the next witness.”
Flabbergasted, the Defence queried why the Prosecution needed the IO to be a coordinator when he was a material witness. Was the Police Force so short handed that it could not find someone to assist the DPP to coordinate the witnesses?
Dr Chee pointed out that in previous trials that he was involved in, the DPP did not have a witness to “contact” other witnesses.
Turning to Judge Eddie Tham, Dr Chee asked if it was proper for a witness who was waiting to give evidence to be seated in the courtroom whilst the trial was going on.
The Judge conceded: “It is not proper for a witness who is supposed to be giving evidence to be seated in the courtroom.” He added that the DPP’s omission to ask the Court for permission to allow the IO to be present during proceedings was “regrettable”.
Dr Chee then pointed out that ASP Koh was not just seated in the courtroom. The IO had been going in and out of the witness room and speaking to the other witnesses, and not merely helping DPP Lee Lit Cheng to ensure that other police witnesses turned up on time for their turn to give evidence. Was he collaborating with the other witnesses?
At that point, Dr Chee asked if ASP Koh was in the witness room. The court bailiff took a look and confirmed that the IO was indeed in the witness room with the next witness.
The Judge then summoned ASP Koh and put him on the stand. He asked if the officer had spoken to other witnesses about the testimony given by other police officers who had already testified. The IO said no.
Upon cross-examination, Mr Koh revealed that he had come to the courtroom on his “own initiative” and received “no specific instructions.” This contradicted what DPP Lee told the court earlier that she had wanted the IO to be present to “activate” him to contact witnesses.
In addition when Dr Chee queried whether ASP Koh had been with the fourth witness in the witness room, the IO said he did not know who the fourth witness was. If the ASP Koh’s role was to help DPP Lee “contact the next witness”, why did he not know that the person he was with in the witness room was the next police witness to be called? The discrepancy widened.
Lawyer M Ravi then appeared in court to assist Mr Yap Keng Ho in arguing that the trial be stopped because of the tainting of evidence by the Prosecution.
Dr Chee conveyed his misgivings about the matter. As this was a serious development, the Defendants wanted time to seek legal opinion on how best to proceed.
The Judge stopped the hearing before lunch and adjourned the matter to Friday morning.