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The case involving the acquitted ex-maid, Parti Liyani of the ex-CAG chairman, Liew Mun Leong has been making headlines in recent news. Ms Parti Liyani, 46 was accused by her employer, Mr Liew Mun Leong of stealing more than $50,000 worth of valuables from the Liew main household. She faced a jail sentence of 2 years and 2 months for, which she has now been acquitted of. In this article, we explore 5 things you need to know about this case and how pro bono legal services played an essential part in Ms Parti’s acquittal.
Ms Parti Liyani had maintained a relatively harmonious relationship with the Liew family except for her employer’s son, Mr Karl Liew, whom she had disagreements with over household chores. In March 2016, she was deployed to work in the office and home of Mr. Liew Mun Leong’s son, Mr. Karl Liew, in addition to the Liew’s main household which is in fact illegal according to Ministry of Manpower (MOM) regulations. She had expressed her dissatisfaction at this arrangement and uttered a threat to lodge a complaint to MOM. On October 28 of the same year, her employment was terminated by the older Mr Liew.
Following her termination, Mr Karl Liew had agreed to pay to ship three boxes of Ms Parti’s belongings to her after she had returned to Indonesia. Before doing so, the Liew family opened and checked through these boxes and allegedly found items which belong to the members of the family. These items allegedly include a $10,000 Gerald Genta watch, a Prada bag, and a pair of Gucci sunglasses, all which were in bad condition. A police report against Ms Parti was made shortly after.
In December 2016, Ms Parti returned to Singapore to seek employment, unaware of the allegations made against her. She was arrested upon arrival at Changi Airport and had been found to have some of the alleged stolen items on her. After more investigations, she was faced with charges for four counts of theft involving 144 items in August 2017. Ms Parti claimed trial and when out on bail, stayed at a shelter operated by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics (HOME) which approached lawyer Mr Anil Balchandari from the Red Lion Circle law firm, who represented her on a pro bono basis. Pro bono lawyers and law services aim to make legal support and advice accessible to all, especially the disadvantaged.
On March 20 in 2019, Ms Parti was found guilty by District Judge Olivia Low for the charges pressed against her and was sentenced to jail for two years and two months on the basis that the Liew family did not have any reason to frame her for theft. She appealed the conviction and her lawyer Mr Balchandari argued in September 2020, that the police report was made to prevent her from making a report against the Liew family regarding her illegal deployment to the younger Mr Liew’s home and office.
Justice Chan Seng Onn, who produced a 100-page judgment found the conviction made against Ms Parti to be “unsafe” citing reasons such as improper handling of evidence by the police as well as the motives of the Liew family members for making the allegations. The court overturned their decision and granted Ms Parti acquittal which now makes her a free woman.
Following the long legal battle, Mr Liew Mun Leong stepped down from his positions as the chairman of Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong, as well as his position as a senior international business advisor in Singaporean investment company Temasek Holdings and from the board of Temasek Foundation.
Ms Parti Liyani’s lawyer, Mr Anil Balchandari who was working pro bono, had mentioned in a press conference that the cost of the legal battle would have been approximately $150,000 had he charged for his services. Mr Balchandari volunteers under the Criminal Aid Legal Scheme which provides pro bono legal help to those who are unable to afford a lawyer and are facing a non-death penalty offence in a Singapore court.
It is no doubt that Ms Parti Liyani may have never been able to contest her case if not for the Criminal Aid Legal Scheme which aims to provide pro bono legal services for those in need. In fact, there are many others like Ms Parti who are in similar situations. This case has sparked movements to enhance the quality of Singapore’s justice system and improve access to justice for the poor and needy.