Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Man defends himself, wins rare acquittal

Man defends himself, wins rare acquittal
China worker accused of assault walks free after pleading self-defence
By K.C.Vijayan, Law Correspondent
IT IS rare for someone accused of a crime to represent himself at a trial.

It is even rarer for him to win.

But a lowly educated China national accused of assault did just that recently.

Construction worker Tan Zun Yong, 33, held his own against Assistant Deputy Public Prosecutor Christine Liu at the trial and was acquitted by a judge in June.

The prosecution initially appealed but decided to drop the appeal two weeks ago after District Judge Loo Ngan Chor released his written judgment on July 31 explaining his decision.

Mr Tan had been accused of using a hammer to hit the left hand of co-worker Cui Yong Meng, 35, following a worksite scuffle last December.

The two men were having a quarrel at the worksite at a building in St Martin's Road near Mohamed Sultan Road.

Mr Cui was said to have pushed Mr Tan who fell down. He was about to hit Mr Tan when the latter raised the hammer which blocked Mr Cui's left hand and caused the fracture.

In the days that followed, Mr Cui demanded between $8,000 and $10,000 in compensation for the injury. Mr Cui filed a police report when Mr Tan could not afford the sum.

The offence Mr Tan was charged with - voluntarily causing grievous hurt - carries a jail term of up to seven years and a fine or caning.

The prosecution had offered to reduce the charge to causing hurt, presumably if Mr Tan agreed to plead guilty, but he refused to do so and claimed trial.

At the trial, prosecutors produced five witnesses, including a doctor, to prove the case against Mr Tan and offered him one witness in his defence whom he accepted.

The case turned on the evidence and demeanour of the witnesses. The judge, citing Shakespeare's 'there is no art to tell the mind's construction in the face', said there was little to suggest any inconsistency in the evidence of either side.

But Judge Loo noted a major difference when Mr Cui and two others suggested Mr Tan had brought the hammer with him to the incident site while Mr Tan and another witness denied this and countered that it was already there.

The judge went with Mr Tan's version, saying the hammer was a workman's tool and not meant to hit Mr Cui.

Mr Tan pleaded self-defence which 'to his credit' he had very clearly set out early in the trial, said Judge Loo.

When asked by the judge why he should believe him, Mr Tan said he had spent a lot of money to come to Singapore. He did not want to blow up the matter and had looked for their supervisor after the first incident in the hope that Mr Cui would not argue any more.

Instead Mr Cui became angry and consequently, the second scuffle took place.

Judge Loo described Mr Tan as someone of 'some subtlety, straightforwardness' and he seemed like someone 'not given to casting aspersions on the prosecution witnesses even as he had been trying to extricate himself from this bind'.

He also noted Mr Tan had 'the courage of his convictions' by declining the prosecution's offer of a lower charge.

When cross-examined by Mr Tan, Mr Cui had also agreed his attacker had used the hammer in self-defence.

Mr Tan had also cross-examined the doctor who conceded it was possible the blow could have occurred in the course of self-defence.

Lawyers said it was rare for accused persons to defend themselves in a trial.

Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore president Subhas Anandan said from experience he is seeing more cases now where accused persons had opted to defend themselves for various reasons.

'But acquittals are rare in criminal cases and rarer still where the accused is defending himself,' he said.

Criminal lawyer Amolat Singh said the basic premise for an accused person to assume is that 'you are your own worst lawyer'. 'But sometimes, the nature of the case is such that the accused knows the case best and the lawyer is not as intimately aware of the case as the accused.'

Mr Amolat added that where the cases are largely fact-based and no points of law are involved, there is little difficulty for the accused person to put forward his case and the judge also helps clarify matters where he is unclear.

'This (Mr Tan's case) is justice at its best. If you have a compelling story, you can go to court and put forward your strongest case,' said Mr Amolat.

[Justice at its best indeed. Cheers to Mr Tan.]

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