Law don looks at key aspect in court decision on ex-maid's case
Former Indonesian domestic worker Parti Liyani was last year acquitted of all four charges on appeal.
A law school don, studying one facet of the case involving former Indonesian domestic worker Parti Liyani, has argued that, based on precedents, there may be theft of a discarded item.
In a recent article, Can There Be Theft Of A Discarded Item: Parti Liyani v Public Prosecutor, published in the Singapore Academy of Law Journal, Assistant Professor Benny Tan Zhi Peng of the National University of Singapore's law school noted that the High Court held that there cannot be theft when a discarded item is appropriated.
Ms Parti was last year acquitted of all four charges on appeal, including the theft of a discarded DVD player, in a case that drew wide public interest and keen scrutiny in Parliament.
"The High Court's underlying reasons for acquitting Ms (Parti) vis-a-vis the Pioneer DVD player may benefit from reconsideration in a future case, as it did not take into account certain important legal nuances," said Prof Tan.
"In particular, the court could have considered relevant authorities, both foreign and local, on the law of abandonment by trashing (or discarding). It appears to have been assumed simply that the offence of theft cannot be disclosed in a case where what an offender has taken was a discarded item," he added.
Among other things, Prof Tan cited three past cases, including a 2018 Court of Appeal decision and a 2011 comprehensive survey on the law of abandonment by Associate Professor Saw Cheng Lim which was cited with approval by the apex court in the 2018 case.
The lack of mention of the three cases in the High Court judgment grounds in Ms Parti's case was a "tad curious", said Prof Tan, as some might argue that the apex court's 2018 decision could even be said to be binding on the High Court.
Instead, the High Court focused its attention on the issue of whether the DVD player was spoilt so that it could make a finding on whether the complainant's wife had discarded it, and spent minimal time on the issue of consent, he said.
He argued that the physical act of throwing something away was just one piece of evidence to prove abandonment - a legal concept - and pointed out the need to further probe "whether the item's owner had (subjectively) intended to relinquish the item to the extent of being completely indifferent as to the fate of the discarded item".
Ms Parti said the complainant's wife had told her to give the DVD player to a karang guni man, who often pays a small fee, Prof Tan noted. This meant the complainant's wife had not intended to completely relinquish the player on the complainant's behalf and so the complainant retained possession of it at the material time, Prof Tan said.
Consequently, for a theft conviction, the other elements had to be made out, including whether the defendant was dishonest in taking the player and whether she had the requisite consent to take it, he added.
Prof Tan said that there was little evidence potentially relevant to the issues of dishonesty or lack of consent in the district court and High Court judgments.
The prosecution's case was that the complainant's wife never discarded the DVD player, he noted.
He made clear that the intent of his article was not to suggest - nor was it possible to assess based on the evidence in the judgments - that the High Court should have gone on to conclude that Ms Parti was guilty of theft of the player.
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