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Man who sued Singapore police for unlawful arrest awarded $20,000 in damages

Man who sued Singapore police for unlawful arrest awarded $20,000 in damages

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 20 Jan 2023
Author: Selina Lum

The judge found that the apprehending officer had acted in bad faith.

A man who sued the police for wrongly arresting him has been awarded $20,000 in damages for false imprisonment, after the High Court ruled in his favour.

However, Mr Mah Kiat Seng, 48, failed in his second claim that another officer had assaulted him while he was in police custody.

In a written judgment issued on Thursday, Justice Philip Jeyaretnam found that police officer Mohamed Rosli Mohamed had made up the observation that Mr Mah had been mumbling to himself and had spat into a plastic bag, to justify apprehending him under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act.

The officer initially claimed in an affidavit that Mr Mah was “mumbling to himself at times” but later withdrew the assertion after viewing body-worn camera footage.

Under the Act, a police officer has a duty to apprehend people believed to be dangerous to themselves or others by reason of mental disorder, so that they can be taken to a psychiatric institution. The law also provides for the police officer enforcing this to be protected from liability to civil or criminal proceedings “unless he has acted in bad faith or without reasonable care”.

In the current case, Justice Jeyaretnam found that the apprehending officer had acted in bad faith.

“While latitude must be given to police officers who, after all, are not medically trained and have to fulfil their duty under operational conditions, I am satisfied that in this case, there was an individual lapse on the part of the police officer concerned that resulted in Mah being falsely imprisoned, albeit for less than a day,” he said.

The judge concluded that Mr Rosli did not have an honest belief that Mr Mah was a danger to other people by reason of mental disorder.

“I find that Mah’s behaviour as shown in the footage did not suggest that he was dangerous to others, and as far as soundness of mind is concerned, only showed a degree of eccentricity falling far short of appearing mentally disordered,” he said, noting that such eccentric mannerisms can come across as disrespectful.

He said: “I find on a balance of probabilities that Rosli, knowing that he had no power to arrest Mah for the matter complained of because it was not an arrestable offence, took a dislike to Mah for his apparently disrespectful conduct, including not handing his identity card directly to him.

“This is what motivated him to come up with the assertions that Mah was mumbling to himself and spat into a plastic bag.”

The judge dismissed the claim against the other officer, Mr Lawrence Tan Thiam Chin, who had handcuffed Mr Mah at the police lock-up and escorted him to another cell for him to relieve himself.

The judge said surveillance footage did not support Mr Mah’s allegations that Mr Tan had intentionally injured his wrist and arms.

“Mah simply experienced discomfort and marking of his skin from the ordinary manner in which handcuffs are used,” he said.

The case arose from an incident on July 7, 2017, after a woman called the police and alleged that a man had touched her son’s head at Suntec City.

At about 8pm, Mr Rosli and his partner found Mr Mah near a stone bench, and, with the assistance of two other officers, handcuffed him and apprehended him under the Act.

Mr Mah was held at the Central Police Division regional lock-up at about 10pm. He was examined by Dr Lin Hanjie, who referred him to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for treatment at about 10.20pm.

He was transferred to a padded cell, before being escorted to IMH at about 3am on July 8, 2017. He was discharged from IMH at about 7pm on the same day.

In 2020, Mr Mah, who represented himself, sued the Attorney-General representing the Singapore Police Force and the two officers. Mr Mah proposed that he be awarded $4,620.95, referring to what an individual in Malaysia was awarded in compensation.

The Attorney-General suggested that if Mr Mah’s claims are made out, he was entitled to not more than $15,000 for false imprisonment and not more than $4,000 for assault and battery.

Justice Jeyaretnam said that in awarding $20,000, he took into account the fact that Mr Mah was handcuffed and kept in a police cell, rather than taken directly to IMH, which would have been less stressful for him.

The judge also considered the invasions of his privacy when his bag was searched and his mobile phone accessed.

The police said in response to queries from The Straits Times that the Singapore Police Force and the Attorney-General’s Chambers are studying the judgment “and will decide on the next course of action thereafter”.

Source: Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

Mah Kiat Seng v Attorney-General and others [2023] SGHC 14

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