Beh Chai Hock v Public Prosecutor

JudgeYong Pung How CJ
Judgment Date17 September 1996
Neutral Citation[1996] SGHC 209
Citation[1996] SGHC 209
Defendant CounselWong Keen Onn (Deputy Public Prosecutor)
Published date19 September 2003
Plaintiff CounselK Sivaratnam (S Ratnam & Associates)
Date17 September 1996
Docket NumberMagistrate's Appeal No 62 of 1996
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Subject MatterDispute over identity of recorder of statement,Failure of trial judge to conduct voir dire,Whether occasioned a failure of justice,Inducement,Statements,Improper admission of evidence,s 169 Evidence Act (Cap 97, 1990 Ed),s 25 Evidence Act (Cap 97, 1990 Ed),Voluntariness,s 396 Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68),s 122(5) Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68),Whether voir dire necessary,Whether inducement had to proceed from recorder of statement,s 256(b)(i) Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68),Principles to consider when ordering retrials,Criminal Procedure and Sentencing,Rank of police officer recording the statement,Retrial,Trials,Approach of the court,Admissibility,Evidence

Cur Adv Vult

The appellant was convicted by a district judge on a charge under s 182 of the Penal Code (Cap 224) of knowingly furnishing false information to a police officer, in that he fabricated a story that he had been a victim of an armed robbery. He was sentenced to two months` imprisonment. He now appeals against his conviction and sentence.

The prosecution`s case

On 15 March 1995, at about 1.44pm, the appellant went to the Tampines East Neighbourhood Police Post located at Block 263 Tampines Street 21, Singapore.
Corporal Chew Soon Chee (Cpl Chew), at that time a police constable, was on duty at the police post. The appellant told Cpl Chew that he had been the victim of an armed robbery. He described how at about 1.15pm that day, while in a lift at Block 297 Tampines Street 22, he had been robbed by two male Chinese, one of whom wielded a knife. The appellant described both his assailants as being about 30 years of age and wearing light blue-coloured jumper shirts at the time of the robbery. He believed that his assailants were Malaysians. They took his Seiko watch and $2,800 in cash. Cpl Chew immediately informed the Divisional Operations Room of the armed robbery and recorded the information furnished by the appellant in the police post`s station diary.

A short while later, one Sergeant Mohd Ariffin (Sgt Ariffin) arrived at the police post.
He brought the appellant to the scene of the robbery, Block 297. At about 2.10pm, the investigating officer, one Corporal Lee Eng Choon (Cpl Lee) met Sgt Ariffin and the appellant at Block 297. Several other officers also arrived at the scene of the crime to conduct enquiries.

It turned out that, because there had been a recent spate of snatch thefts in Tampines Housing Estate, there were teams of officers from Bedok Police Station which had been deployed to patrol the estate on a regular basis.
These were known as `ambush` teams. Cpl Lee contacted the officer who was in charge of the `ambush` team responsible for patrolling Blocks 295 to 297 at the time when the alleged robbery took place. The officer told Cpl Lee that his `ambush` team had in fact been at Block 297 at about 1.30pm, shortly after the time when the robbery allegedly took place, and the officers had not observed any commotion or anything unusual.

Cpl Lee also directed some officers to make enquiries amongst the residents in that area, especially those who had been seated at the void decks of Block 297 and the neighbouring blocks at the material time.
It appeared that nobody had seen or heard anything out of the ordinary. No one had noticed any person who fit the appellant`s description of his robbers in the vicinity of Block 297.

Cpl Lee noticed that the appellant looked troubled.
He started to suspect that the appellant might have made a false report. Cpl Lee questioned the appellant who then confessed that he had made a false report to the police. He told Cpl Lee that he was heavily indebted to some friends. He had to pay them in two days` time, on 17 March, so he decided to make a false police report of robbery so that his friends would let him off the hook, at least for a while. On hearing this, Cpl Lee instructed his officers to call off their investigations. Cpl Lee then brought the appellant to Bedok Police Station.

At Bedok Police Station, Cpl Lee handed the appellant over to the duty investigating officer, one Corporal Jumali (Cpl Jumali).
Cpl Lee made a police report that the appellant had given false information to a police officer. In the meantime, Cpl Jumali referred the appellant to one Staff Sergeant Goh Tat Boon (SSgt Goh), who recorded a statement from the appellant. In this statement, the appellant confessed that he had not been robbed. He had made a false report of robbery because he was unable to pay up on a loan of $3,800, due on 17 March, to a friend known as `Ah Lam`. With the police report, the appellant had hoped to persuade `Ah Lam` to give him more time to pay up on the loan.

Counsel for the appellant objected to the admissibility of this statement on the grounds that, first, the statement was actually recorded by Cpl Lee, not SSgt Goh, secondly, Cpl Lee had unlawfully induced the appellant to make the statement with the assurance that he would only get a warning from the police if he confessed to committing the offence of furnishing false information to the police, and, thirdly, some parts of the statement were actually supplied by Cpl Lee during the recording of the statement.

The trial judge decided that it was unnecessary to conduct a voir dire .
He allowed SSgt Goh to carry on with his evidence. After SSgt Goh had been cross-examined, the trial judge allowed counsel`s application for Cpl Lee to be recalled to the stand for further cross-examination on the issue of the identity of the recorder of the statement.

Since there was no voir dire, the appellant was not called to give evidence as to the circumstances surrounding the recording of the statement.
The trial judge did not make any ruling as to who had recorded the statement, or if the statement had been voluntarily made. There was consequently no ruling on whether the statement was admitted in evidence. At the close of the prosecution`s case, the trial judge called for the defence.

The defence

The prosecution`s case rested entirely on the appellant`s confessions, first to Cpl Lee at Block 297 and later in the statement recorded by SSgt Goh.
The defence`s strategy, therefore, was to attack the admissibility of these two confessions.

The appellant elected to give evidence.
He maintained his story that he was robbed. He described the robbery in detail. He had told Cpl Chew at the police post that the robbers had taken from him $1,800 in cash. The figure of $2,800 recorded in the police post`s station diary was wrong. He had repeated his story of the robbery to Cpl Lee at Block 297. Cpl Lee had been very friendly with the appellant. They conversed in Hokkien. The appellant told Cpl Lee that he was a Malaysian national and was working in Singapore as a bus driver. The appellant told Cpl Lee that he was indebted to `Ah Lam`. At the time the appellant was robbed, he was carrying $1,500 which he had borrowed from a friend to pay the loan due to `Ah Lam`. The remaining $300 was his own money.

Without warning, Cpl Lee suddenly said that he suspected the appellant to have made a false report of robbery.
The appellant denied this. Cpl Lee then proposed two `options` for the appellant. First, if the appellant admitted to making a false report, Cpl Lee would recommend to his superior officer to let the appellant off with only a warning. The second `option` was if the appellant insisted that he was robbed and if the investigation turned up nothing, thus suggesting that he had lied to the police, the appellant would receive severe punishment, including repatriation to Malaysia.

The appellant thought over the two `options` presented to him.
He decided that he would admit to making a false report since otherwise, in his own words, `it was so troublesome`. He had been in Singapore since 1972. His wife and children were in Singapore. He would rather lose $1,800 than face the risk of being repatriated to Malaysia.

Cpl Lee then brought the appellant to the Bedok Police Station.
After a short wait, the appellant was brought to a room with a computer. Cpl Lee asked the appellant a few questions about his personal particulars. He then typed a statement using the computer, printed it out and got the appellant to sign the statement. The appellant denied that his statement was recorded by SSgt Goh. In fact, the appellant denied having ever met SSgt Goh until the trial.

The decision below

The trial judge threw out the appellant`s oral confession to Cpl Lee at Block 297.
He relied on s 25 of the Evidence Act (Cap 97, 1990 Ed) which provides that:

No confession made to a police officer who is below the rank of sergeant by a person accused of any offence shall be proved against such person.

The footnote to s 25 refers to s 122 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68) (the Code).
Section 122 is the provision in the Code that governs the admissibility of statements made to police officers. It provides:

(1) Except as provided in this section, no statement made by any person to a police officer in the course of a police investigation made under this Chapter shall be used in evidence other than a statement that is a written statement admissible under section 141.


(5) Where any person is charged with an offence any statement, whether it amounts to a confession or not or is oral or in writing, made at any time, whether before or after that person is charged and whether in the course of a police investigation or not, by that person to or in the hearing of any police officer of or above the rank of sergeant shall be admissible at his trial in evidence and, if that person tenders himself as a witness, any such statement may be used in cross-examination and for the purpose of impeaching his credit ... [Emphasis is mine.]

Thus, like s 25 of the Evidence Act, s 122 of the Code only allows the admissibility of statements made to police officers of the rank of sergeant or above.

As for the appellant`s statement to SSgt Goh, the trial judge explained why he held that it was unnecessary to conduct a voir dire in order to determine the admissibility of the statement.
This defence was that the statement had been recorded by Cpl Lee and not SSgt Goh, and that he was induced to sign the statement by Cpl Lee`s assurances that he would, at most, be given a warning by the police. On the other hand, the prosecution`s case was that it was SSgt Goh who had recorded the statement from the appellant and not Cpl Lee. The real and preliminary question to be determined was therefore one of fact - who had recorded the statement...

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