Chin Seow Noi and Others v Public Prosecutor

JudgeGoh Joon Seng J
Judgment Date27 November 1993
Neutral Citation[1993] SGCA 87
Docket NumberCriminal Appeal No 29
Date27 November 1993
Published date19 September 2003
Plaintiff CounselSant Singh, Shireena Woon and Aqbal Singh (Sant Singh & Pnrs)
Citation[1993] SGCA 87
Defendant CounselBala Reddy and Kevin Ng (Deputy Public Prosecutors),Denis Tan, Sim Eu Jin and Tan Ko Pin (Toh Tan & Pnrs),John Abraham and Gurdip Singh (John Abraham)
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Subject MatterSingapore Court of Appeal not bound by the Privy Council decision,Why Indian authorities on the subject are not applicable,Confessions,Court judgments,Evidence,Binding force,Courts and Jurisdiction,s 17 Evidence Act (Cap 97, 1990 Ed),Privy Council decisions,Judgment on Indian statutory provision in pari materia with Singapore provision,s 30 Evidence Act (Cap 97, 1990 Ed),Witnesses,How court should approach such evidence,Whether exculpatory statements were confession,Indian authorities on the subject not applicable,Significant differences in the law of evidence relating to confessions and accomplice evidence between India and Singapore,Confession of co-accused,Whether such confession alone may be sufficient evidence against accused warranting conviction of accused

The first appellant was charged in the High Court under s 109 read with s 302 of the Penal Code (Cap 224) (`the Code`) with abetting the murder of one Lim Lee Tin (`the deceased`), by conspiring with the second and third appellants between 6 January 1989 and 27 January 1989 to commit the murder. The second and third appellants were charged under s 302 read with s 34 of the Code with murdering the deceased on 27 January 1989 in furtherance of the common intention of them both. All three were tried jointly in the High Court and convicted of the respective charges against them. Against the convictions, the appellants brought this appeal and at the conclusion of the hearing we dismissed it. We now give our reasons.

It is necessary to set out and deal in detail with the evidence adduced in the court below, as one of the principal grounds of appeal advanced by all three appellants was that, at the close of its case against each appellant, the prosecution had not made out a case against that appellant which, if unrebutted, would warrant his or her conviction.
We begin therefore with the background facts to the case.

The background facts

The first appellant was first introduced to the deceased by Low Kum Swee (`Low`), a friend of the deceased, in 1987. At that time, the deceased, though female, dressed and spoke like a man. The first appellant believed the deceased to be a man and, surprising though this be, there is no evidence that she did not continue to believe this until after the deceased`s death. (For convenience, the deceased will be referred to throughout these grounds of judgment in the masculine gender).

At the time of her introduction to the deceased, the first appellant was already married to one Siew See Kow (`Siew`) but although the marriage had been registered in 1984, they had yet to hold the customary Chinese wedding ceremony.
After meeting the deceased, the first appellant became friends with him. According to her, the deceased began borrowing money from her as well as asking her out on dates. The first appellant`s mother, Chan Yu Keow, testified that in January 1988, the first appellant started asking her for loans of money, though she refused to explain exactly what the money was for.

Sometime in February 1988, the first appellant moved into the deceased`s flat where she stayed for several months.
On 8 October 1988 the customary Chinese wedding ceremony between Siew and the first appellant finally took place, but that same day, the first appellant disappeared for a few days apparently to live with the deceased. She was eventually contacted by one Leong Woon Chun (`Leong`), who managed to persuade her to return to her matrimonial home at Apt Blk 225A, Jurong East St 21. Leong testified that the first appellant confided in her that she owed large sums to various people from whom the deceased had forced her to borrow money. Leong also testified that at the time when the first appellant returned to the Jurong East St flat, the deceased was also present at the flat and persisted in demanding to speak to the first appellant. He left the flat only when Siew threatened to call the police. The first appellant informed Leong a week later that she had met with the deceased, together with her mother and husband, and that they had paid the deceased $300 to stop him pestering her.

The deceased, however, did not appear to have been deterred.
He continued to loiter constantly in the vicinity of the first appellant`s flat and made various nuisance calls to her. He also confided in Low his unhappiness over what had happened in his relations with the first appellant whom he referred to as his girlfriend.

On 20 January 1989, the deceased informed Low that the first appellant had told him that she was being pursued by a moneylender to whom she owed $4,000 and who had seized her identity card.
According to the deceased, the first appellant wanted the deceased to be her guarantor and to pay the $4,000 to the moneylender. Also, the second appellant, who was the first appellant`s brother, had telephoned the deceased and arranged to meet him in front of the OG Department Store in People`s Park to resolve the matter of the first appellant`s debts. Subsequently, the deceased told Low that he had agreed to pay the first appellant $2,000 in April, with the remaining $2,000 coming from the second appellant.

On 27 January 1989, at about 7pm, Low received a telephone call from someone whom he recognized to be the second appellant.
The second appellant asked to speak to the deceased who, at that time, was staying with Low. After talking to the second appellant on the telephone, the deceased told Low he had to leave urgently but would return later. He never did. His body was found lying dead in a drain at Christian Cemetery Path 11, Choa Chu Kang Road on 28 January 1989 at about 5pm.

The autopsy revealed a total of ten stab wounds on the deceased`s body, five of them fatal wounds to the left or right anterior upper chest wall.
Dr Wee Keng Poh, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, gave evidence that the fatal wounds were caused by a sharp object such as a knife, or possibly more than one knife sharing identical characteristics.

The first appellant was arrested on 1 February 1989.
The arrest of her brother, the second appellant, followed on 4 February 1989, while his friend, the third appellant, was arrested on 20 July 1991. The investigating officer of the case, Inspector T Maniam, recorded a total of six statements under the Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68) (`CPC`) from the three appellants, consisting of a cautioned s 122(6) statement and a s 121(1) statement from each appellant. At trial the third appellant challenged the voluntariness of his statements, but they were admitted after a trial-within-a-trial, and counsel has not sought to make their admission in the court below a ground of appeal before us.

We now set out in some detail the statements of each appellant, including some apparent inconsistencies between them, as these statements constituted crucial evidence in the case.

The first appellant`s statements

The first appellant made a cautioned statement under s 122(6) on 1 February 1989 to Inspector Maniam. She then made a much longer statement under s 121(1) which was recorded on 15, 16, 18 and 22 February 1989 by the inspector. Both statements were made in Cantonese and interpreted into English by the same interpreter, Low Sau Heng. From the first appellant`s statements emerged the following version of the events leading to the deceased`s death.

The first appellant confirmed Low`s evidence that she had met the deceased through Low sometime in 1987, when she was already married to Siew.
Believing the deceased to be a man, she `took him as her boyfriend`. She went on dates with him and lent him money amounting to thousands of dollars. In February 1988 she moved into the deceased`s flat and stayed there for some months. In September, however, she informed the deceased of her impending customary Chinese wedding ceremony. Upset by the news, the deceased demanded $5,000 which he claimed would enable him to leave Singapore and forget the first appellant. He settled for $2,000 after much haggling, but he did not then leave the first appellant alone. Instead he continued to pester her and he would engineer meetings with her, during which he would inveigle her into accompanying him to various gambling dens, culminating in overnight stays in various hotels. This apparently occurred on several occasions, including even 8 October 1988, the day of the first appellant`s customary wedding ceremony. According to the first appellant, the deceased had also threatened to kill her if she did not do as he wanted.

The unrelenting harassment drove the first appellant to telephone her brother, the second appellant, then living in Johore Bahru, to come and see her.
When the second appellant came to Singapore to see her, the first appellant told him about the deceased`s behaviour and asked for help:

I told my brother that I was living in fear of `Fei Chai`s` [the deceased] threat. I was also afraid my marriage would break up if Fei Chai continued with his harassment. I then asked him to think of a way to solve the problem as I was on the verge of breaking down as I could not take Fei Chai`s harassment anymore ...

On this occasion nothing was done by the second appellant.
Meanwhile, the deceased`s harassment of the first appellant continued unabated: he would, for example, wait at the ground floor of her block of flats such that she could see him whenever she looked out of her window:

[I] saw the deceased waiting at the ground floor. His sight was a mental torture to me and I decided to call my brother to come down to see me again.

This time, the second appellant arrived with the third appellant, who was his friend and sworn brother.
The first appellant alleged that they only made plans to recover some of the money she had lent to the deceased. The plan was to lure the deceased to a meeting with them, at which he would be told that the first appellant was being pressed by a moneylender from whom she had borrowed money on the deceased`s behalf.

This meeting took place in front of the OG Department Store in People`s Park.
The first appellant, claiming that her identity card had been seized by the moneylender to whom she owed money, asked the deceased for $4,000 to help her out. The third appellant was introduced as a collector for the moneylender. The deceased asked him for time to raise the $4,000. A few hours after the meeting, the first appellant telephoned the deceased who claimed to have raised the money. He asked to meet her but she, fearing a trap, refused.

Following this, the first appellant appeared to have recognized the improbability of the deceased repaying the $4,000:

I told my brother and Ah Or [the third appellant] that it is unlikely that the deceased had raised the money to pay me and I

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