On 23 November 2021, Ministry of Manpower prosecutors withdrew charges against Kirpal Singh, a migrant worker from India. In the Straits Times’ story, the newspaper said “The Straits Times understands that it was due to a lack of evidence…” Singh was thus given a discharge amounting to acquittal.

He had been accused of making  fraudulent claims for compensation and lying to an investigating officer after he cut his thumb while operating a grinder at work on 20 February 2019.

Yet, right after Singh was acquitted, the Singapore government slapped a stern warning on the former construction worker. From previous cases wherein migrant workers were handed stern warnings, they have been disallowed from working in Singapore. If this is also the outcome for Singh, it amounts to punishment even though he was officially acquitted of the charges.

TWC2 wrote a letter to the Straits Times’ Forum to raise this important question of justice, and it was published on 27 November. After waiting more than 20 days, we have not seen a reply from the authorities and so we’re now publishing our letter here. Below that, we have the original story that was reported in the Straits Times which raised our concern.

27 November 2021
Straits Times Forum (Link)

Forum: Why was stern warning issued to acquitted worker?

The Community Justice Centre and the lawyers from Invictus Law Corporation who represented Mr Kirpal Singh pro bono deserve recognition for assisting him in obtaining an acquittal of the charges related to his workplace injury (Worker accused of faking injury to cheat company gets acquittal, Nov 24).

The prosecution’s decision to withdraw the charges will have saved taxpayers’ money and considerable time for all parties.

However, the outcome raises a few questions.

If it was a discharge amounting to an acquittal, why was Mr Singh issued with a stern warning?

Given that Mr Singh pleaded not guilty, and the evidence needed for prosecution was insufficient, the stern warning appears to be inappropriate.

What are the implications of the stern warning for Mr Singh’s eligibility to return to work in Singapore in the future?

A stern warning often denies the recipient the right to return to work, which is understandable when the accused person admits guilt. However, in this case, Mr Singh did not admit guilt, and the denial of future work in Singapore would be an unjustifiably harsh consequence.

Deborah D. Fordyce
Transient Workers Count Too

23 Nov 2021
Straits Times (Link)

Migrant worker accused of faking workplace injury acquitted after charges dropped

SINGAPORE – A migrant worker who was accused of faking a workplace injury to cheat his company was acquitted at the State Courts on Tuesday (Nov 23).

Mr Kirpal Singh, 24, was charged on April 8, 2019, with making fraudulent claims for compensation and lying to an investigating officer, after he cut his thumb while operating a grinder at work on Feb 20 that year.

On Tuesday, Ministry of Manpower prosecutors withdrew the charges, and the former construction worker was then handed a stern warning and a discharge amounting to an acquittal.

This means the Indian national cannot be charged again over the same offence.

No reason was given in court as to why the charges were dropped, but The Straits Times understands that it was due to a lack of evidence after Mr Singh’s lawyers made formal representation to the ministry on his behalf.

On Sept 15, the case went to trial but was put on hold when Mr Singh was advised to seek legal assistance from the Community Justice Centre (CJC), an independent charity at the State Courts.

On the second day of the trial, the CJC called on volunteer lawyers to represent Mr Singh on a pro bono basis. Mr Josephus Tan and Mr Cory Wong from Invictus Law Corporation stepped forward and later asked for the case to be stood down.

After Mr Singh’s acquittal, Mr Tan told ST that his client, despite facing serious charges, was lost during the trial due to his inability to understand English.

Although he had an interpreter, he was unable to comprehend the legal proceedings, Mr Tan added.

Mr Singh, who speaks Punjabi, told ST through an interpreter: “I was lost during the trial proceedings. Whatever the lawyers told me, I just followed.”

“The idea of getting a lawyer never popped up because I have no money. I’m glad they (Mr Tan and Mr Wong) came to help me because I couldn’t understand the whole legal process.”

The acquittal marked the end of a two-year wait, during which he was out of work due to his injury and the ongoing court case.

He said: “Over those two years, I have been living off the kindness of friends who offered me a place to live, and temples in Little India and Boon Keng which provided free meals.”

Mr Singh said he was elated with the outcome as it means he can return home soon to his parents and grandfather. It is not known when he will be repatriated to India.

He plans to work for his father who runs a small shop in Amritsar, where his family lives near the Golden Temple.

Deputy Presiding Judge Jennifer Marie thanked the prosecution for the review of the case and the defence lawyers for representing Mr Singh at the last minute.

CJC executive director Leonard Lee said there was a chance Mr Singh could have faced jail time if he had refused help in one of the centre’s first cases under the Aid-in-Persons scheme, which is being piloted.

It provides legal counsel for the underprivileged, such as lower-income groups and migrant workers, in urgent cases.

Under the scheme, a pool of volunteer lawyers and law students provide consultations to help the needy, who face financial constraints or have a foreign status, with mitigation statements and other legal matters. In urgent cases, lawyers may also represent them.

“When there is a knotty problem (in court), these volunteer lawyers are willing to step forward and help,” said Mr Lee.