On 26 November 2021, Ibrahim was arrested by the police. He had been in a scuffle with two supervisors after an argument with a third supervisor. This happened on a public road where the team was “pulling” internet cables through ducts under the road and the other workers at the site would have seen the incident. In the scuffle, both Ibrahim and a supervisor were cut with penknives (the workers had penknives with them as part of their jobs).
Ibrahim has since been charged under Section 324 of the Penal Code for voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means. The penalty he faces may be as many as seven years’ imprisonment, with the possibility of a fine or caning added on.
Ibrahim claims that he acted in self defence after he was first attacked but this post is not about the merits of the case; we will leave it for later. Instead, we will look at the immediate months after his arrest and the issues that come with that, especially for a low-wage foreign worker.
After his arrest, Ibrahim was put into remand. His two immediate priorities were getting a lawyer and getting himself bailed out (bail had been set at $20,000). With neither money nor family in Singapore, both are immeasurably more difficult for a migrant worker.
Singapore’s Law Society runs a Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) which provides pro-bono criminal legal assistance to the poor and needy who are unable to afford a lawyer, for certain types of offences. Sometime in December, based on information given to him by the remand authorities, Ibrahim made an application for a pro-bono lawyer through CLAS, but it would be two months before he heard back.
Meanwhile, he informed his family in Bangladesh of his situation and the amount set for bail. Various relatives chipped in with whatever money they had, but only managed to raise about $10,000. To make up the difference, the family mortgaged some property as well.
That still left the issue of finding a bailor, who had to be somebody resident in Singapore. Fortunately, two other persons in remand – a Malaysian and a fellow Bangladeshi – introduced Ibrahim to someone who was said to be in this line professionally. Ibrahim got the contact details from the Malaysian and passed them to his wife in Bangladesh. She and the family then contacted this bailor and made the necessary financial arrangements.
Ibrahim was bailed out on 19 January 2022, after nearly two months in remand. If he is later found innocent, there is no way he can get back these two months of his life.
At this point, he still did not have a lawyer representing him and pre-trial conferences were already being scheduled. TWC2 helped enquire with the Law Society and we managed to find out that they had registered Ibrahim’s application but were still working on it. Finally, in mid February, two lawyers from law firm Allen & Gledhill stepped forward and took up the case.
TWC2 also took Ibrahim into our housing support scheme and free meals programme, though three months later, he organised his own accommodation via his bailor. He continues to get meals from us.
As of the time of writing (September 2022), his case has still not come to trial, and it may be several months more before it does. So, Ibrahim remains in limbo. More to the point, if his family had been unable to pool together $20,000 or if no one in Singapore was willing to step forward and be his bailor, Ibrahim may still be in remand up till now, ten months after his arrest.
Ibrahim’s experience shines a light on the particular difficulties that low-wage migrant workers face when they are arrested for offences they may or may not have committed. Access to justice is not just a question of getting a fair hearing. There are a lot of related issues that are important too – such as bail, getting legal representation, where to stay and where to get meals while waiting for court dates – and that are much harder for them since they have neither family here nor savings.