Doctor acquitted of molestation: AGC repeats call for lawyer to ‘explain his conduct’, rebuts claims in TOC article
SINGAPORE — In the latest development involving a case of a doctor who was recently acquitted of molestation charges, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) on Wednesday (Sept 1) responded to his lawyer’s rebuttal to its statement, saying some of what he said continue to be misleading.
- The Attorney-General’s Chambers asked again for lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam to explain his conduct
- This was in relation to allegations he made in open court against a woman who accused a doctor of molesting her
- The lawyer, who defended the doctor, denied making misleading allegations but AGC insisted that they were
- AGC also issued a separate statement about an article on The Online Citizen about the case
- It said the article contains “a series of complete falsehoods”
SINGAPORE — In the latest development involving a case of a doctor who was recently acquitted of molestation charges, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) on Wednesday (Sept 1) responded to his lawyer’s rebuttal to its statement, saying some of what he said continues to be misleading.
It repeated its call for lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam to “explain his conduct” and said that it would “decide on its next course of action” upon receiving his reply.
A day before, AGC issued a news release saying that it would not be taking action against the woman who accused Dr Yeo Sow Nam, a 52-year-old anaesthetist, of molesting her in his pain management clinic at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in 2017.
AGC also said that a public statement issued by Mr Thuraisingam and the defence team, where they claimed that the woman had admitted to lying in court about “material elements” of her allegations against the doctor, was "misleading and regrettable”.
While there were inconsistencies in her evidence, AGC said that they did not relate to the substance of her allegations against Dr Yeo.
The firm denied that its statements about the woman were misleading.
Mr Thuraisingam later posted several responses on his Facebook account, where he detailed five instances of the woman lying in relation to her recollection of what had happened.
He also said that AGC has threatened him with disciplinary action for allegedly abusing the court’s process by taking the court through the woman's lies, but then withdrawing Dr Yeo’s application to lift the gag order on her identity.
On Wednesday, AGC again accused the lawyer of providing “misleading” examples.
In one instance, Mr Thuraisingam said that the woman agreed during cross-examination in the trial that it was impossible for Dr Yeo to have touched her chest as he was standing behind her.
However, AGC said she had made it clear that she was not lying about Dr Yeo touching her, but merely agreed it was impossible for him to have done it with his palms facing outwards.
GAG ORDER ON WOMAN’S IDENTITY
AGC said that it issued a news release on Tuesday about the case “because of the gravity of what happened — a court application appears, on its face, to have been brought for an improper purpose, and public allegations have been made against the complainant which are inaccurate”.
The court application was in relation to the gag order on the woman’s identity.
The media cannot identify her, but the court previously heard that she was not a patient, a staff member at Dr Yeo’s clinic, or a fellow doctor.
Mr Thuraisingam wanted at first to apply to lift the gag order at the acquittal hearing on Aug 16, but then withdrew his application after acknowledging that this was not possible.
That was because the law specifically provides that such an application can only be made if, and only after, the woman is charged and convicted of perjury.
The day before, AGC said that it had written to Mr Thuraisingam asking for an explanation of his conduct. It accused him of abruptly changing his position and suddenly agreeing with the prosecution that there was no basis to lift the gag order.
It took note that he had also “quoted extensively” from selected portions of the woman’s evidence and his written submissions to lift the gag order.
The lawyer disputed this. He said that AGC had made a “significant omission” by not saying that he had reserved Dr Yeo’s rights to bring a fresh application if the prosecution decided to charge the woman, thereby giving the impression that he had no reason on that day to take the court through the complainant’s lies.
On Wednesday, AGC disagreed with Mr Thuraisingam. It noted that before the hearing, he was aware that there was no legal basis for the application.
“Mr Thuraisingam’s explanation that he made his submissions to lift the gag order so as to reserve his client’s rights to make the application in future is not correct in law, and makes no sense,” AGC said.
“(He) has not explained in his Facebook posts why he brought the application in the first place when he was aware there was no legal basis for it.”
In his written submissions, it added, he had not drawn the court’s attention to relevant legal provisions on the gag order, but expressly stated that the media could report his submissions on the woman’s perjury for the public to form its own views on why the prosecution decided to withdraw the charges against Dr Yeo.
Even if Mr Thuraisingam believed that he needed to reserve Dr Yeo’s rights, AGC said that he “could have simply said so without making detailed submissions on the complainant’s character and credibility”.
“The above raises the clear concern that Mr Thuraisingam made his allegations against the complainant in open court so that they would be picked up by the media and be given wide publicity, which in fact happened. If so, such conduct would be improper.”
On Wednesday evening, the lawyer released his firm’s reply, saying that the defence team was aware of reporters’ presence at the hearing but were “not unduly concerned with this, given that our system of justice is, by its very nature, open, transparent, and public”.
Mr Thuraisingam clarified that there was no dispute between the firm and AGC that the woman lied in court.
The disagreement was only about the materiality (how important the information is) of her lies, he said.
In relation to Dr Yeo allegedly touching the woman’s chest, the lawyer said that he respectfully took a different view, and that such differences are usually settled definitively by a judge.
This did not happen because the prosecution had withdrawn the charges against Dr Yeo midway through the trial.
“Nevertheless, despite these differences in perspective, we share the same objective as the AGC of elucidating the truth, maintaining the rule of law, and assisting in the administration of justice,” Mr Thuraisingam said.
As for the gag order, he said that the firm only became aware of the specific legal provision on Aug 11, five days before the Aug 16 hearing.
The lawyers “formed the view” that the prosecution’s position on the law was correct, but Mr Thuraisingam still took the court through the woman’s lies to explain the defence team’s initial decision to apply for the gag order to be lifted, and make clear that Dr Yeo reserved his rights to revive the application if she was charged and convicted of perjury.
The lawyers had genuinely believed that if not, the prosecution might argue at a later stage that Dr Yeo should not be allowed to revive the application, Mr Thuraisingam added.
THE ONLINE CITIZEN ARTICLE
Separately, AGC issued another statement on Wednesday.
This was over an article published on socio-political website The Online Citizen. It was written by its chief editor Terry Xu and titled “How shameless can AGC be to accuse a lawyer of abusing the court process, while misleading the public with its allegations?”.
AGC said that the article “contains a series of complete falsehoods and makes a variety of unsubstantiated and inflammatory allegations”.
Among other things, Mr Xu wrote that AGC’s statement on Tuesday was “ridiculous and disingenuous”, and said it should have done the right thing by charging the woman with perjury.
AGC noted: “TOC has therefore, without basis, determined the guilt of the complainant. This is highly irresponsible.”
It already explained that its decision not to charge the woman was because there was no finding by the court that she had lied or given inconsistent evidence.
The prosecution withdrew the charges against Dr Yeo after deciding that her evidence would not be "unusually convincing" to secure a conviction for such a case under the law.
AGC said on Wednesday: “It is unfortunate that TOC has not dealt with those reasons, no doubt because they serve as an inconvenient rebuttal of TOC’s position.”