Doctor acquitted of molest: AGC vs lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam over complainant, gag order

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FILE PHOTOS: Attorney-General's Chambers (Yahoo News Singapore) and Eugene Thuraisingam (Facebook/Eugene Thuraisingam)
FILE PHOTOS: Attorney-General's Chambers (Yahoo News Singapore) and Eugene Thuraisingam (Facebook/Eugene Thuraisingam)

SINGAPORE — The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) and Eugene Thuraisingam, the defence lawyer who defended a doctor acquitted of molest charges, on Wednesday (1 September) continued to refute each other about the evidence given by the complainant in the case, and about a potential application by the lawyer’s firm to lift the gag order in relation to the complainant’s name. 

Specifically, the two sides disagreed on whether the disputed evidence given by the complainant were in relation to her allegations of molest against Dr Yeo Sow Nam. They also disagreed over the lawyer’s submissions to lift the gag order so as to preserve Dr Yeo’s rights to make the application in future.

Dr Yeo, an anaesthesiologist, was acquitted on 16 August after the prosecution withdrew charges against him. He had claimed trial to charges of molesting the woman at Mount Elizabeth Hospital on 9 October 2017.

Here are the full statements by AGC and Thuraisingam's firm Eugene Thuraisingam LLP issued on Wednesday:

AGC’s statement:

"On 31 August 2021, Mr Eugene Thuraisingam (“Mr Thuraisingam”) posted on Facebook different responses to the media statement issued by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (“AGC”) that day in relation to the outrage of modesty case involving his client, Dr Yeo Sow Nam (“Dr Yeo”).

2. AGC decided to make a public statement because of the gravity of what has 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.

3. In his first Facebook post on the matter on 31 August 2021, Mr Thuraisingam listed what he said were the “complainant’s admissions”. Unfortunately, these examples provided were again misleading.

4. As an example, Mr Thuraisingam claimed that the “complainant’s evidence was that Dr Yeo molested her by touching her breasts with his palms facing outwards. She later however agreed during cross examination that it was impossible for Dr Yeo to have done so as he was standing behind her.” Mr Thuraisingam’s statement is misleading. The complainant was consistent in that Dr Yeo had touched her breasts while standing behind her. The demonstration that the complainant made with her palms facing outwards was, in fact, a demonstration of how Dr Yeo’s palms allegedly cupped her breasts. The complainant made it clear to Mr Thuraisingam that she was not lying in relation to the fact that Dr Yeo did touch her breasts.

5. As a further example, Mr Thuraisingam claimed that the victim gave evidence that she raised her arms towards the ceiling initially to show she was trying to get away from him but later agreed in cross-examination that she had no “actual recollection of this (raising her hands to the ceiling)”. This again regrettably paints an inaccurate picture of the complainant’s evidence. What Mr Thuraisingam leaves out of his statement is that when the complainant said she had “no recollection of this”, her evidence was that she could not remember whether she raised her hands to the chest or up to the ceiling. Her agreement with him therefore was that she could not recall the precise level she raised her hands, and not that she had no recollection of raising her hands.

6. Above and beyond this, many of the other examples given by Mr Thuraisingam in the Facebook post do not in fact relate to the charges before the Court. It is therefore difficult to understand how those examples could relate to the “material elements” of the complainant’s allegations of outrage of modesty.

7. In a separate Facebook post on 31 August 2021, Mr Thuraisingam indicated that he had “reserved Dr Yeo’s rights to apply for the gag order to be lifted” and that this is a “significant omission” by AGC in its media statement dated 31 August 2021. We disagree.

8. This does not also explain the questions raised about Mr Thuraisingam’s conduct. Mr Thuraisingam acknowledged that he made oral submissions on the application to lift the gag order when he was aware, prior to the hearing on 16 August 2021, that there was no legal basis for that application. In fact, at the hearing, he told the Court that he had “considered very carefully” AGC’s written submissions. Despite this, he proceeded to address the Court on the main points of his written submissions, before abruptly concluding that he would withdraw the application since AGC’s position was “the correct position in law”.

9. Mr Thuraisingam’s explanation that he made his submissions to lift the gag order so as to preserve his client’s rights to make the application in future is not correct in law, and makes no sense:

a. Mr Thuraisingam was aware that the law specifically provides that an application to lift the gag order may be brought if, and only after, the complainant was charged and convicted of perjury. As no complaint had been made against the complainant, and she had not even been investigated, much less charged and convicted, there was no legal basis for the application.

b. Mr Thuraisingam 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. He did not in his written submissions draw the Court’s attention to the relevant legal provisions which make clear that there was no basis for his application. In fact, his submissions expressly state that the press “may also report (his) submissions on the complainant’s perjury for the public to form its own views on the reasons for the Prosecution’s volte-face in seeking Dr Yeo’s acquittal”.

c. There was no need for Mr Thuraisingam to reserve his client’s rights to bring a future application. An application may be brought in the future if a legal basis has been established.

d. Even if Mr Thuraisingam believed he needed to reserve his client’s rights, he could have simply said so without making detailed submissions on the complainant’s character and credibility. We note that Mr Thuraisingam has not explained why he needed to do this. As we have said, this raises serious questions on what Mr Thuraisingam was really seeking to do.

10. 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.

11. As indicated in our statement of 31 August 2021, we have asked Mr Thuraisingam to explain his conduct, and look forward to receiving his response. AGC will decide on its next course of action, upon receipt of Mr Thuraisingam’s response."

Eugene Thuraisingam LLP's statement:

  1. "The Attorney-General’s Chambers (the “AGC”) has two points of contention. Firstly, that ET LLP allegedly misled the public by stating that the complainant had lied in court about “material elements” of her allegations of molest against Dr Yeo Sow Nam. Secondly, that ET LLP’s application to lift the gag order on the complainant was allegedly made with improper motives.

  2. As a preliminary point, we note that there is no dispute between the AGC and ET LLP that the complainant lied in Court and admitted to doing so. The only disagreement is whether those lies were “material”.

  3. On the first issue of the materiality of the complainant’s admitted lies, the AGC takes the view, for example, that her demonstration of how Dr Yeo’s palms allegedly cupped her breasts is not a material element of her allegation of molest against Dr Yeo. We respectfully take a different view. In this regard, prosecutors and defence counsel are counterparts in our adversarial system of criminal justice and as officers of the Court playing different roles in the same system, it is perhaps natural that we will not always see eye-to-eye. In normal cases, these disputes are settled definitively by a Judge. This did not happen in the present case because AGC withdrew the charges midway through trial. Nevertheless, despite these differences in perspective, we share the same objectives as the AGC of elucidating the truth, maintaining the rule of law, and assisting in the administration of justice.

  4. On the second issue of the application to lift the gag order, ET LLP only became aware of section 425A of the Criminal Procedure Code (the “CPC”) (i.e., the law which specifically provides that a gag order ceases to apply only when the complainant is charged and convicted of perjury) on 11 August 2021, after parties exchanged submissions on the issue on 4 August 2021. After discussing internally, ET LLP formed the view that the Prosecution’s position on the law was correct. Nevertheless, at the open court hearing on 16 August 2021, ET LLP took the Judge through the complainant’s lies to:- (a) explain ET LLP’s initial decision to apply for the lifting of the gag order on the basis that this was an exceptional case where the complainant has admitted to lying in Court; and (b) make clear that despite Dr Yeo’s withdrawal of his application due to the operation of section 425A of the CPC, Dr Yeo reserved his right to revive his application in the event that the complainant is charged and convicted of perjury for her lies as canvassed in Court. We genuinely believed that if we did not expressly reserve Dr Yeo’s rights, the Prosecution might argue at a subsequent juncture that Dr Yeo should not be allowed to revive his application after abandoning it before the Judge at the hearing on 16 August 2021.

  5. Lastly, while we were aware of the presence of the press at the hearing on 16 August 2021, we were not unduly concerned with this given that our system of justice is, by its very nature, open, transparent, and public."

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