Court overturns conviction of Bangladeshi migrant worker

Court overturns conviction of Bangladeshi migrant worker

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By: Jolovan Wham

In July this year, a Bangladeshi construction worker was sentenced to, and served, four-weeks jail time for allegedly making a false work-injury claim; however, both the conviction and sentence were quashed on appeal to the High Court last month. Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin ruled that Md Rafiqul Islam Abdul Aziz should have been allowed to retract his guilty plea and have the case decided through trial. This case is a significant and noteworthy victory for the accused, as it is a rare occurrence in Singapore’s legal system.

Rafiqul was accused of making a fraudulent work injury claim but at the time when he pleaded guilty, he thought it was for making a false claim based on a wrong date. A day after he pleaded, Rafiqul wanted to retract it but the district judge found that there were no valid grounds for retraction, and he was sentenced.

Rafiqul was assisted by HOME and represented pro bono by Mr Tang Jin Sheng of Dentos Rodyk and Davidson LLP to retract the guilty plea. The District Judge who sentenced him said he would have been more inclined to retract his guilty plea if it was made ‘immediately’ after the plea was made. However, his lawyer argued that the Criminal Procedure Code states that mitigating a plea is not affected by the time it takes to occur from the initial conviction.

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The appeal judge who overturned the sentence noted that Rafiqul had sought treatment at a hospital and took into consideration the statement of facts and charge which did not clearly say the accident was a fabrication. Given the dubious circumstances with which the worker was sentenced, the judge agreed with HOME’s lawyers that questions to determine the worker’s guilt could only be probed if the matter was brought to a trial.

The prosecutors have yet to appeal against this decision. HOME volunteer Desiree Leong, who handled Rafiqul’s case will assist us to explore options for the worker and determine whether he can still obtain compensation for his losses and hardship.


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