Singapore – Lawyer Anil Balchandani has explained why he took on the case of Indonesian domestic helper Parti Liyani even though all the odds were stacked up against it.
He had acted pro bono for Ms Parti, who worked from 2007 till 2016 for the family of Mr Liew Mun Leong, until recently the Chairman of the Changi Airport Group.
Ms Parti was accused of having stolen items amounting to S$34,000 and was sentenced in March last year to 26 months in prison.
On Friday (Sept 4), her conviction was overturned after Mr Balchandani successfully appealed that Ms Parti had been framed so that she would not file a complaint with the Manpower Ministry against the Liew family for illegal deployment.
On Wednesday (Sept 9), the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), an NGO dedicated to supporting and empowering migrant workers who suffer abuse and exploitation, released a video interview with Mr Balchandani on Aug 23, before the High Court judgement was delivered.
The lawyer admitted it was a “very, very difficult and long-drawn trial” because of the number of items they had to deal with. He also did not have any assistants working the case. It was through the well-managed or well-accounted for set of documents and the commitment to meeting regularly to keep tasks on target that the team was able to form a solid defence for the FDW (Foreign Domestic Worker).
“We were up against a very tenacious set of prosecutors, we also were up against a very prominent family,” said Mr Balchandani.
“A memorable or most lucky point that we had was when we asked the court to have all the items presented before it,” said the lawyer. He explained that this was usually done at a trial level and not during an appeal, yet the court agreed. They were able to present to the court what could not be seen in pictures, which was the condition of the items. Slowly, they were able to inch forward, said Mr Balchandani. “Each item had its own story. Basically, we convinced the judge, ‘Look, why would someone steal junk?’”
Mr Balchandani noted that a lot of FDWs and FWs do not know their rights, don’t have that courage and are financially strapped. “To fight a case, you need to have at least some way to sustain yourself without lowering your dignity.”
“And that’s where I think the power of the HOME team came in. It was a group of very dedicated, in fact, mostly women, who also believed in Yani’s innocence.” They also assisted Ms Parti in maintaining confidence in court.
Mr Balchandani added: “It’s easy to say the criminal justice system is busted and we need to fix it, but I think as we move forward, and as we get a little more advanced as a nation, we need to realise that the system as we envisioned it doesn’t cater for these politically unrepresented folks.”
Watch the full interview below:
Meanwhile, Mr Balchandani has been dubbed a hero by members of the online community for helping Ms Parti.
Photo: FB screengrab