“High Court Reverses Conviction for Chopper Attack: ‘Judge Erred’, so Housewife Cleared of Hurting Maid”

“High Court Reverses Conviction for Chopper Attack: ‘Judge Erred’, so Housewife Cleared of Hurting Maid”

The Straits Times, Saturday, February 10, 2007

A housewife, originally sentenced to 15 months’ jail for hurting her maid, yesterday walked out of a court a free woman after the High Court overturned her conviction.

Justice V.K. Rajah, in acquitting Madam Sakthivel Punithavathi, 32, said that the district judge who convicted her last year had “seriously erred”.

The maid, Ms. Anbarasu Malarkodi, had accused Madam Sakthivel of using a chopper to inflict multiple cuts on her fingers and fracturing them—a charger the employer denied.

District Judge Ong Chin Rhu had accepted the maid’s version of events and rejected the opinion of a senior doctor, testifying for the employer, who said there were strong indications that the injuries had been self-inflicted.

After she was convicted, Madam Sakthivel engaged lawyers Subhas Anandan and Sunil Sudheesan to lodge an appeal.

Yesterday, they argued for the conviction to be overturned because it was based on the “unrelivable evidence of a domestic worker who very possibly self-inflicted the injuries”. They also argued that the trial judge had “abdicated her fact-finding duty” by resolving doubts in favour of the prosecution.

Justice Rajah agreed, saying that the maid’s version is inconsistent with the objective facts.

He said the cuts on her fingers appear to square with Associate Professor Lim Beng Hai’s opinion that they were consistent with self-inflicted injuries.

Justice Rajah questioned the likelihood that the maid had—according to her story—stayed still while her employer came at her with a chopper. He said it was hard to imagine that the employers, in launching an attack on the maid, would only rain four blows on a particular spot.

Justice Rajah also took the trial judge to task for resolving critical doubts in favour of the prosecution. For instance, the maid had told a doctor she was tortured daily but did not assert this in court.

At the very least, he said, the trial judge should have sought to clarify the doubts, failing which, draw an adverse interference against the prosecution, not the defence.