Imagine being locked up in prison for an extra two days just because of an administrative mistake.
That was what happened to Mr Teo Seng Tiong, the lorry driver who was involved in a viral lorry-bicycle incident in late 2018.
After it was revealed that an administrative error by an officer with the State Courts has led to him being jailed for two more days, people have been wondering if there’d be any compensation.
Well, I’ve have sent an email to Dr Ng Eng Hen if my ORD date was pushed back by two hours.
There’s now a conclusion: he’s received compensation from the Government.
The amount wasn’t revealed due to the confidentiality agreement he had signed earlier this week.
And in case you catch no ball, here’s what’s happened.
Teo was recently released after serving two-thirds of his sentence.
The 59-year-old had told Shin Min Daily News that he was scheduled to be released on 22 Aug, but had his sentence extended by three days after he was told he did not pay the S$500 fine.
Except that he did.
Teo claims he had asked his wife to pay the fine for him on the first day of his stint in jail. When Teo arrived at the prison to serve his sentence, he received an information card that stipulated the date he started serving.
The section which was supposed to specify the date of his release, however, was left empty.
This was because his date of release could only be fixed after the payment of his fine had been confirmed, an officer told him.
When he called his wife two weeks later, she confirmed the fine had already been paid, so he didn’t think much about it at the time.
But then, on 20 Aug, Teo was informed that his fine hadn’t actually been paid.
“I was about to be released from prison at the time, and it was too late to get my wife to produce the evidence that the payment had already been made,” he said.
Since they could not confirm he had paid his fine, Teo’s sentence was extended by three days.
Teo says this extension affected his mental health, and led to trouble sleeping.
State Courts: Sorry Ah, Our Mistake
On 2 September, the State Courts released a media statement on this incident, and it turned out to be an administrative error by one of their officers.
According to them, the fine was indeed paid at the High Court on 20 July 2020, the day that Teo started his sentence. So the High Court notified the State Courts that the fine had been paid.
Here’s the thing that has caused the confusion: Teo was sentenced in the States Court, but when he appealed, it was appealed at the High Court.
So High Court told States Courts, and everything is goody, right?
However, the State Courts officer in charge of the case erroneously failed to update the Warrant of Commitment and the State Courts’ case management system to reflect that the fine had been paid.
But that’s not all.
On 21 and 22 August 2020, the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) enquired with the State Courts on whether the fine had been paid.
The State Courts informed SPS that the fine had not been paid as the State Courts’ case management system was not updated due to the said error by the State Courts’ officer.
In the circumstances, Teo served the default imprisonment term of two days instead of three days, as the actual default imprisonment term served was two days, due to one-third of the term being remitted.
The error was only discovered after Teo’s lawyer sent the payment receipt to the SPS that then forwarded it to the State Courts on 24 August 2020.
Pro tip: keep every single damn receipt you have.
The State Courts added that they deeply regret what has happened, and have conveyed their letter of apology to Mr Teo through the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
They have since taken immediate steps to review their work processes governing fines for State Courts cases that have gone on appeal to the High Court, and have since implemented further safeguards, such as additional levels of checks, as well as commenced an internal review of the matter.
And as for the person who didn’t update the system?
They added that depending on the outcome of the review, appropriate action (including disciplinary action) will be taken.
A Now Famous Altercation
If you’ve somehow forgotten about the famous Lorry vs Cyclist incident, here’s a brief summary of what happened.
On 22 Dec 2018, Teo was seen on video driving behind two cyclists along a road in Pasir Ris.
It looks like one of the cyclists was blocking Teo’s way, while the other rode at the side of the lane.
After passing a traffic junction, the cyclist, who is still obstructing Teo’s path, looks back at the lorry, presumably because Teo honked at him.
The cyclist then whacks the lorry’s side mirror, causing something to break off and fall.
Teo was not pleased with this, to say the least. So he swerved and knocked the cyclist off the road.
At the time, Teo’s lawyer, Chia Boon Teck, said his client did not physically hit the cyclist’s bicycle.
He explained that the cyclist had simply jumped off his bike and rolled onto the grass patch.
Just for that one moment of madness, Teo had his driving license suspended for two years and served seven weeks in jail.