Do Lies in Police Statements Necessarily Indicate a Guilty Conscience? The Court of Appeal Made History by Agreeing to Review Ilechukwu’s Conviction after a Concluded Appeal

Public Prosecutor v Hamidah Binte Awang and another [2015] SGHC 4;
Public Prosecutor v Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi [2015] SGCA 33;
Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi v Public Prosecutor [2017] 2 SLR 741;
Public Prosecutor v Hamidah Binte Awang and another [2019] SGHC 161

In 2017, we made legal history when we successfully persuaded the Court of Appeal for the first time to re-open a concluded criminal case on the basis of fresh psychiatric evidence probative of our client’s innocence.

Our client, Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi, was a Nigerian national accused of trafficking drugs into Singapore. His defence was that he was innocent and did not know that there were drugs in the luggage he was asked to bring to Singapore. During his appeal in 2015, the Court of Appeal disbelieved him because his statements to the police after his arrest contained many lies for which, in the Court’s judgment, “there [was] no innocent explanation”.

In 2016, Ilechukwu was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) by a psychiatrist from the Institute of Mental Health. Dr Jaydip Sarkar discovered that Ilechukwu had witnessed a macabre tribal massacre in Nigeria when he was 5 years old. He had seen people maimed and killed with choppers and cutlasses, and their dismembered bodies thrown into a well in front of his mother’s shop. Dr Sarkar found that Ilechukwu had been terribly traumatised by this event and suffered from recurring PTSD symptoms whilst giving his statements to the police. In Dr Sarkar’s view, Ilechukwu’s PTSD symptoms was “likely to have led to an overestimation of threat to his life which could have prompted him to utter unsophisticated and blatant falsehoods in order to save his life”.

On the strength of Dr Sarkar’s psychiatric report, we successfully persuaded the Court of Appeal to re-open Ilechukwu’s concluded case and review his conviction. This was the first time in Singapore’s legal history where the Court of Appeal agreed to re-open a concluded criminal appeal. We also acted for Ilechukwu in the further evidential hearing ordered by the Court of Appeal and successfully persuaded the Judge to find that our client suffered from PTSD during his childhood and PTSD symptoms during the recording of his police statements.

This case is now back before the Court of Appeal, which will decide whether Ilechukwu is ultimately guilty or innocent. The team representing Ilechukwu includes Suang Wijaya and Johannes Hadi.