Maid's age an issue, says defence counsel

The age of an Indonesian maid accused of murder came into question in court yesterday with the defence counsel saying it was "an issue".

Defence counsel Mohamed Muzammil Mohamed asked the court if the prosecution would be amending the charges on account of client Dewi Sukowati's "change in age".

The police prosecutor, however, said she was not aware of any amendments but would check with the investigating officer.

The case against Dewi, who is accused of killing socialite Nancy Gan at a Victoria Park bungalow on March 19 - just over a week after her arrival from Indonesia - will be heard again on May 15.

The chargesheet tendered when she first appeared in court on March 20 had indicated that Dewi was 23 years old.

The minimum age for a foreign domestic worker to work in Singapore is 23.

Dewi's lawyer, who was appointed by the Indonesian Embassy here, told the court that the embassy had brought her father to Singapore over the weekend for interviews with the investigating officer.

The father also met psychiatrists who were assessing Dewi during her psychiatric evaluation.

The psychiatric report is expected to be completed next month, and results from DNA testing by the Health Sciences Authority are scheduled to be ready by September, the court heard.

Throughout the exchange in court, Dewi stood unflinching in the barred dock, dressed in a white T-shirt and with her bob of hair tucked behind her ears.

She was led away after having a quick word with her lawyer.

The domestic worker's father, a 49-year-old farmer, was accompanied on his trip here by a manpower official from Indonesia and a Member of Parliament from the family's hometown.

Dewi is the oldest of three daughters in the family - the other two are aged 15 and two.

Her lawyer said the Indonesian police are also investigating an alleged falsification of Dewi's age.

Indonesian Embassy counsellor Sukmo Yuwono told The Straits Times that Dewi had been hired directly by Ms Gan and had not undergone any training prior to working in Singapore.

Dewi received her work permit on March 12 and worked for Ms Gan for barely a week before the latter was found dead at home.

Ms Gan, a mother of two, was formerly married to former Hong Kong Legislative Council politician Hilton Cheong-leen.hpeishan@sph.com.sg

On psychiatric assessments

Psychiatric assessments are used to determine whether an accused was legally insane at the time of the offence, and is competent to stand trial.

Courts can refer suspects to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), where most evaluations are carried out, although some cases can be seen by other psychiatrists from both public and private sectors.

Such assessments "ensure fairness, as mentally incompetent individuals would be at a disadvantage when conducting their defences or assisting their counsel", IMH's chief of general and forensic psychiatry, Dr Jerome Goh, said yesterday in response to queries from The Straits Times.

His department carries out evaluations through specialists trained in forensic psychiatry, medicine, social work, psychology and the law.

"The forensic examination is important to help the courts understand mental health issues that are involved in certain cases, and assist in sentencing decisions," he added.

An assessment involves a few direct examinations, lasting about an hour each depending on the complexity of the case.

The psychiatrist will rely on interviews and observations of the suspect's behaviour, the nature of the alleged crime, as well as information obtained from those who know the accused. In the ongoing case of Indonesian maid Dewi Sukowati, who has been accused of murdering socialite Nancy Gan, such persons will include her father.

The evaluation includes assessments of the accused's propensity to use violence, her IQ and personality. The psychiatrist would then review the data and furnish a report, which can take between two and four weeks to complete, to the courts.

An accused deemed legally insane could be sent for treatment instead of having to face punitive measures, such as jail and caning.

This article was published on April 18 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.