Parti Liyani case: Law school professor examines if a discarded item may be stolen

a woman standing next to a man in a suit and tie: Photo: Parti Liyani, FB screengrab © The Independent Singapore Photo: Parti Liyani, FB screengrab

Singapore—An assistant professor of law went into the question whether there can be theft of an item that has been discarded. He examined the issue in connection with the case of the Indonesian domestic helper Parti Liyani who was acquitted of theft last year.

The fallout from the high-profile case included the early retirement of her former employer, Liew Mun Leong, from the chairmanship of Changi Airport Group.

Ms Parti, who was acquitted on appeal on Sept 8 last year, had been charged, among other things, with stealing a discarded DVD player.

In an article for the Singapore Academy of Law Journal, Assistant Professor Benny Tan Zhi Peng of the National University of Singapore’s law school examined a point made by the High Court that when an item has been discarded, there cannot be theft.

Asst Prof Tan seems to think otherwise.

In his article, “Can There Be Theft Of A Discarded Item: Parti Liyani v Public Prosecutor,” Asst Prof Tan wrote that the underlying reasons of the High Court for Ms Parti’s acquittal “may benefit from reconsideration in a future case, as it did not take into account certain important legal nuances.”

He added, “In particular, the court could have considered relevant authorities, both foreign and local, on the law of abandonment by trashing (or discarding). It appears to have been assumed simply that the offence of theft cannot be disclosed in a case where what an offender has taken was a discarded item.”

In relation to this, he cited a number of cases, including a comprehensive survey on the law of abandonment by Associate Professor Saw Cheng Lim from 2011, cited with approval by the apex court in the 2018 case.

He found it a “tad curious” that these cases were not mentioned in the High Court judgment.

Asst Prof Tan said that the High Court had concentrated instead on whether or not the DVD player was broken in order to make a finding on whether Mr Liew’s wife has thrown it away.

Less time had been spent on the issue of consent, he added.

The law don said that throwing away something is only one piece of evidence of abandonment. One should also further look into “whether the item’s owner had (subjectively) intended to relinquish the item to the extent of being completely indifferent as to the fate of the discarded item”.

Since Ms Parti claimed Mrs Liew told her to give the player to a junk collector, traditionally in exchange for some small amount, that could prove that Mrs Liew did not plan on completely relinquishing the DVD player.

The law don added that in a conviction for theft, other things need to be considered, such as whether Ms Parti had been dishonest in taking the player and whether or not consent had been given for her to take it.

Not much evidence had been presented that would have been relevant to the issues of dishonesty or lack of consent in Ms Parti’s case.

Asst Prof Tan also pointed out that the prosecution said Mrs Liew had never discarded the DVD player.

However, The Straits Times pointed out the law don’s intent was not to suggest that Ms Parti should have been found guilty of theft by the High Court.


Parti Liyani case: Law school professor examines if a discarded item may be stolen