Witnesses 'known to be unreliable'
VIETNAMESE witnesses are regarded as so unreliable by the Legal Department that the Crown has been forced to offer no evidence in several cases, a Commission of Inquiry heard yesterday.
The Attorney-General's Chambers and the police were also concerned that Vietnamese witnesses might use their position as a bargaining counter.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr John Wood, told the commission yesterday that the concern appeared to have deepened by public hearings before Mr Justice Kempster.
A high-powered meeting between the Security Branch, the Legal Department, police and the Correctional Services Department (CSD) will be held on Monday to sort out the problem.
The commission was set up to investigate why the prosecution offered no evidence in a murder trial on October 26 last year which led to the acquittal of Mr Nguyen Van Bau.
The key witness, Vietnamese Mr Bui Van Xuan, refused to testify because he claimed he was not provided with adequate protection.
Mr Wood said it was common knowledge within the prosecutions division that Vietnamese cases were difficult.
''In murder cases pleas of guilty to manslaughter are often accepted because Vietnamese witnesses are so unreliable,'' he said.
Witnesses failed to identify defendants, refused to give evidence or failed to remember it, he said.
The Crown regularly found itself having all the evidence knocked out and ended up offering no evidence, he said.
Mr Wood suggested that cultural differences were a factor.
The Vietnamese system was different to that in Hongkong, he said. Witness evidence was not necessary for conviction in Vietnam.
Until Mr Bui's case, Mr Wood said he could not recall a Vietnamese witness refusing to give evidence. Since the case several witnesses had said they would not give evidence unless a number of conditions were met.
In the case of Mr Bui, Mr Wood said his decision on October 26 to offer no evidence was not taken lightly.
But he admitted that he had suspicions about what Mr Bui wanted.
CSD acting commissioner, Mr John Ashworth, had suggested Mr Bui and his family had a hidden agenda.
Mr Wood took that to be a desire for refugee status. He said he found it ''incomprehensible'' that Mr Bui wanted to return to the camp, Whitehead, where the murder had taken place and where he had been assaulted.
With regard to the request from the judge for either him or the Attorney-General to appear on the day the trial was aborted, Mr Wood said he had not regarded it as appropriate because the prosecution was being asked to deal with matters that were really the concern of the police or CSD.
Mr Wood defended the fact that the prosecution had not formally applied to drop the case.
Mr Ashworth, now retired Deputy CSD Commissioner, will be called again today to explain what he meant when he told the press on October 27 he felt Mr Bui had a hidden agenda.
He is expected to be followed by the Attorney-General, Mr Jeremy Mathews, the last witness.