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Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Abusive Erwiana employer will find it tough fending off civil claim, Hong Kong judge says

Indonesian former domestic helper seeks damages over beating by Law Wan-tung, who was jailed for six years in Erwiana Sulistyaningsih case

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 4:36pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 9:45pm

A Hong Kong employer jailed for torturing Indonesian domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih would have a difficult time fending off a civil damages claim from another helper whom she assaulted because of her past convictions, a judge said on Monday.

Law Wan-tung was jailed for six years for causing grievous bodily harm to Erwiana in a trial that gripped the city in 2015. She was also convicted of slapping and kicking Tutik Lestari Ningsih, who has since lodged a civil lawsuit against her former employer.

“It is an uphill battle in a sense that she has a conviction,” District Court judge Wong King-wah, who presided over a preliminary hearing of the civil suit, told Law’s counsel on Monday.

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Wong said Law had already not been believed by a judge once in the criminal trial, which had a higher threshold in accepting the helper’s evidence than in the current civil case.

“The respondent[Law] has to be more realistic,” he said.

Law, who is still serving a jail term after losing her appeal last year, did not turn up at the District Court. She was not required to attend the hearing and was instead represented by her counsel, Patrick Wong Heung-yung.

During a hearing on Tuesday dealing with procedural matters, the judge expressed concern over the helper’s claims, saying that her legal team had failed to give specific details about the allegations.

Exchanges between the judge and the lawyers revealed that Tutik accused Law of depriving her of rest days, which was alleged to amount to forced imprisonment. The helper was also assaulted, which she said caused a headache and pain and bruises to her shoulders.

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The details were contained in a court document, which also alleged that Tutik had not been paid.

But the judge said the document failed to spell out specific details about, for instance, when the helper was assaulted or which assaults resulted ininjuries.

He also said there was a lack of medical evidence from doctors to back up her claims, though he noted it would be too late for the helper to undergo a check-up given the assaults took place prior to her dismissal in 2011.

The judge also said despite allegations that Tutik had not been paid her wages, it was not stated in the current legal action that she would like to claim past salary and employment benefits.

Wong, Law’s counsel, said such allegations had never been made during the criminal trial.

Barrister Tony Ko, for the helper, said the claims relating to labour disputes were not covered by legal aid, which might be why his client was not pursuing them.

The judge warned that the helper might not be given an opportunity to seek past wages if she forfeited her chance this time, and gave her lawyers until July 31 to come back with specific details.

During the criminal trial that ended in 2015, the District Court heard that Law punched Erwiana so hard that her teeth were fractured and that she twisted a metal tube from a vacuum cleaner in the helper’s mouth, causing cuts to her lips. The assaults took place in 2013 and 2014.

The assaults against Tutik took place between 2010 and 2011, when the helper was working in Law’s flat in Tai Kok Tsui.