Balbir Singh s/o Amar Singh v Public Prosecutor and another appeal

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeLee Seiu Kin J
Judgment Date22 April 2010
Neutral Citation[2010] SGHC 123
Citation[2010] SGHC 123
Defendant CounselHay Hung Chun (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Date22 April 2010
Subject MatterSentencing Principles,Offences against public transport workers,Voluntarily causing hurt,sections 323 Penal Code (Cap 224),Criminal Procedure and Sentencing,Criminal Law
Plaintiff CounselS K Kumar (S K Kumar & Associates),Tan Lee Cheng (Rajah & Tann LLP)
Published date06 May 2010
Docket NumberMagistrate’s Appeal Nos 293 of 2009 & 300 of 2009
Hearing Date26 November 2009
Lee Seiu Kin J:

Singapore, with its high population density, relies very heavily on public transport. These range from private limousine services and public taxis in which the routes are personalised but which convey low volumes of passengers, to coaches and mini-buses where the routes may be tailored to suit a small group of users, to public buses and rail transport (both light and mass rapid) where the routes are fixed and high volumes of passengers are carried daily. The vast majority of people in Singapore rely on one mode or other of public transport – sometimes a combination – to go about their daily affairs: to get to their place of work, to school, for meals or recreation, or to attend to urgent matters. Public transport provides a vital service to the population, and is probably the most important facility after housing and utilities.

The following incidents highlight the often invidious and sometimes dangerous situations that persons engaged in providing public transport are exposed to. In February 2009, an SBS bus captain was attacked in broad daylight by two parang-wielding robbers on board his bus. He had been wounded when he attempted to thwart the robbers’ attempts to rob a lady passenger whom they had threatened with their parangs. With deep gashes on his left shoulder, a fractured left wrist bone and bleeding heavily, he drove 1km to seek help.1 In January 2010, an SBS bus service was disrupted when a party of five refused to alight from the bus. They had boarded the said bus which did not have wheelchair accessibility and were informed by the bus captain that they were not allowed to bring their wheelchair onto the bus for safety reasons. The quintet however insisted on doing so. For six hours, the group refused to leave, crying and wailing to the police who later arrived at the scene.2

Public transport, in all its modes, is available throughout the day and well into the night. Taxis are available 24 hours a day. People who work in the public transport industry have to work long hours and in shifts to provide such extensive availability of service. Most public transport passengers are courteous and appreciative of the service provided. In any event, they are intent on getting to their destinations, and in most instances, they do so uneventfully. But there will always be a minority who are rude, whether by nature or circumstances, or a combination of both. When an incident occurs that does not meet with the satisfaction of such persons, they become disagreeable. In mercifully rarer instances, a passenger is outright malicious and does an act with criminal intent, such as robbery. The point is that people who provide public transport services are constantly exposed to a wide range of people. Such exposure is often in vulnerable situations: the taxi driver alone with a passenger in a deserted part of the island, a bus captain operating the bus on his own. Very often, the public transport worker has a heavy responsibility to discharge: a bus or a train full of passengers whose life and limb are in his hands.

The need to take a serious view of assaults on people who provide public transport services was brought to the fore in Wong Hoi Len v Public Prosecutor [2009] 1 SLR(R) 115 (“Wong Hoi Len”). In that case the appellant (“Wong”) pleaded guilty to a charge under s 323 of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed). Wong, after a drinking session, had boarded the victim’s taxi and, as it was travelling, vomited in it. The victim stopped the taxi, got out and berated Wong, who responded by angrily pushing the victim to the ground with both hands. However Wong did not stop at that. While the victim was still on the ground, Wong punched him several times on the right eye, forehead, cheek and nose, causing deep facial bruises. There were defensive injuries on the right hand, showing that the victim had tried to fend off Wong’s blows. On the other hand, Wong was found to have suffered only a superficial scratch over his left cheek. In the midst of the struggle, the victim stopped moving and lay motionless on the ground. It turned out that he had an underlying heart disease which was triggered by the trauma he had suffered, although his condition was such that sudden death could have occurred at any time even in the absence of stress or trauma.

Wong pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment by the district judge (“DJ”). He appealed and VK Rajah JA not only dismissed the appeal but enhanced the sentence of imprisonment to three months even though the Public Prosecutor did not appeal. In so doing, the Judge emphasised the importance of taxi drivers to the community, their arduous working conditions and their vulnerability to physical violence. He highlighted reports of rising incidents of violence committed against taxi drivers. Turning to public transport workers in general, VK Rajah JA (“the learned Judge”) said at [11]: The reported increase in criminal acts targeting persons working in the field of public transport is worrying. It should be nipped in the bud through, inter alia, deterrent sentencing of offenders. There is little doubt that public transport workers (this includes bus captains) are more vulnerable to criminal violence than their counterparts in most other professions. They are constantly exposed on the service frontline and, very often, are left to fend for themselves when confronted with difficult and/or unruly passengers. In Duncan Chappell & Vittorio Di Martino, Violence at Work (International Labour Office, 2nd Ed, 2000) at p 67, the authors observed that, of lone workers, taxi drivers in many places were at the “greatest risk of violence”. At the same time, other public transport workers such as bus drivers were observed to be at “special risk” (id, at pp 68–69). The authors also noted that night time was the highest-risk driving period for taxi drivers, and that customer intoxication appeared to play a role in precipitating violence.

The learned Judge pointed to legislation in New South Wales and Northern Territories of Australia that provided for greater punishment for offences against public transport workers. He noted that even in the absence of legislation, the courts in Queensland and England took a more serious view of offences against public transport workers. The learned Judge also referred to cases in Singapore in which a similar attitude was adopted. He concluded as follows at [20]: In my view, where the victim of an offence is a public transport worker, policy considerations should apply with equal, if not even greater, force than in the case of road rage offences. As such, in cases where an accused person with no antecedent pleads guilty to a charge under s 323 of the Penal Code and the recipient of violence is a public transport worker, I am of the view that the starting benchmark for a simple assault should be a custodial sentence of around four weeks. The actual sentence meted out would, however, be dependent on the peculiar circumstances of each incident. How was the disturbance initiated? Who was the aggressor? What were the injuries caused? Careful attention must be given to the precise factual matrices …

The foregoing provides the background to two appeals from two DJs that I heard on 26 November 2009. In each case the appellant pleaded guilty to a charge under s 323 of the Penal Code of voluntarily causing hurt to a person providing public transport service. Wong Hoi Len was relied on by both DJs below. In MA 293 of 2009, Balbir Singh s/o Amar Singh (“Singh”) was convicted of voluntarily causing hurt to an SBS bus captain and sentenced to four weeks’ imprisonment. In MA 300 of 2009, Taniguchi Mitsuru (“Taniguchi”) was convicted of the same charge, but to a taxi driver, and sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonment. I dismissed the appeal by Singh but allowed the appeal by Taniguchi. As these are two contrasting cases, it would be useful to deal with them in a single judgment.

MA 293 of 2009

In MA 293 of 2009, the appellant, Singh had kicked a bus captain when told by the latter to pay the bus fare. Upon his plea of guilt, Singh was convicted by the DJ and sentenced to a four-week imprisonment...

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9 cases
  • PP v Wang Wenfeng
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 7 February 2014
    ...accused. Bachan Singh v State of Punjab (1980) 2 SCC 684; 1980 SCC (Cri) 580; AIR 1980 SC 898 (refd) Balbir Singh s/o Amar Singh v PP [2010] 3 SLR 784 (refd) Dinesh Singh Bhatia s/o Amarjeet Singh v PP [2005] 3 SLR (R) 1; [2005] 3 SLR 1 (refd) Lai Oei Mui Jenny v PP [1993] 2 SLR (R) 406; [1......
  • Public Prosecutor v Andrew Koh Weiwen
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 24 May 2016
    ...workers (Wong Hoi Len v Public Prosecutor [2009] 1 SLR(R) 115; Balbir Singh s/o Amar Singh v Public Prosecutor and another appeal [2010] 3 SLR 784) and children or spouses (Public Prosecutor v Luan Yuanxin [2002] 1 SLR(R) 613). The Prosecution cites an Australian criminal state court author......
  • Public Prosecutor v Wang Wenfeng
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 7 February 2014 large. I myself have stated this in a Magistrate’s Appeal: see Balbir Singh s/o Amar Singh v Public Prosecutor and another appeal [2010] 3 SLR 784. But the expression “public transport worker” covers a wide range of people. This ranges from PTWs who operate transportation involving many ......
  • Public Prosecutor v Shahul Hamid s/o Ahamed
    • Singapore
    • District Court (Singapore)
    • 24 September 2014
    ...Taniguchi Mitsuru v PP (MA 300 of 2009)(heard together with the case against Balbir Singh s/o Amar Singh in MA 293 of 2009) reported in [2010] 3 SLR 784 and PP v AOB [2010] SGHC 376. His Counsel further orally submitted that he believed that the victim had engineered the confrontation. The ......
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1 books & journal articles
  • CORPORAL PUNISHMENT OF CHILDREN BY PARENTS Is It Discipline or Violence and Abuse?
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal Nbr. 2018, December 2018
    • 1 December 2018
    ...Code (Cap 68, 2012 Rev Ed). 109 See, eg, Teo Geok Fong v Lim Eng Hock[1996] 2 SLR(R) 957, Balbir Singh s/o Amar Singh v Public Prosecutor[2010] 3 SLR 784 and Lim Hean Nerng v Lim Ee Choo[1998] 2 SLR(R) 320. The defence of consent in the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) will not apply since......

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