Date01 December 2009
AuthorCHUA Hui Han, Eunice LLB (Hons) (National University of Singapore); Justices’ Law Clerk, Supreme Court of Singapore.
Published date01 December 2009
Citation(2009) 21 SAcLJ 363

Tan Chor Jin v PP [2008] 4 SLR 306

The Court of Appeal in Tan Chor Jin v PP recently took the opportunity to clarify the criminal law in relation to the defences of intoxication and the right of private defence. The case also discussed the nature of the constitutional right to counsel, in particular whether and how it could come to an end. The treatment of this area was particularly thorough, with the Court of Appeal reviewing case law from a number of foreign jurisdictions before coming to its conclusion. This case note seeks to highlight the developments in the law brought about by Tan Chor Jin v PP and to comment on their significance.

I. Factual summary

1 Tan Chor Jin, nicknamed the “one eyed dragon”, was a former head of the secret society Ang Soon Tong. He and the deceased (“Lim”), were involved in illegal betting activities and Tan alleged that Lim owed him some RM500,000. According to Tan, Lim not only refused to pay but told Tan that he would ask someone to “settle with him”. Tan regarded this as a threat and purchased a Beretta handgun purportedly for self-defence.

2 On 15 February 2006, Tan was drinking with his friends late at night and was driven by one of them to Lim’s home. Tan claimed he wanted to persuade Lim to resolve their differences. Lim refused to see Tan. Tan returned again later that morning armed with a knife and the Beretta. He also had a bag with him which he used to contain valuables ransacked from the flat. Tan tied up Lim, his wife, daughter and maid, and confined them in separate rooms. He later confronted Lim, alone, in

the study room. Six shots were fired before Tan left the flat, warning Lim’s wife not to call the police as he made his getaway.

3 Tan would later argue that he had wanted to have “talks” with Lim, but Lim attacked him with a chair and Tan, in his panic and in self-defence, misfired the first shot before his mind went blank. Tan chose to appear in person during the trial after discharging his counsel before the Preliminary Inquiry and refusing representation by assigned counsel. In addition, despite confirming at numerous occasions throughout the High Court trial that he did not wish to have legal representation, just prior to closing submissions, he asked the trial judge “If I say I need a lawyer how?”

4 The trial judge rejected Tan’s defences of intoxication, accident and the right of private defence and found Tan guilty of using an arm with the intent of causing physical injury under s 4(1) read with s 4(2) of the Arms Offences Act.1 He sentenced Tan to death.

5 On appeal, counsel for Tan further raised a number of procedural issues, including that Tan had been deprived of his constitutional right to counsel. The appeal was dismissed. This case note will focus on three areas which the Court of Appeal paid particular attention to, namely, the defences of intoxication and the right of private defence, as well as the right to counsel.

II. Intoxication

6 The Court of Appeal set out the relevant statutory provisions in ss 85 and 86 of the Penal Code,2 the comparable common law position in England as set out in Director of Public Prosecutions v Beard,3 and the Indian counterpart of ss 85 and 86 in the Indian Penal Code 1860 (Act 65 of 1860).4 The court rightly observed that the English and Indian positions were materially different from the provisions in the Singapore Penal Code and focused their analysis on the Penal Code provisions.5 It proceeded to address the relationship between the three provisions under the Penal Code under which a defence of intoxication could be invoked. These are: (a) s 85(2)(a) — where a third party maliciously or negligently causes the accused to become so intoxicated that the accused did not know his act to be wrong or did not know what he was doing; (b) s 85(2)(b) — where the accused is so severely intoxicated as to be “insane” at the time of the alleged crime; and

(c) s 86(2) — where intoxication, however caused, prevents the accused from forming the requisite mens rea.6 The effect of the first and last provisions would be the acquittal of the accused, and as for the second, “section 84 of [the Penal Code] and sections 314 and 315 of the Criminal Procedure Code shall apply”.

7 Running through these three provisions, it becomes apparent that the defence of intoxication deals with a spectrum of wrongful behaviour and exonerates the commission of such behaviour to different degrees. Yet, it has frequently been argued7 or implied8 that “insane” under s 85(2)(b), the second of the provisions, is the same as “unsoundness of mind” described in s 84, which provides a complete defence to any offence. It is submitted that Tan Chor Jin v PP9 (“Tan Chor Jin”) correctly made clear that the courts will regard the two concepts as different not only because: (a) the causes of these respective conditions are different — the former being severe alcohol or druginduced intoxication and the latter an abnormality of the mind;10 and (b) the former may be transient or temporal whereas the latter is a permanent condition,11 but because it preferred to “afford statutory defences greater interpretative latitude provided the interpretation adopted dovetail[ed] … with both the letter and the intent of the provisions concerned”.12

8 At this juncture it is noted, however, that although the two concepts of “insanity” and “unsoundness of mind” may be different in the senses described by the Court of Appeal, there is little practical difference between them and criminal practitioners should probably not be too troubled with the way the two concepts have been distinguished. The evidence required to prove insanity and unsoundness of mind will inevitably be medical evidence or evidence of the surrounding acts or behaviour of the accused to show that at the time of the alleged offence, the accused’s state of mind was such that he did not know that what he was doing was wrong or he did not know what he was doing. The touchstone — of being in a state of mind such that one did not know what one was doing was wrong or did not know what one was doing — is the same. The similarity between the two concepts is further confirmed

by s 86(1) of the Penal Code. Section 86(1) equates s 85(2)(b) with s 84, and makes the penal consequences flowing from a finding of either unsoundness of mind or insanity the same. These consequences are described in s 315 of the Criminal Procedure Code.13

9 Despite its thoroughness, one point the Court of Appeal did not address in Tan Chor Jin was the meaning of “insane”— was this the same as “insanity” in M’Naghten’sCase,14 where the House of Lords held that “to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong”? Or was “insane” to be regarded as a type of unsoundness of mind which was caused by intoxication and could be transient? It is submitted that what the Court of Appeal meant in Tan Chor Jin was the latter for a number of reasons.

10 First, the court had earlier made clear that the Singapore Penal Code was unique and comparison with the English position may not be useful. This was an instance where the English definition of “insanity” would not be useful and interpretation of “insane” in context of the Penal Code is preferable to importing foreign concepts of, for instance, a “disease of the mind”. Second, the court’s holding that...

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