Chng Wei Meng v Public Prosecutor

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeYong Pung How CJ
Judgment Date22 July 2002
Neutral Citation[2002] SGHC 157
Date22 July 2002
Subject MatterWritten warning pursuant to s 42A Road Traffic Act (Cap 276, 1997 Ed) given to appellant,Offences,s 42A Road Traffic Act (Cap 276, 1997 Ed),Imprisonment instead of fine,Notice of disqualification,Whether strict liability offence,Written warning not in compliance with requirements in s 42A,Driving while under disqualification,s 43(4) Road Traffic Act (Cap 276, 1997 Ed),Defence of reasonable care,Whether breach of rules of natural justice,Road Traffic,Whether defence made out,Whether having legal right to such notice,Sentencing,Notice of disqualification order not given to appellant,Whether sentence manifestly excessive
Docket NumberMagistrate's Appeal No 6 of 2002
Published date19 September 2003
Defendant CounselLee Lit Cheng (Deputy Public Prosecutor)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Plaintiff CounselParambir Singh Sekhon (Jacob Mansur & Pillai)

JUDGMENT GROUNDS OF DECISION

Introduction

The appellant, Chng Wei Meng was convicted before the district court on a charge of driving a motor car with registration number SBV 351Y on 30 December 2000 while disqualified, an offence under s 43(4) of the Road Traffic Act (Cap 276) (‘the Act’). For this charge, he was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment and 18 months’ disqualification for all classes with effect from his release. At the same hearing, Chng was concurrently convicted of the consequential offence of using the same motor car whilst there was not in force in relation to the user of the vehicle a valid insurance policy in respect of third party risks under s 3(1) of the Motor Vehicles (Third Party Risks and Compensation) Act (Cap 189) and punishable under s 3(2) of the Act. The sentence meted out for this charge was a fine of $500 in default five days’ imprisonment and 18 months’ disqualification for all classes with effect from conviction. There was a third charge of inconsiderate driving causing damage to public property under s 65 of the Road Traffic Act, which he pleaded guilty to and was fined $600. Chng claimed trial on the first two charges and, being dissatisfied with the whole of the decision of the district judge, has appealed to this court. I dismissed the appeal and now set out my reasons.

The facts

2 The facts were not largely in dispute. According to the statement of agreed facts, Chng was scheduled to attend Court 13N for mentions on 14 August 2000 in respect of a Housing Development Board (‘HDB’) parking summons (HDBCP: 078751/2000). A warrant of arrest was issued against him when he failed to attend court on the appointed day.

3 On 12 October 2000, Chng, accompanied by his bailor Shirley Wong, surrendered himself to the Warrant Enforcement Unit (‘WEU’). He was attended to by Sergeant Loh Lai Chiang who administered a written warning to Chng in pursuance of s 42A of the Road Traffic Act. Both Chng and Sergeant Loh signed the s 42A warning. As Sergeant Loh served an average of ten to twenty s 42A warnings each day, he was unable to recall how he had administered the warning to Chng. Nevertheless Sergeant Loh was adamant that he had followed the procedures of the WEU. The gist of the procedure entailed showing accused persons the s 42A warning, informing them to read it, reading and then explaining the warning to them before specifically cautioning them that their driving licences would be disqualified if they failed to attend court. Chng denied that the warning had been administered to him in the manner described above. According to Chng, he was simply told by Sergeant Loh to read the s 42A warning and then to sign it. No explanations were proffered and he was never specifically informed of the possibility that, if he failed to attend court for the second time, he would be disqualified and his licence suspended.

4 Shirley Wong testified that on 12 October 2000, a white piece of paper was given to Chng to read. She said that Sergeant Loh did not say anything, only motioning for Chng to read through the paper and to sign it. She did not know what this piece of paper was as she could not see or notice what Chng was signing. She admitted that she was disinterested in the proceedings, as she was then preoccupied with her own thoughts about work.

5 Chng was informed on 13 November 2000 at Court 13N that he had to attend court again on 11 December 2000. He failed to do so and the prosecution applied to the court for an order disqualifying him from driving, pursuant to s 42A of the Act. The application was granted and, consequently, Chng was disqualified from driving with effect from 11 December 2000 until such time as the case HDBCP 078751/2000 was resolved. A second warrant of arrest was also issued against him. Chng was not expressly notified by the WEU of the order of disqualification that was made against him.

6 On 12 December 2000 Chng submitted written representations to the Subordinate Courts citing work commitments for his failure to attend court on 11 December 2000. On 3 January 2001, the court rejected his representations and directed that the second warrant of arrest was to stand. On 30 December 2000 at about 1.15 a.m., Chng was involved in a traffic accident. The motor car which he was driving had veered out of control and mounted a curb before colliding into an electrical box and the sheltered walkway pillars on the pedestrian walkway.

The case for the defence

7 Although Chng admitted that he understood the s 42A warning to mean that his driving licence might be forfeited if he did not attend court, his defence was that he was never specifically informed that he had actually been disqualified. He did not receive a notice of disqualification, as it was not the practice of the WEU (confirmed by Sergeant Loh) to send out such notices. He also denied knowing where and when the order of disqualification would be made and he believed that he could drive until the court sent him a notice of disqualification as "everything in Singapore was in black and white". Consequently he did not recall that a s 42A warning was administered to him until he was stopped on 30 December 2000. It was also argued on his behalf that the requisite warning under s 42A of the Act was not given to him as it had not complied materially with s 42A(d) and this was, accordingly, fatal to a conviction.

The decision below

8 In his judgement, the district judge disagreed with the submission that the differences in the wording in the s 42A written warning administered to Chng and the requirements of s 42A was fatal to the possibility of a conviction. After all, Chng had conceded that the order of disqualification made on 11 December 2000, which was founded upon the s 42A warning, was validly made and in force on 30 December 2000. Furthermore, he was also of the opinion that the differences were immaterial and insignificant as no prejudice was caused to him. The district judge accepted Sergeant Loh’s evidence, in preference to that of Chng, whom he found not to be entirely truthful, that notwithstanding the written s 42A warning, he would warn each offender that their driving licence would be disqualified if he or she did not attend court. The district judge rejected any suggestions that the rules of natural justice had been breached as there was clear and undisputed evidence that Chng had been informed, despite of the unsatisfactory wordings of the s 42A warning, of the very possibility that a disqualification order would be ordered by the Court in the event that he failed to attend court on the date stated.

9 The district judge also concluded, after examining case authorities and the intention of the legislature as evidenced in the Parliamentary Debates, that s 43(4) of the Act (driving under disqualification) was a strict liability offence. He accepted that, following M V Balakrishnan v PP [1998] 1 CLAS News 357, the defence of reasonable care was available to a defendant who had been convicted of a strict liability offence. However, the district judge felt that the defence was clearly not made out on the facts. Even if Chng might not have been specifically aware that the court had disqualified him when he failed to attend court on the specified date, he nonetheless should have known that, as a consequence of the s 42A written warning, the court had disqualified him when he failed to attend court on the specified date, yet he made no inquiries at all and continued to drive.

10 With respect to the s 3(1) charge under the Motor Vehicles (Third Party Risks and Compensation) Act, the district judge observed that this was an offence that would stand or fall together with the offence of driving under disqualification. Since the offence under s 43(4) of the Act was made out, it followed that Chng must also be guilty of the s 3(1) charge.

The appeal

11 Several grounds of appeal were marshaled on behalf of the appellant. The arguments with respect to the appeal against conviction were:

1 the district judge erred in law and in fact in finding that the prosecution had proved its case beyond reasonable doubt

2 s 43(4) did not create a strict liability offence and even if s 43(4) did create a strict liability offence, Chng had made sufficient inquiries about his status to avail himself of the defence of reasonable care.

3 the material discrepancies between the written warning and the requirements of s 42A(d) of the Act coupled with a failure to serve a notice of disqualification on Chng constituted a breach of natural justice.

12 As for the appeal against sentence, the submission was that the sentence of one month’s imprisonment for the charge of driving under disqualification was manifestly excessive and, furthermore, the district judge had failed to adequately consider the mitigating circumstances raised in the appellant’s favour.

Did the judge err in law and in fact?

13 Much of the facts were derived from the statement of agreed facts. These were not in dispute.

14 The only relevant issue in contention was whether Sergeant Loh had administered the verbal warning in the manner testified. The District Judge held that he had. In the absence of any credible evidence to prove that the District Judge had erred in arriving at this finding of fact, I was of the opinion that Chng’s appeal on the basis that there had been an error in law and in fact must be dismissed.

Was s 43(4) a strict liability offence?

15 Section 43(4) Road Traffic Act (Cap 276) reads:

If any person who is disqualified as mentioned in subsection (3) drives on a road a motor vehicle or, if the disqualification is limited to the driving of a motor vehicle of a particular class or description, a motor vehicle of that class or description, he shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to...

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