Chua Siew Peng v Public Prosecutor and another appeal

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeChan Seng Onn J
Judgment Date26 May 2017
Neutral Citation[2017] SGHC 128
Date26 May 2017
Docket NumberMagistrate’s Appeal No. 9091 of 2016/01-02
Published date14 October 2017
Plaintiff CounselQuek Mong Hua and Jonathan Cho (Lee & Lee)
Defendant CounselZhuo Wenzhao and Siti Adrianni Marhain (Attorney-General's Chambers)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Hearing Date13 April 2017,24 February 2017
Subject MatterSentencing,Adducing fresh evidence,Sentencing guidelines and aggravating factors,Relevance of uncharged offences,Aggravating factors,Offence of Wrongful confinement under s 342 Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed),Criminal Procedure and Sentencing,Appeal
Chan Seng Onn J: Introduction

Muegue Jonna Memje is a Filipino national who came to Singapore in December 2011 to work as a domestic helper (“the Victim”). This case concerns the serious abuse she endured at the hands of her employers. The abuse was so intolerable that she eventually decided to escape her employers’ residence by jumping out of a window from the sixth floor to the rooftop of an adjacent building.

The three members of the household are Chua Siew Peng (“Chua”), her elderly mother, Lum Wai Lui (“Popo”, meaning grandmother in Chinese) and her elder sister, Kathleen Chua Siew Wei (“Kathleen”). They have been separately tried for abusing the Victim at their residence in Maplewoods Condominium (“the residence”). The appeals before me concern only the convictions and sentences in respect of Chua’s prosecution.

Chua was convicted in the State Courts on one charge for voluntarily causing hurt under s 323 of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) (“the Penal Code”) (“the VCH Charge”), and one charge for wrongful confinement under s 342 of the Penal Code (“the Wrongful Confinement Charge”). Both charges are read with s 73(2) of the Penal Code and provide as follows:

VCH Charge

are charged that you on the 29th day of October 2012, between 9.00pm and midnight, at [xxx] Maplewoods Condominium, Singapore, as an employer of a foreign domestic maid, one Muegue Jonna Memeje (FIN No: [xxx]), did voluntarily caused [sic] hurt to her, to wit, by slapping the face of the said Muegue Jonna Memeje, and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 323 read with Section 73(2) of the Penal Code, Chapter 224.

Wrongful Confinement Charge

are charged that you on the 30th day of October 2012, sometime in the morning before 11.00am, at [xxx] Maplewoods Condominium, Singapore, as an employer of a foreign domestic maid, one Muegue Jonna Memeje (FIN No: [xxx]), did wrongfully confine one Muegue Jonna Memeje, in a condominium unit, and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 342 read with Section 73(2) of the Penal Code, Chapter 224.

Chua was sentenced to three weeks’ imprisonment on the VCH Charge and two months’ imprisonment on the Wrongful Confinement Charge. Both sentences were ordered to run concurrently such that the aggregate term of imprisonment was two months’ imprisonment. The grounds of decision of the District Judge (“District Judge”) is reported at Public Prosecutor v Chua Siew Peng [2016] SGMC 44 (“the GD”). Chua now appeals against her conviction and sentence under both these charges (“Chua’s appeals”). The Prosecution cross-appeals against the global sentence imposed on Chua (“the Prosecution’s appeal”).

Having considered the GD, the parties’ submissions, and the evidence, I dismiss Chua’s appeals and allow the Prosecution’s appeal against sentence. I order the sentence in respect of the Wrongful Confinement Charge to be increased from two months’ imprisonment to 21 weeks’ imprisonment. I also order this sentence to run consecutively with the imprisonment term of the VCH Charge, rendering an aggregate imprisonment term of 24 weeks.

Background facts and evidence

I begin with a summary of the facts which are material to these appeals. A more detailed account of them can be found in the GD.

Undisputed facts

The Victim was 24-years-old at the time of Chua’s offences. During the period of her employment as a domestic helper from 20 December 2011 to 30 October 2012, she lived with Chua, Popo, Kathleen, Kathleen’s husband and Kathleen’s daughter at the residence.

The charges which Chua faces in the present case arise from the events taking place on 29 and 30 October 2012. In relation to the VCH Charge, only Chua, Popo and the Victim were at the residence on 29 October 2012 as Kathleen’s immediate family were on holiday overseas.1

In relation to the Wrongful Confinement Charge, after Chua and Popo left the residence in the morning of 30 October 2012, the Victim packed her bags and climbed out of a bedroom window onto a narrow ledge and then jumped onto the rooftop of an adjacent building. Shortly after the Victim exited the residence in this manner, she was spotted by two domestic helpers, who came to her aid. One of them telephoned for help from Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (“HOME”), an independent charity organisation which looks after the welfare of migrant workers in Singapore. Volunteers from HOME arrived and brought the Victim back to their offices, where they called the ambulance and police.

The Victim suffered multiple fractures in her feet and ankles when she landed on the rooftop and was rendered wheelchair-bound for four to six weeks. The doctor who examined the Victim also noted injuries to her face, left eye, hands, and forearms. In particular, the doctor noted that her left eye was swollen and bruised.2

Chua was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2008.3 However, Chua does not dispute that at the time of the alleged offences, and the period prior thereto, she was not in any major relapse.4

Victim’s evidence

At the trial below, the Victim testified to the following: From March or April 2012 to October 2012 when the Victim ran away, she was physically abused by Chua, Popo and Kathleen, who would punch, slap and kick her, and also hit her head against the wall.5 On 29 October 2012, the Victim mistakenly ate some fish for lunch which was not meant for her. Popo learnt of this in the evening and told her to go to the toilet. There, Popo poured bleach on her body. Popo also punched and slapped her, and slammed her head against the wall.6 A few minutes later, Chua entered the toilet and slapped the Victim’s face repeatedly. Chua also pulled her hair.7 The Victim estimated that this assault by Popo and Chua lasted an hour, between 9.00pm to 10.00pm. After that, Chua instructed her to stand in the toilet until about 12.00 midnight when she was told by Chua to take a shower.8 The next morning on 30 October 2012, Popo left the residence first and then Chua left the residence at about 10.00am. Chua locked both the door and the gate of the residence when leaving.9 At around 11.00am, the Victim decided that she could no longer tolerate the abuse and hence decided to run away. She went to Kathleen’s room and climbed out of the window onto a narrow ledge on the sixth floor. She then walked along the ledge and jumped onto the rooftop of an adjacent building, which was on the fifth floor of that building.10 The Victim decided to climb out of the window as she had no other way out of the residence. Both the door and gate to the residence were locked and she had never been given access to any keys to the residence (“the keys”) from the time she started working for Chua’s family.11 While the Victim had a mobile phone, she did not have a SIM card.12 She also did not have any off days, was not allowed to keep a diary, and did not know anyone other than Chua’s family members in Singapore as she was prohibited from speaking to outsiders.13 Before the Victim left the residence, she wrote on two yellow Post-It sticky note papers, inserted them in a small notebook, and placed the notebook near the telephone in the living room.14 In the first note, the Victim wrote: “Thank you for all the kindness. Sorry Madam Kat, Sorry Madam Carrie, Sorry Sir, Sorry Lydia.” (“the first farewell note”). The Victim explained that she was thanking Chua and her family members (except Popo) for the kindness that they had shown to her in the first three months of her employment before the abuse started.15 In the second note (which was never recovered), the Victim recalled that she wrote: “I am leaving. I am going to a place where no one can hurt me, where there is no bleach.”16

Chua’s evidence

Chua’s case at the trial below was one of bare denial to both the VCH and the Wrongful Confinement Charges. In particular, Chua testified as follows: She was seldom home and had little or no opportunity to assault the Victim. She denied slapping the Victim on her face or pulling her hair on 29 October 2012.17 The keys to both the door and the gate of the residence were on a key ring, which was placed either on top of the intercom device in the living room or hung from a nail on the wall by the main door. The keys were always there at either of these two places for common use and the Victim was aware of this. The Victim thus had the right to leave the residence anytime she wanted and in fact did so on several occasions to fetch groceries and wash the family’s car.18 On 30 October 2012, Chua left the residence at about 11.00am and had locked the door and the gate to the residence.19 She was unsure whether she was the last to leave as she did not see Popo that morning.20

Apart from a suggestion that the Victim had been paid or threatened to lie in court,21 the Victim’s testimony was unchallenged during cross examination by Chua (who was unrepresented at the trial below). Neither did Chua allege any internal or external inconsistencies in the Victim’s evidence. All Chua did was to assert that the Victim was fabricating allegations of abuse as a ploy to break her bond without incurring the facilitation fee (comprising flight costs and agent fees) and to get monetary compensation from her family.22 She also made unsubstantiated allegations that the Victim had “exhibited strange behaviour” for about two to three weeks before the incident and thus might not have been in the right frame of mind before jumping out of the window.23

District Judge’s determination

The District Judge had to decide two main factual questions (GD at [29]): on the VCH Charge, whether Chua slapped the Victim’s face on the night of 29 October 2012; and on the Wrongful Confinement Charge, whether Chua wrongfully confined the Victim in the residence on the morning of 30 October 2012 by locking the Victim in the residence before she left.

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