Lee Swee Fang v Public Prosecutor

CourtMagistrates' Court (Singapore)
JudgeEric Tin Keng Seng
Judgment Date23 July 2002
Neutral Citation[2002] SGMC 13
Citation[2002] SGMC 13
Publication Date19 September 2003

Judgment:

GROUNDS OF DECISION

After an eight-day trial, I found Lee Swee Fang ("Lee") guilty and convicted her of the following charges:

a. Re-amended first charge (PS1470/2001) marked P1B

… you, on or about the 15th day of February, 2001, at about 2.45 pm, at Impac Personnel Services, #01-26, Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre, Singapore, did use criminal force on one Siti Asrowiyah, to wit, by pulling her hair and pulling her, and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 352 of the Penal Code, Chapter 224.

b. Re-amended second charge (PS1471/2001) marked P2B

… you, from late December 2000 to early February 2001, at No 15 Hume Ave #03-06 Hume Park I, Singapore did voluntarily cause hurt to one Siti Asrowiyah, a domestic maid employed by you to work in your household, to wit, by slapping and fisting her head with your bare hands, and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 323 read with Section 73 of the Penal Code, Chapter 224.

2 I sentenced her to a total of twelve weeks imprisonment. She has since appealed against conviction and sentence.

Undisputed Facts

3 Siti Asrowiyah ("Siti") was a 21 year old female from Indonesia. She had up to Secondary 3 education in Indonesia. Prior to working in Singapore, she worked in Malaysia as a domestic maid for about 27 months. She arrived in Singapore around October 2000 to work as a domestic maid. Her Singapore agency was Impac Personnel Services, located at #01-26, Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre. Adam Ong Kian Wah ("Adam") was the maid agent who dealt with her. Siti first worked for a family in Namly Gardens. A month later, some time in November 2000, Siti was transferred to Lee who became her second employer. Lee is married to Song Meng Liang ("Song"), a pastor at the Church of Singapore (Bukit Timah) and they have two children. At the time of the trial, Lee was an insurance advisor, part-time distributor of health products, and associate real estate agent. At the material time, she resided with her family at No 15 Hume Ave #03-06 Hume Park I. Siti was the fourth domestic maid Lee procured from Impac Personnel Services.

Prosecution’s Case

4 The prosecution called a total of five witnesses, namely Adam, Siti, a medical doctor, the investigating officer, and a 999 message operator.

Evidence of Adam Ong Kian Wah (PW1)

5 Adam was a consultant of the maid agency Impac Personnel Services. He testified that Lee had a 24-month replacement guarantee contract with the agency since February 2000 under which the agency would provide her a continuous supply of maids. Siti was the fourth replacement maid under this contract. Siti started working for Lee around November 2000. For the duration of Siti’s employment with Lee, Adam received two calls from Siti. In her first call in December 2000, Siti told Adam that her employer was very harsh with her. Her employer often screamed at her, scolded her, made notes or written instructions, and sometimes punished her by making her wash car in the middle of the night. Adam told Siti to try to bear with her employer and just do her work properly. Siti then said she would try her best. Siti did not complain of any physical assault in her first call.

6 In her second call in January 2001, Siti informed Adam that her employer still treated her harshly and started to beat her. Her employer liked to beat her on her head. Siti said she was beaten many times and these occurred in the evenings when her employer returned from work. After each time she was beaten on her head, Siti would get headache. Siti described to Adam the beatings would take the form of slapping or knocking her head. Siti said she was beaten because her employer told her she was forgetful and could not follow instructions. Adam then told Siti to perform better and if her employer beat her again, she should go to the police or the Indonesian embassy.

7 Approximately one or two weeks after Siti’s second call, on 14 February 2001, between 11 am to 12 noon, Adam saw Siti outside his office. She looked like she did not sleep the night before, a bit scared, tired and sad. Siti asked Adam to help her. She said she ran away from her employer’s house the night before. She said her employer had beaten her the day before by slapping and knocking her head and she could not take it any more. She also asked him to help her get a new employer and not send her back to her employer’s house. Although Adam suggested that Siti make a police report, she declined as she did not want to blow the matter up. She was willing to forgive her employer if the latter consent to transfer her to another employer. Adam then asked Siti to note down on a piece of paper about what happened to her at her employer’s house.

8 The next morning, on 15 February 2001, Adam brought Siti to his office. He telephoned Lee and asked her to bring Siti’s belongings, clothings, passport and work permit. He also requested Lee to give her consent to transfer Siti to another employer failing which he would have to bring Siti to lodge a police report. Lee was unhappy. She wanted Siti back. When Adam said Siti did not wish to return with her, Lee allegedly told Adam she would come and forcibly take her.

9 On the same day, Lee arrived alone at Adam’s office between 2 pm to 3 pm. She asked Adam in a loud agitated tone where her maid was. Adam intuitively pointed to the cubicle behind his desk where Siti was alone. Lee quickly rushed past him and tried to open the plastic foldable door to the cubicle. Adam heard a loud "bang". He saw Lee rushed into the cubicle and started struggling with Siti by pulling, tugging and pushing. Adam also heard Lee making a lot of noises, telling Siti she must return with her to continue her employment. Siti refused. Adam then saw Lee’s right hand pulling Siti’s hair (Adam observed her hair was thick and up to her neck) and her left hand pulling Siti’s T-shirt around left shoulder region. Adam recalled Siti resisted but could not remember if Siti used her hands to resist. Adam cautioned Lee, saying that if she continued to pull Siti forcefully, he would call the police. Lee continued to try to get Siti out of the cubicle. Siti was screaming.

10 Adam then went to his desk and called the police. Lee continued to struggle with Siti, trying to force Siti out of the cubicle. Adam heard Lee said something loud to Siti but as he was on the line with the police, he could not hear too clearly the contents of what she said. Adam recalled telling the police on 999 call that a lady employer was at his office trying to force a maid to return with her, and that when the maid refused, the employer beat her up. He asked for police assistance. But Adam cannot recall the exact words he used in the call. The first information report Adam made on 15 February 2001 at 1449 hours (2.49 pm) was tendered in evidence (marked D1) which read,

THE EMPLOYER WANTS TO PULL HER MAID TO SOMEWHERE AND THE MAID HAS INFORMED THAT HER EMPLOYER HAS ABUSED HER. I NEED ASSISTANCE.

11 When Lee realised that Adam had called the police, she came out of the cubicle and allegedly said she would report him to the Ministry of Manpower. Adam asked her to go ahead and complain, and advised her to wait for the police. Lee did not wait but stormed off. When the police arrived, Adam explained what had happened. The police also interviewed Siti. Adam was then told to bring Siti to Ang Mo Kio Police Station.

12 Adam also testified that in September 2001, two weeks before the case was originally scheduled for trial in Court 35, Lee’s husband Song Meng Liang ("Song") visited Impac Personnel Services. That was the first time Adam saw Song. According to Adam, Song allegedly told him to try to help his wife and "be lenient". Adam did not quite understand what he meant and told Song he had to tell the truth in court. Song then left. When this case was later scheduled for trial in Court 40, prior to the commencement of the trial, Song again went to Adam’s office and asked Adam to be lenient with his wife. Song allegedly told Adam that Lee had been a very good mother and wife, but because of the demise of a child, she became "stressful" and through no fault of hers she took it out on the maid. Song again asked Adam to be lenient. Adam replied that he could not do anything as he was not the court. Adam confirmed that he bore no grudge against Lee.

Evidence of Dr Tang Teck Nguong (PW2)

13 Dr Tang Teck Nguong confirmed that on 16 February 2001, at about 4.10 pm, Siti was brought to him at Changi General Hospital. Dr Tang examined her and put up a report dated 23 February 2001 (marked P3). He found that she had slight tenderness over the right occipital region (which is the back of one’s head). He found it difficult to determine if the tenderness was long standing or recent. P3 stated that:

Ms Siti Asrowiyah was seen by myself in the Accident & Emergency Department at Changi General Hospital on 16 February 2001. She claimed that she was abused by her employer. According to her, her employer pulled her hair in the afternoon the day before her presentation to the A & E Department. She was dragged along for a short distance in that manner. She also claimed that she was slapped over the back of her head everyday for a certain period of time There was no other history of injury or body pain reported.

On examination, her vitals were stable. She was alert and conscious. There was no obvious injury noted. However, she was slightly tender over the right occipital region. There was no sign of superficial injury or scalp haematoma. There was no other body or bony tenderness or injury detected.

She was subsequently discharged with oral analgesia.

14 Dr Tang said he observed Siti to be alert and conscious and not in distress. He found her to be of small built but did not take her weight and height. Siti did not look unwell to him, nor did she complain of any stress. Based on the medical...

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