Lim Kim Luan v Public Prosecutor

CourtDistrict Court (Singapore)
JudgeTey Tsun Hang
Judgment Date20 March 2002
Neutral Citation[2002] SGDC 49
Citation[2002] SGDC 49
Publication Date19 September 2003

Judgment

GROUNDS OF DECISION

The accused, Lim Kim Luan, 33 years of age, a mother of a 7-year-old child and a baby of several months, faced three charges of maid abuse. They were for voluntarily causing hurt to, using criminal force on, and voluntarily causing hurt by pouring hot water on a young Indonesian maid, Tri Handayani Wiryo Sukarto (PW 4) (‘Yani’), aged 18, in the early hours of 21 June 2001 at the accused’s apartment at Regentville Condominium, Hougang.

2 The medical report of Dr Tan Kok Yang of the Accident & Emergency Department, Changi General Hospital noted that Yani had suffered numerous injuries from her head to her feet. The most serious injury was the hot water scalding wound on her upper left arm over an extensive area measuring some 6 cm x 14 cm, as shown in photograph (P8). Dr Tan noted that it was of second-degree burn, and that Yani had to be referred to the specialist Burns Clinic at the Singapore General Hospital for further treatment (P20).

3 At the end of the trial, it is my finding of facts that Yani’s testimony was backed up by the medical report on her injuries. Yani’s testimony was also corroborated by the testimony of two police officers, disinterested witnesses. The accused made shifts and changes in her defence, and had proven to be unreliable. The behaviour of the accused and her husband, as observed by the two police officers was most revealing. I found the accused guilty and have convicted her on all the three charges. In line with the sentencing principles and guidelines that the Chief Justice has set down, I sentenced her to a total of 10 months’ imprisonment and a total fine of $500, in default, five days’ imprisonment.

4 Three more charges of maid abuse, DAC 35752 to 35754 of 2001 were stood down. They were for using a clock battery’s cover to scratch the maid on her left thigh, for using a plastic knife to cut her on her right arm, and lastly for pinching her hand, chest and breast, punching her abdominal area, slapping her on the face, grabbing her on the neck and stepping her on the feet. After the conviction and sentence, the prosecution have applied, and I have granted a bail bond of $5000 to be fixed for the remaining three charges. Pre-Trial Conference, scheduled for 1 April 2002, will likely fix trial dates for these three other charges.

5 Dissatisfied with both the conviction and sentence for the three charges, the accused filed a notice of appeal in Magistrate’s Appeal No 345/2001/01. The accused has paid the fine of $500. She is out on bail of $12,000.


The Charges

6 The three charges proceeded with at the start of the trial are as follows:

(DAC 35749/2001)
You… are charged that you, on the 21st day of June, 2001, at or about 1.00 a.m., at 8 Hougang Street 92, #13-02, Singapore, did voluntarily cause hurt to one, Tri Handayani Wiryo Sukarto, a domestic maid employed to work in your household, to wit, by kicking her 3 times on her back and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 323 read with section 73 of the Penal Code, Chapter 224;


(DAC 35750/2001)
You… are charged that you, on the 21st day of June, 2001, at or about 1.00 a.m., at 8 Hougang Street 92, #13-02, Singapore, did use criminal force on one Tri Handayani Wiryo Sukarto, to wit, by using warm water to pour on the back of the head, near the neck, of the said Tri Handayani Wiryo Sukarto, and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under section 352 of the Penal Code, Chapter 224; and


(DAC 35751/2001)
You… are charged that, you on the 21st day of June 2001, at or about 1.15 a.m., at 8 Hougang Street 92, #13-02 Singapore, being the employer of a domestic maid, one Tri Handayani Wiryo Sukarto, did voluntarily cause hurt to the said Tri Handayani Wiryo Sukarto by means of a heated substance, to wit, you poured hot water onto the said Tri Handayani Wiryo Sukarto and scalded her left upper arm and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under section 324 read with section 73 of the Penal Code, Cap.224.

7 In short, the three charges proceeded with are for alleged incidents which took place in a successive sequence, on 21 June 2001 at or about 1.00 a.m. at the accused’s apartment at Regentville Condominium, Hougang.


The Anonymous Telephone Call and the Immediate Police Action

8 The police received an anonymous telephone call from a male caller on 21 June 2001 at 10.36 p.m. The caller stated ‘Maid was abused’ and gave the home address of the accused (P21). The police immediately responded. Sgt Tan Chee Hiong (PW 2) (‘Sgt Tan’) and Sgt Neo Weiko (PW 3) (‘Sgt Neo’), both attached to the Ang Mo Kio Police Division, Hougang Police Centre, were dispatched to the accused’s home.

9 When Sgt Tan and Sgt Neo arrived, the accused’s husband (DW 3), Low Gim Huat (‘Mr Low’), 38 years of age, answered the door. Mr Low asked what the matter was. Sgt Tan informed him of a maid abuse complaint. Mr Low did not immediately allow Sgt Tan and Sgt Neo to go into his home. Instead, he told them to wait for a while before closing the door. Several minutes later, the accused opened the door to let Sgt Tan and Sgt Neo in.

10 This piece of evidence will be elaborated further on, to show that Mr Low was not in charge of the arrangements for Yani. In short, he was not in the know at that point in time, how a maid abuse complaint came to be made to the police, and why two police officers were at the doorstep of his home. It explained his initial response to close the door, and the accused taking over to let Sgt Tan and Sgt Neo into the apartment.

11 The police officers asked Yani what had happened. Before she could answer, the accused interrupted. The accused told the police officers that Yani had an injury on her upper left arm. Both Sgt Tan and Sgt Neo told the court that the accused kept interrupting during their questioning of Yani. The accused appeared scared and nervous. Sgt Tan also told the court that Yani was reluctant to speak up. Yani too, looked frightened.

12 This piece of evidence is important. It will be elaborated further on, to show that Yani did not expect the arrival of the police officers. Neither did the accused and Mr Low.


The Medical Report & the Numerous Injuries on Yani

13 Yani was registered on 22 June 2001 at 4.00 a.m. at the Changi General Hospital. Dr Tan gave a written report and recorded the numerous injuries found on her, from her head to her feet, as follows:

i) 2 cm scalp haematoma at right parietal region;

ii) 0.5 cm scratch on right ear lobe;

iii) 3 cm x 1 cm bruise on the left neck;

iv) bruise corresponding to finger marks on right arm;

v) 1 cm bruise on the right forearm;

vi) 6 cm x 14 cm secondary degree (sic) burn and blistering on the left arm; and

vii) bruises on the dorsum of both feet.

14 In the medical report, Dr Tan also confirmed that the bruises were likely to have been caused by blunt trauma. The timing of the injuries and the temperature of the scalding water cannot be accurately ascertained. Yani was referred to the specialist Burns Clinic at the Singapore General Hospital for further treatment of the wound on her upper left arm, a second-degree burn. In his testimony in court, Dr Tan also confirmed that the blistering region on her arm was consistent with a burn wound. It was consistent with injury due to contact with a hot substance or object (Notes of Evidence ‘NE’ 3E).

15 As to the tenderness in her mid-thoracic region, Dr Tan informed the court that it was possible to have been caused by a blunt object or a kick in the back.

16. In short, there was medical evidence of injuries for the first and the third charges. The issue was, as usual in maid abuse cases, whether the injuries were self-inflicted, or caused accidentally.


The Background of Yani and her Duties at the Accused’s Household

17 Yani was a replacement maid for the accused. For Yani, however, the accused was her first employer in Singapore. She started work at the accused’s household on 1 March 2001. Her duties were to take care of the baby and to clean the house. She did not need to cook for the family. Yani testified that she had to work very long hours and had insufficient sleep. However, she did not complain as she was afraid of the accused. She told the court of frequent hitting by the accused.

18 No questions were put to Yani by the learned defence counsel, Mr Choo Si Sen (‘Mr Choo’) that Yani had injuries, as detailed by Dr Tan on 22 June 2001, prior to 1 March 2001. Neither did the accused claim so in her testimony. In the circumstances, the conclusion would be that Yani suffered her injuries whilst working in the accused’s apartment, as she was not entitled to any day off under her contract, being an Indonesian maid. The trial proceeded on that basis. The issue was whether the injuries were self-inflicted, or caused accidentally.


Trial for More Than One Offence

19 I allowed a trial for the three charges. As provided for under Section 170 of the Criminal Procedure Code:

170. Trial for more than one offence
(1) If in one series of acts so connected together as to form the same transaction more offences than one are committed by the same person, he may be charged with and tried at one trial for every such offence.

a trial for all the three charges is appropriate in the circumstances: Chin Choy v PP [1955] MLJ 236, Tan Teik Leong v R [1956] MLJ 14, PP v Ridzuan Kok bin Abdullah [1995] 2 MLJ 745. The offences were alleged to have taken place in a successive series, and at around the same time, at 1.00 a.m., on the same day, 21 June 2001, at the same location, the accused’s home, and by the accused. In the circumstances, Mr Choo quite rightly did not see it appropriate to challenge the trial for more than one offence.


The Prosecution’s Case

20 The Prosecution’s case was clear. On 21 June 2001 at or around 1 a.m. when Yani was washing clothes, the incidents as stated in the three charges took place at the kitchen bathroom of the...

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