Mah Kah Yew v Public Prosecutor

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeChua F A J
Judgment Date11 November 1970
Neutral Citation[1970] SGHC 19
Citation[1970] SGHC 19
Defendant CounselGS Hill, amicus curiae,Francis T Seow (Solicitor-General) and Tommy Neo (Deputy Public Prosecutor)
Plaintiff CounselLim Chor Pee and Syed Hassan Almenoar (Chor Pee & Hin Hiong)
Published date19 September 2003
Docket NumberMagistrate's Appeal No 51 of 1970
Date11 November 1970
Subject MatterCourts and Jurisdiction,Court judgments,Nature and degree of negligence required to support conviction,Culpable homicide,Section 304A Penal Code (Cap 119, 1955 Rev Ed),Section 13 Republic of Singapore Independence Act 1965 (No 9 of 1965),Causing death by negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide,Offences,Whether High Court in Singapore bound by decision of Court of Appeal of Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei or by decision of the Court of Appeal of the Federated Malay States,Stare decisis,Criminal Law,Section 88(3) Malaysia Act 1963,Binding force

The appellant appealed against his conviction by the Fifth Criminal District Judge on a charge of causing death by doing a negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide being an offence punishable under s 304A of the Penal Code and the appeal came up for hearing before the Chief Justice who reserved it for hearing before a court consisting of three judges pursuant to the provisions of s 295(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code which provides, inter alia, that on the order of a judge at any time before judgment an appeal may be reserved for hearing and be heard before a court consisting of three or more judges. This court is therefore the High Court and its powers, although it consists of three judges, are no greater and no less than the powers of a single judge when both are exercising the same appellate jurisdiction.

At the conclusion of the appeal the court allowed the appeal and quashed the conviction and sentence because the evidence of the only witness called by the prosecution to prove the negligent act alleged against the appellant, namely, his failure to stop the motor car he was driving at a road junction when the traffic lights controlling vehicular traffic at that junction were not in his favour, was so contradictory and unsatisfactory as to make it wholly unsafe for it to be relied upon.

During the hearing an important question of law was raised by the appellant and on this aspect of the appeal Mr Graham Hill appeared to assist the court as amicus curiae.
The question of law is contained in the ground of appeal that `the district judge erred in law as to the standard and/or the quantum of proof required under s 304A of the Penal Code which reads as follows:

Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

The district judge followed the decision of the full bench of the High Court in Woo Sing v R [1954] MLJ 200 which held that the English law of manslaughter has no relevance in the interpretation of s 304A which involves offences of much less gravity than such as would come within the scope of manslaughter in England.
The full court also held that it was not necessary to lay down a different standard of negligence in civil and criminal cases. The appellant contended that the same high degree of negligence must be proved before a person could properly be convicted of an offence under s 304A as would be required to be proved to sustain a conviction for manslaughter by negligence in England and that the English authorities should be followed. He relied on the decision of the Federated Malay States Court of Appeal in Cheow Keok v PP [1940] MLJ 103 .

The question of law raised by this ground of appeal is of importance because there are conflicting decisions of the courts of Singapore, of what is now Malaysia, and of the then Borneo territories of Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei on the point so that it is necessary to consider the doctrine of stare decisisand its application in Singapore having regard to the constitutional changes relating to Malaya, Singapore and the said Borneo territories in 1963 and in 1965.

The doctrine of stare decisis is a necessary and well established doctrine in our system of jurisprudence and of our judicial system which we have inherited from England and a general statement of the doctrine can be found in the judgment of Cozens-Hardy MR in Velasquez Ltd v Inland Revenue Commissioner [1914] 3 KB 458 at p 461:

But there is one rule by which, of course, we are to abide - that when there has been a decision of this court upon a question of principle, it is not right for this court, whatever its own views may be, to depart from that decision. There would otherwise be no finality in the law.

In England before 1966 the law was that a decision of the House of Lords on a question of law was conclusive and bound the House in a subsequent case.
The law as so stated by the House of Lords could be changed only by an Act of Parliament. However since July 1966, Lord Gardiner, the then Lord Chancellor, announced a departure from this rule ( [1966] 2 MLJ xi) in a statement which we think it is useful to reproduce here as it contains a general statement of the doctrine of stare decisis. The statement reads as follows:

Their Lordships regard the use of precedent as an indispensable foundation upon which to decide what is the law and its application to individual cases. It provides at least some degree of certainty upon which individuals can rely in the conduct of their affairs, as well as a basis for orderly development of legal rules. Their

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14 cases
  • Wong Hong Toy and Another v Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • Court of Appeal (Singapore)
    • 28 Abril 1987
    ...46; (1979) 69 Cr App Rep 148; [1978] 3 All ER 961 (refd) Lawrence v R [1933] AC 699; [1933] All ER Rep 196 (distd) Mah Kah Yew v PP [1968-1970] SLR (R) 851; [1969-1971] SLR 441 (folld) PP v Wong Hong Toy [1985-1986] SLR (R) 126; [1984-1985] SLR 618 (refd) R v Cain [1985] AC 46; [1984] 2 All......
  • MV Balakrishnan v Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 8 Julio 1998
    ...1 SLR 179 (folld) Kanapathipillai, Re [1960] MLJ 243 (folld) King (Magill), The v Crossan [1939] NI 106 (folld) Mah Kah Yew v PP [1968-1970] SLR (R) 851; [1969-1971] SLR 441 (folld) PP v Akhtar Hussain Mann [1991] 1 SLR (R) 872; [1992] 1 SLR 266 (refd) PP v Balasubramaniam [1992] 1 SLR (R) ......
  • Ramalingam Ravinthran v AG
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 31 Mayo 2011
    ...2 SLR 830 (refd) Law Society of Singapore v Tan Guat Neo Phyllis [2008] 2 SLR (R) 239; [2008] 2 SLR 239 (folld) Mah Kah Yew v PP [1968-1970] SLR (R) 851; [1969-1971] SLR 441 (folld) Public Service Commission v Lai Swee Lin Linda [2001] 1 SLR (R) 133; [2001] 1 SLR 644 (folld) Racal Communica......
  • Attorney-General v Shadrake Alan
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 3 Noviembre 2010
    ...tendency” test has been affirmed and settled by these decisions, which I should follow. In this regard she cited Mah Kah Yew v PP [1968-1970] SLR(R) 851 and Young v Bristol Aeroplane [1944] 1 KB 718. I do not think that either Mah Kah Yew or Young v Bristol Aeroplane assists the Attorney-Ge......
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1 books & journal articles
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2007, December 2007
    • 1 Diciembre 2007 the intermediate standard of negligence. 12 See Ng Keng Yong v PP[2004] 4 SLR 89; Lim Poh Eng v PP[1999] 2 SLR 16; Mah Kah Yew v PP[1969-1971] SLR 441. 13 It may be of interest to note that a 2006 amendment to the English Road Traffic Act 1988 offence provides (under s 3AZ(2)) that “[a] ......

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