Public Prosecutor v BDB

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeSundaresh Menon CJ
Judgment Date29 November 2017
Neutral Citation[2017] SGCA 69
Date29 November 2017
Docket NumberCriminal Appeal No 26 of 2016
Published date02 December 2017
Plaintiff CounselKow Keng Siong, Tan Zhongshan, Quek Jing Feng and Soh Weiqi (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Defendant CounselSunil Sudheesan, Diana Ngiam and Joel Ng (Quahe Woo & Palmer LLC)
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Hearing Date06 July 2017
Subject MatterGrievous Hurt,Ill-treatment of child or young person,Children and Young Persons Act,Criminal Procedure and Sentencing,Sentencing,Criminal Law,Offences,Statutory offences,Principles
Sundaresh Menon CJ (delivering the grounds of decision of the court): Introduction

This appeal stemmed from a tragic case. Over a period of more than two years, the respondent, BDB (“the Respondent”), repeatedly abused her own child. On the last of these occasions, the child was abused to such an extent that he died. This tragedy was exacerbated by the fact that the abuse continued even after the involvement of the Child Protective Service (“the CPS”) of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (“the MSF”) when the matter was first brought to the attention of the authorities. The Respondent was separated from the child for a time thereafter, but she later regained custody of the child and then continued to ill-treat him and engage in a pattern of conduct that can only be described as cruel.

Following investigations carried out after the child’s death, the Respondent was charged under s 325 of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) with voluntarily causing grievous hurt to the child, and under s 5 of the Children and Young Persons Act (Cap 38, 2001 Rev Ed) (“the CYPA”) with ill-treating him. She pleaded guilty before a High Court judge (“the Judge”), who meted out an aggregate sentence of eight years’ imprisonment: see Public Prosecutor v BDB [2016] 5 SLR 1232 (“the GD”). The sole question in this appeal by the Prosecution was whether that sentence was manifestly inadequate. At the conclusion of the oral arguments, we allowed the Prosecution’s appeal and gave our brief reasons. We indicated that we would elaborate on those reasons and furnish our detailed grounds of decision in due course. This, we now do.

In these grounds, we examine the relevant sentencing principles for violent offences against children and young persons that lead to serious injury or death. Many, if not most, of these cases have resulted in charges being brought not for culpable homicide, but for voluntarily causing grievous hurt under s 322 of the Penal Code and punishable under s 325 of that Act, and/or for ill-treating a child or young person under s 5(1) read with s 5(5)(b) of the CYPA. We therefore consider the prevailing sentencing precedents for these two offences. We then set out the approach that should guide the courts in this context. In that light, we explain our decision in this appeal. We also urge, in a closing coda, legislative reform to afford the courts the power to impose enhanced penalties for certain offences against vulnerable victims, in particular, children and young persons, in view of their heinous nature.

The factual background The Respondent and the charges against her

The Respondent is a 35-year-old female Singaporean. At the time of her arrest on 2 August 2014, she was residing at a flat in Eunos Crescent (“the Eunos flat”) with her two children, a seven-year-old daughter (“P”) and a four-year-old son (“A”), who was the victim of the abuse.

A total of six charges, two under s 325 of the Penal Code and four under s 5 of the CYPA, were brought against the Respondent. The Prosecution eventually proceeded with only the two s 325 charges (the first and sixth charges) and two of the CYPA charges (the third and fourth charges), with the remaining two CYPA charges (the second and fifth charges) taken into consideration for sentencing purposes. The four charges which were proceeded with read as follows:

That you, [BDB],

1st Charge

on 1 August 2014, at [the Eunos flat], did cause grievous hurt to [A], to wit, by doing the following: Using your hands to push him on his chest area several times which resulted in him falling and hitting his head on the ground; Using your legs to step on his knees; Using your right hand to choke him; and Pushing your right hand against his neck until he was lifted off the ground,

which caused the said [A] to subsequently die from head injuries, and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under section 325 of the Penal Code … .

3rd Charge

on the afternoon of 30 July 2014, at [the Eunos flat], being a person who has custody of a child, namely, [A], male, 4 years old at the time of the incident, did ill-treat the said child, to wit, by using both hands to push him between his shoulder and chest area which resulted in him falling backwards and hitting the back of his head against the television console table, and you have thereby committed an offence under section 5(1) of the [CYPA], and punishable under section 5(5)(b) of the said Act.

4th Charge

sometime at night on 30 July 2014, at [the Eunos flat], being a person who has custody of a child, namely, [A], male, 4 years old at the time of the incident, did ill-treat the said child, to wit, by kicking him at his waist area and stepping on his stomach with both of your feet for a few seconds after he fell, and you have thereby committed an offence under section 5(1) of the [CYPA], and punishable under section 5(5)(b) of the said Act.

6th Charge

sometime in March 2012, at [the Eunos flat], did cause grievous hurt to [A], to wit, by doing the following: Using your hands to push him and stepping on his ribs after he fell to the floor; and Twisting and pulling his hand,

which caused the said [A] to sustain fractures to his left elbow, left calf, and his right 8th – 11th ribs, [and] you have thereby committed an offence punishable under section 325 of the Penal Code … .

The two CYPA charges which were taken into consideration for sentencing purposes concerned, respectively, an incident on 31 July 2014 in which the Respondent pushed A and caused him to fall (the second charge), and an incident sometime in June 2014 in which the Respondent lifted A by the neck before dropping him to the ground (the fifth charge).

We set out below the events relating to the four charges which were proceeded with.

The events relating to the charges proceeded with The first reported instance of abuse in March 2012 (the facts relating to the sixth charge)

Chronologically, the events which gave rise to the sixth charge were the first to occur. Sometime in March 2012, when A was just two years and five months old, the Respondent was trying to teach him the alphabet. When he did not or could not follow her instructions, she became irritated with him and pushed him. Following further instructions that A failed to comply with, the Respondent pushed him a second time, causing him to fall to the floor. The Respondent then stepped on his ribs. Shortly after this, A asked if he could do some drawing. The Respondent gave him some paper, but A scribbled on the sofa instead. The Respondent became angry, and twisted and pulled A’s hand very hard.

On 12 March 2012, the Respondent brought A to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (“KK Hospital”), where he was admitted from 12 March to 2 April 2012. At the hospital, the Respondent lied and claimed that A’s injuries were a consequence of his having fallen twice: once down a flight of stairs at home the day before, and prior to that, in the playground two weeks earlier. A was found to have multiple fractures (on his left elbow, left calf and right eighth to eleventh ribs), haematomas on his forehead and the back of his head, several small healing bruises on various parts of his body, as well as other healed linear scars on his lower legs and lower abdomen. Developmental assessment also revealed a moderate level of expressive and receptive speech delay.

The involvement of the CPS

Arising from this incident, which was also the first reported instance of the Respondent’s abuse of A, A was referred to the MSF for suspected non-accidental injuries. The CPS investigated A’s case and interviewed the Respondent, as well as A’s father and P. Upon A’s discharge from KK Hospital on 2 April 2012, he was initially placed in the care of foster caregivers identified by the CPS. Three months later, on 2 July 2012, A was placed under the care of his maternal uncle and the latter’s wife (“the maternal relatives”), who were assessed to be suitable for this purpose.

A few months later, in November 2012, the Respondent and P moved in to live with the maternal relatives and A. The CPS noted that during this period, no recurrence of abuse was reported. With no evident child protection concerns, the CPS treated the case as closed on 5 February 2014.

The move to the Eunos flat

Sometime in the first half of 2014, the Respondent and her two children moved to the Eunos flat. It appears that this came about because of pressure from the maternal relatives, who were unhappy that there were too many people living at their home.

Ill-treatment in July 2014 (the facts relating to the third and fourth charges)

The abuse of A resumed shortly after the move to the Eunos flat. On 30 July 2014, the Respondent pushed A while they were at the Eunos flat, causing him to fall backwards and hit the back of his head against a television console table. This transpired evidently because the Respondent became angry and frustrated over A’s failure to recite certain numbers that she had asked him to.

Later in the evening on the same day, the Respondent kicked A in the waist area. A had upset the Respondent because he had moved his bowels on the floor. After A fell as a result of being kicked, the Respondent stood on his stomach with both of her feet for a few seconds before stepping away. These two incidents on 30 July 2014 formed the factual backdrop of, respectively, the third and fourth charges.

The events on 1 August 2014 which resulted in A’s death (the facts relating to the first charge)

Two days later, on 1 August 2014, the Respondent and A returned home shortly after noon after A had finished school for the day. Only the Respondent and A were present in the Eunos flat at the time. The Respondent asked A to recite some numbers in English and Malay, but he could not do so in Malay. Angry and disappointed, the Respondent shouted at A. She then...

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