PP v Chia Kee Chen

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeSundaresh Menon CJ,Judith Prakash JA,Tay Yong Kwang JA
Judgment Date27 June 2018
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Docket NumberCriminal Appeals Nos 40 and 41 of 2017
Date27 June 2018
Public Prosecutor
and
Chia Kee Chen and another appeal

[2018] SGCA 30

Sundaresh Menon CJ, Judith Prakash JA and Tay Yong Kwang JA

Criminal Appeals Nos 40 and 41 of 2017

Court of Appeal

Criminal Law — Complicity — Common intention — Whether accused and accomplice shared common intention to inflict craniofacial injuries on victim that were sufficient in ordinary course of nature to cause death

Criminal Law — Offences — Murder — Victim abducted and assaulted by accused and accomplice — Craniofacial blunt face trauma inflicted on victim sufficient in ordinary course of nature to cause death — Accused charged with murder under s 300(c) of Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) in furtherance of common intention shared with accomplice, punishable by death sentence or life imprisonment with or without caning under s 302(2) and s 34 of Penal Code — Accused convicted by High Court and sentenced to term of life imprisonment — Accused appealing against conviction and Prosecution appealing against sentence — Sections 34, 300(c) and 302(2) Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed)

Criminal Procedure and Sentencing — Sentencing — Mentally disordered offenders — Whether psychiatric report diagnosing accused with major depressive disorder relevant to sentencing

Criminal Procedure and Sentencing — Sentencing — Principles — Discretionary death penalty — Whether accused's actions exhibited such viciousness and blatant disregard for human life so as to outrage feelings of community and warrant imposition of death sentence

[LawNet Admin Note: Erratum: At [116], in the last sentence, it should read “the quality of the Lee Report”.

The HTML incorporates the above amendment. The PDF remains unchanged with Erratum added.]

Held, dismissing the appeal against conviction and allowing the appeal against sentence:

(1) While the statement that Febri had given to the Indonesian police (“Febri's statement”) was admissible under the provisions of the Evidence Act (Cap 97, 1997 Rev Ed), little or no weight was to be placed on it. Since Febri's statement was a confession of his involvement as an accomplice to a very serious crime, there was a real prospect of his making self-serving statements that minimised his role and culpability while maximising that of others. On the facts, Febri's statement did set out a self-serving account which sought to portray Chia as the primary offender who inflicted most, if not all, of the injuries on the Deceased that led to his demise, while simultaneously minimising his own role. It was inherently risky for the court to place weight on such unreliable evidence. This risk was amplified because Febri was not available for cross-examination and hence his statement remained untested: at [52] to [60].

(2) It was not possible to identify the particular mortal blow which killed the Deceased, let alone attribute it to either Chia or Febri. However, for the purposes of establishing a conviction for murder under s 300(c) read with s 34 of the PC, it was not necessary to identify the mortal blow, nor attribute it to a particular offender in every case. Even if it were possible to identify and attribute the mortal blow to a primary offender, a secondary offender did not necessarily escape liability simply by disclaiming the mortal blow. Since s 34 of the PC imposes constructive liability, a secondary offender could be held liable for an offence that arose from an act that he did not personally carry out as long as it could be established that that act was done in furtherance of the offenders' common intention to commit the very criminal act done by the primary offender. The key question was whether the primary and secondary offenders shared a common intention to inflict the particular s 300(c) injury or injuries on the victim, the actual infliction of such injury being the criminal act which gave rise to the offence of s 300(c) murder. It was therefore irrelevant whether Chia or Febri had struck the mortal blow, or whether Febri had struck more blows than Chia, so long as they shared a common intention to inflict the fatal craniofacial injuries on the Deceased: at [86] to [89].

(3) On the evidence, Chia and Febri shared a common intention to inflict the fatal craniofacial injuries on the Deceased. First, Chia was the mastermind of the plan to abduct and assault the Deceased. His operative motive was to exact revenge on the Deceased for having carried on an affair with Chia's wife. Chia recruited Febri to assist him in this plan. There was therefore an agreement between Chia and Febri at least to beat up the Deceased severely. Second, it was clear from the evidence relating to the assault in the cabin of the van that they shared such a common intention. Chia actively assisted in Febri's initial assault by restraining the Deceased's legs. Even when Chia saw that Febri's assault had become more frenzied and ferocious, he did not direct or instruct Febri to stop although he was in a position to do so, having recruited Febri solely to assist him and Febri having no interest in the assault other than to act at Chia's behest. On the contrary, Chia asked Febri to hand him the hammer and voluntarily joined in the assault by using it to hit the Deceased's forehead. Thereafter, Chia handed the hammer back to Febri and thus enabled him to continue the assault which eventually killed the Deceased. The only inference that could be drawn from this was that Chia wanted and intended for Febri to inflict the craniofacial injuries on the Deceased that he did. Third, Chia had admitted in various statements to the police that he wanted the Deceased dead. This undermined the submission that Chia's intention was limited to only causing hurt to the Deceased and that it was Febri who exceeded their commonly-intended course. Accordingly, Chia's appeal against conviction was dismissed: at [90] to [96].

(4) As a matter of general principle, mental conditions were relevant to sentencing if they lessened the offender's culpability for the offence and therefore justified a reduced sentence. This principle was equally applicable in cases involving the possible imposition of the death penalty. The culpability of the offender was measured by whether his actions outraged the feelings of the community, which was in turn measured by whether the offender acted viciously or in blatant disregard for human life. The proper test in relation to the relevance of medical evidence of a mental condition to sentencing was whether such evidence established a causal link between the medical condition that had been diagnosed, and the factors that went towards the exercise of the court's discretion in deciding whether to impose the death sentence. This presupposed that there was a recognised medical condition that the court was able to find on the evidence. If either the diagnosis itself or the causal link was challenged, a Newton hearing should be held: at [4] and [112] to [115].

(5) Although the Report contained, on its face, a diagnosis of a recognised medical condition, the overall quality of the Report was so lacking that it failed to meet even the minimum requirements expected of an expert report. Experts were duty-bound to be neutral and independent, and to provide the reasoning behind their conclusions. However, the Report was entirely devoid of reasoning and purely conclusory in nature. There was no explanation of how the mood and behavioural changes allegedly observed in Chia met the diagnoses of MDD, or how MDD had “affected” or “contributed much to” Chia's mental state around the time of the offence. The Report was also based on self-reported information by Chia that were not accepted facts, had omitted or failed to consider certain key materials, and was partisan and contrived at parts. Thus, the Report was entirely disregarded. In any event, the Report would not have met the threshold of relevance because there was nothing in it which sufficiently established the requisite causal link: at [5], [117] to [119] and [125] to [132].

(6) Having regard to all the facts and circumstances, the imposition of the death sentence was warranted. First, the evidence showed that Chia was the mastermind of the plan to abduct and assault the Deceased. It was irrelevant that Febri had inflicted more blows than Chia or that Febri might have inflicted the fatal craniofacial injuries because Febri had acted pursuant to Chia's plan and under Chia's overall direction. In the circumstances, Chia could not be regarded as an ordinary “secondary offender” whose actual role and participation in the attack was limited. Further, as the mastermind, Chia demonstrated a high degree of planning and premeditation, which permeated every aspect of the venture to abduct and harm the Deceased. Second, the attack on the Deceased, which commenced in the car park and continued in the cabin of the van, was vicious and brutal. Together, Chia and Febri inflicted numerous blunt force blows to the Deceased's head and face, causing extensive fractures in the Deceased's skull. Other forensic evidence also reflected the extent of the violent assault. For instance, blood stains were found on and around the Deceased's car in the car park, and on the ceiling, rear door and both side walls of the cabin of the van. Third, Chia's actions exhibited a blatant disregard for the life of the Deceased. The evidence showed that on the day of the offence, Chia appeared perfectly normal. He executed the attack that night, even retaining the presence of mind to call his brother-in-law for assistance when Chua abandoned the plan. After the murder, he set out to evade detection. He then calmly left for Malaysia with his family, taking the opportunity to spirit Febri out of the jurisdiction. Most crucially, Chia admitted in his statements to the police that he wanted to “torture” the Deceased and to make him “suffer so much”. The unmistakeable picture that emerged was that Chia desired for the Deceased to suffer as much as...

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2 books & journal articles
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    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2019, December 2019
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