Public Prosecutor v Koh Thiam Huat

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeSee Kee Oon J
Judgment Date25 May 2017
Neutral Citation[2017] SGHC 123
Citation[2017] SGHC 123
Published date20 December 2017
Plaintiff CounselFrancis Ng SC and Tan Zhongshan (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Defendant CounselGoh Teck Wee (Goh JP & Wong LLC)
Docket NumberMagistrate’s Appeal No 65 of 2016
Hearing Date12 April 2017
Date25 May 2017
Subject MatterRoad Traffic,Sentencing,Offences,Criminal Procedure and Sentencing,Principles
See Kee Oon J:

The Accused pleaded guilty in a District Court to a single charge of dangerous driving under s 64(1) of the Road Traffic Act (Cap 276, 2004 Rev Ed) (“RTA”). The District Judge sentenced the Accused to a fine of $3,000 (in default 15 days’ imprisonment) and disqualification from holding and obtaining all classes of driving licence for a period of 11 months (see his Grounds of Decision in Public Prosecutor v Koh Thiam Huat [2016] SGDC 354). Dissatisfied, the Public Prosecutor appealed against the District Judge’s decision on sentence. After hearing the parties on 12 April 2017, I was satisfied that a custodial sentence was warranted. Accordingly, I allowed the appeal and imposed a sentence of one week’s imprisonment. I also increased the period of disqualification to 18 months and ordered that the fine (which had been paid) be refunded. These are the grounds of my decision.

The relevant facts

The facts are set out in the statement of facts which the Accused admitted to without qualification.

On 20 August 2015, the Accused, a 54-year-old male, was driving his motor lorry on the left-most lane along Hougang Avenue 9 towards the direction of Hougang Avenue 8. The Accused then came to a signalised traffic junction, where he failed to conform to the red light signal. This resulted in a collision with the victim, a 20-year-old female pedestrian, who was then crossing the signalised traffic junction on a green man signal from the Accused’s right to left. The Accused said that the left side of the victim’s head hit the bottom right portion of the motor lorry’s windscreen.

At the material time, the weather was fine, the road surface was dry, the traffic flow was light and visibility was clear. The Accused admitted that his view was unobstructed. He also admitted that he did not notice the traffic light signal as he was following a white sedan car in front of him, and that he did not notice the victim until she was about an arm’s length away.

The victim suffered multiple injuries as a result of the accident, including traumatic head injury features such as a comminuted undisplaced fracture of the skull vault in the left parieto-temporal region extending to the temporal bone. She was warded for seven days and given hospitalisation leave over two periods totalling 42 days (this latter figure included the seven days she was warded). The windscreen of the motor lorry was also cracked near its bottom right side.

The District Judge’s decision

The District Judge considered the following in sentencing the Accused: (a) the Accused’s manner of driving; (b) the extent of the victim’s injuries; (c) the Accused’s antecedents; (d) the mitigating factors; and (e) the precedents.

With respect to (a), ie, the Accused’s manner of driving, the District Judge held that the Accused’s manner of driving was “far below what would be expected of a driver”. Although the Accused must have known that he was driving through a junction controlled by traffic lights, he did not ensure that the traffic light signal was in his favour but chose instead to drive through the junction. Accordingly, on the authority of the Court of Appeal’s decision in Jali bin Mohd Yunos v Public Prosecutor [2014] 4 SLR 1059 (“Jali”), the Accused had not merely been negligent but had acted in a rash or reckless manner. The District Judge also considered the fact that the accident occurred at a pedestrian crossing with the victim crossing with the green man signal in her favour. Beyond these facts, however, the District Judge thought that there were no other aggravating factors relating to the Accused’s manner of driving. There was no evidence that the Accused had deliberately tried to beat the red light. Nor was there evidence to suggest that the Accused was speeding whilst he drove through the junction; indeed, the unchallenged mitigation was that the Accused was travelling at a speed between 40 and 50 km/h. The Accused was also not driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, whilst tired or whilst using a mobile phone. Nor was his driving aggressive or erratic. In the District Judge’s view, a custodial starting point would only be justified in the presence of the aggravating factors identified in Public Prosecutor v Hue An Li [2014] 4 SLR 661 (“Hue An Li”), ie, speeding, drink-driving and sleepy driving, coupled with serious injuries. On the whole, the District Judge did not consider the manner of the Accused’s driving to be sufficient, in itself, to justify a custodial sentence.

As regards (b), ie, the extent of the victim’s injuries, the District Judge found the injuries suffered by the victim to be severe and serious. However, he noted that she did not suffer any permanent disability and consequently found that the extent of the victim’s injuries were not so aggravating as to justify a custodial sentence.

With regard to (c), ie, the Accused’s antecedents, the District Judge noted that the Accused had traffic-related antecedents. In the late 1990s, he was convicted for an offence of careless driving and two offences of speeding. He had also compounded an offence of failing to conform to a red light signal in 2007 and an offence of speeding in 2013. However, except for the compounded speeding offence in 2013, most of these antecedents were dated. Thus, the District Judge held that, although there was a need for specific deterrence, the Accused’s antecedents did not justify a custodial sentence.

As for (d), ie, the mitigating factors, the District Judge accepted that the Accused had exhibited remorse by pleading guilty and that there was no undue delay with respect to the conclusion of the case. However, the District Judge did not accord any weight to the fact that the sentence would negatively impact the Accused’s employment prospects and cause hardship to him and his family.

Finally, with regard to (e), ie, the precedents, the District Judge did not rely on some of the precedents submitted by the Prosecution as he considered the circumstances of the offence in these cases to be very different. Nor did he give much weight to the precedents submitted by the Prosecution which he found to be more relevant, as he thought that these cases had more aggravated facts or were unreported. The District Judge found the precedents submitted by the Defence to be more instructive. On his own initiative, the District Judge also considered six cases he had found via the State Courts’ Sentencing Information and Research Repository (“the SIR”) which is hosted on Lawnet, and in which imprisonment terms between one day and two weeks were imposed. In his view, however, these cases involved aggravating factors which were absent in the present case.

All said, the District Judge found a custodial sentence to be inappropriate. He further noted that a period of disqualification of 12 months or more would usually be ordered for cases which were more aggravated than the present. Accordingly, he sentenced the Accused to a fine of $3,000 (in default 15 days’ imprisonment) and disqualification from holding and obtaining all classes of driving licence for a period of 11 months.

The parties’ submissions The Prosecution’s submissions

The Prosecution urged me to enhance the sentence to one week’s imprisonment and 18 months’ disqualification. The Prosecution made three broad points.

First, the Prosecution submitted that the District Judge placed insufficient weight on the need for general and specific deterrence. According to the Prosecution, the District Judge did not fully appreciate the significance of general deterrence, which was said to be a key sentencing consideration in dangerous driving cases. The Prosecution further contended that the Accused’s poor driving record heightened the need for specific deterrence and, in this regard, pointed out that the District Judge overlooked the fact that the Accused had compounded an offence of making an unauthorised U-turn in 2014, which was only a year before the accident. Looked at in totality, the Accused’s driving record showed that he had a history of flouting traffic rules stretching back nearly two decades from the date of the accident. It was submitted that while the Accused’s antecedents may not have warranted a custodial sentence in and of themselves, they underscored the need to factor a high degree of specific deterrence into the sentencing equation.

Second, the Prosecution argued that the District Judge erred in his consideration of the aggravating factors for the offence of dangerous driving. Firstly, the Prosecution submitted that the District Judge derived an erroneous sentencing formula which required the presence of specific aggravating factors before the starting point could be a custodial sentence (see [7] above). Secondly, it was submitted that the District Judge placed insufficient weight on the aggravating factors that were present, namely: (a) the high degree of danger to the public arising from the Accused driving through a signalised pedestrian crossing in a residential area when the traffic light signal was red against him; and (b) the victim’s severe and serious injuries.

Third, the Prosecution contended that the District Judge erred in his treatment of the sentencing precedents. It was said that the authorities that the District Judge relied on, in which only fines were imposed, did not in fact support the imposition of a fine. The Prosecution further argued that the six cases the District Judge referred to on his own accord did not support his conclusion as to when dangerous driving would attract a custodial sentence. It was also submitted that the District Judge failed to appreciate that the Prosecution’s sentencing position below had already incorporated a downward calibration from the cases the Prosecution had relied on.

In addition, the Prosecution also suggested that fines should be regarded as appropriate only in cases of dangerous...

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2 books & journal articles
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