PP v Lim Ah Seng

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Judgment Date26 March 2007
Docket NumberCriminal Case No 18 of 2006
Date26 March 2007

High Court

Sundaresh Menon JC

Criminal Case No 18 of 2006

Public Prosecutor
Lim Ah Seng

Edwin San and Jason Chan (Deputy Public Prosecutors) for the Attorney-General's Chambers

Subhas Anandan and Sunil Sudheesan (Harry Elias Partnership) for the accused.

Angliss Singapore Pte Ltd v PP [2006] 4 SLR (R) 653; [2006] 4 SLR 653 (folld)

Goh Lee Yin v PP [2006] 1 SLR (R) 530; [2006] 1 SLR 530 (folld)

Lau Lee Peng v PP [2000] 1 SLR (R) 448; [2000] 2 SLR 628 (refd)

Ng So Kuen Connie v PP [2003] 3 SLR (R) 178; [2003] 3 SLR 178 (folld)

PP v Law Aik Meng [2007] 2 SLR (R) 814; [2007] 2 SLR 814 (folld)

PP v Lim Boon Seng [2004] SGHC 113 (distd)

PP v McCrea Michael [2006] 3 SLR (R) 677; [2006] 3 SLR 677 (folld)

PP v Oon Oon Sang TeeCriminal Case No 11 of 2006 (distd)

PP v Siew Boon Loong [2005] 1 SLR (R) 611; [2005] 1 SLR 611 (folld)

PP v Vijayakumar s/o Veeriah [2005] SGHC 221 (refd)

R v Wiskich [2000] SASC 64 (refd)

Robertson Quay Investment Pte Ltd v Steen Consultants Pte Ltd [2007] SGHC 30 (refd)

Seah Kok Meng v PP [2001] 2 SLR (R) 24; [2001] 3 SLR 135 (refd)

Sim Gek Yong v PP [1995] 1 SLR (R) 185; [1995] 1 SLR 537 (refd)

Tan Kay Beng v PP [2006] 4 SLR (R) 10; [2006] 4 SLR 10 (folld)

Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68, 1985 Rev Ed)s 122 (6)

Penal Code (Cap 224,1985 Rev Ed)s 304 (b) (consd)

Criminal Procedure and Sentencing–Sentencing–Principles–Accused strangling wife during fight–Accused victim of repeated physical and psychological abuse from wife –Accused pleading guilty to culpable homicide not amounting to murder–Accused suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome–Appropriate sentence–Section 304 (b) Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed)

The accused (“Lim”) had earlier been sentenced to two years and six months' imprisonment after pleading guilty on 7 July 2006 to a charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder under s 304 (b) of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed) (“the Code”) for causing the death of his wife (“the deceased”) by strangling her with the knowledge that it was likely to cause her death on 25 October 2005 (“the first judgment”). On the Prosecution's appeal, the Court of Appeal set aside the first judgment on the basis of certain misgivings in relation to whether the statement of facts on which Lim pleaded guilty accurately represented the nature of the relationship between Lim and the deceased, and what had transpired between them on the night of the deceased's death. The Court of Appeal was also concerned that the external and internal injuries apparently sustained by the deceased called for further investigation to consider whether Lim might have aggressively attacked the deceased.

The statement of facts revealed that on the night of 25 October 2005, the deceased visited the accused and informed him that she wanted to bring their daughter to Jakarta. A quarrel ensued for some time. Thereafter, the deceased offered to make love to Lim because they had not seen each other a while. Having had sexual intercourse, the deceased raised the issue of taking their daughter to Jakarta again, and when Lim refused a second time, the deceased warned him that she would report him to the police for rape. During the quarrel that followed, the deceased rushed into the kitchen to grab a knife but was disarmed by Lim. The deceased then went into the master bedroom and Lim followed. The deceased slapped Lim again and then strangled him by squeezing his throat and neck. Lim felt pain and responded by squeezing the deceased's throat and neck until her grip loosened.

Pursuant to the court's directions, the Prosecution and the Defence agreed upon a list of the matters that the Court of Appeal had raised and in respect of which the further evidence was to be tendered. The list included: (a) a further report by a forensic pathologist on the injuries found on the deceased; (b) reports from the Health Sciences Authority (“HSA”), including that relating to the vaginal swabs taken from the deceased; (c) evidence of Lim's loss of hearing, which was said to have been caused by the deceased; (d) evidence in respect of the relationship between Lim and the deceased; and (e) a psychiatric report on Lim's current mental condition and the period of supervision that he would require.

The further evidence led by the Prosecution corroborated and in some respects reinforced the narration in the statement of facts, in particular: (a) that Lim was a victim of repeated and sustained physical and psychological abuse since 2003, so much so that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result; (b) no weapon was used in the commission of the offence; (c) it was the deceased who had instigated a fight on the fateful night; (d) Lim had shown remorse in his unconditional plea of guilt and his full co-operation with the authorities; (e) Lim had no antecedents and had, apart from this incident, shown considerable restraint in the face of the deceased's abuse; and (f) there was no real likelihood of Lim re-offending or suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Held, sentencing Lim to two years and six months' imprisonment:

(1) Four considerations were usually paramount in sentencing: deterrence, retribution, prevention and rehabilitation. However, not all of these factors were relevant in every case. It was not earnestly disputed that deterrence was not a significant issue in this case. Where a person suffered from a mental impairment such that his actions were not the result of conscious deliberation, deterrence, both general and specific, was not the predominant sentencing consideration. This was only common sense because deterrence operated on the assumption of human autonomy: at [48] to [51].

(2) The need to imprison Lim for a long term for the sake of his rehabilitation or simply to prevent him from committing further crimes could not also be justified because the accused's clinical prognosis was optimistic. Not only had he recovered, the risk of any recurrence of his post-traumatic stress disorder was small. There had been definite improvement in his condition and he was not thought to be a danger to others. Moreover, he had apparently benefited from good family support during his incarceration so far and there was no reason to think this would not continue: at [37] to [40], [52].

(3) What remained was the retributive aim of sentencing: the need for a person to be punished for his wrong having regard to the degree of culpability in his conduct. It was in this context that the mitigating circumstances urged by the Defence were potentially significant: at [53].

(4) The most important consideration - though certainly not the only one - was the undisputed fact that Lim suffered severe and repeated physical and psychological abuse at the hands of the deceased, so much so that he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder not to mention a partial loss of hearing in one ear. When one viewed the events on the night of 25 October 2005 through the lens of this abusive relationship, it became clear that the Prosecution's position that Lim had exploited their disparity in size and failed to appropriately calibrate his response to the deceased's actions rang hollow. That the deceased, notwithstanding her diminutive physical stature, was able to manipulate and physically as well as psychologically abuse Lim to a point that he suffered a mental illness proved that size was no barrier to her aggression towards Lim. Neither was size relevant to Lim's perception of danger, given his fear of the deceased, the abuse that he had suffered, and the events on the night of 25 October 2005: at [54] to [56].

(5) The Prosecution's argument that Lim's ability to disarm the deceased meant that he could simply have pushed her away if he wanted to and so this should in some way be held against him for his failure to successfully rebuff her subsequently could not be accepted. This fact showed that Lim was exercising considerable restraint right up to the point when the deceased began to strangle him. His disarming of the deceased demonstrated that he had wanted to prevent the conflict from escalating. One further inference to be drawn was that if he had thought that there was an alternative to stopping the deceased from strangling him to death, he would not have retaliated or strangled her in return. This served to mitigate, not aggravate, his moral culpability: at [57] and [58].

(6) In addition, the Prosecution's argument that the accused should have displayed greater control over his actions belied a failure to appreciate the circumstances of Lim's troubled relationship with the deceased, and the traumatic events that had happened before and were happening even on 25 October 2005. Even in respect of defences that required Lim's actions to be proportionate to the danger posed such as provocation or the right of private defence, the courts had refused to weigh in golden scales the means which a threatened person adopted or the force he used to repel the danger. This illustrated the simple common sense inherent in human experience, that one should not evaluate the relative culpability of the combatants, in the throes of a violent physical conflict, by reference to the standards that might be expected in situations that are not similarly charged: at [59] to [67].

(7) Lim also had no criminal record and his chances of a relapse were slim. Therefore, there was no indication of the need for a heavy sentence: at [68].

(8) A timeous plea of guilt was often a relevant sentencing consideration unless it was animated by cynical motives. Even though Lim pleaded guilty in circumstances where he was caught red-handed, this did not invariably mean that he was deprived of the mitigating value of his plea of guilt. Lim did not attempt to flee the scene of the crime or to cover up what he had done but had surrendered to the police and then co-operated...

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