Public Prosecutor v Lim Choon Hong and another

JudgeSundaresh Menon CJ
Judgment Date15 September 2017
Neutral Citation[2017] SGHC 237
Plaintiff CounselSellakumaran s/o Sellamuthoo and Crystal Tan Yan Shi (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Docket NumberMagistrates Appeals’ Nos 9103 and 9104 of 2017
Date15 September 2017
Hearing Date15 September 2017
Subject MatterAppeals,Sentencing,Criminal Procedure and Sentencing
Published date30 September 2017
Defendant CounselSuresh Damodara and Sukhmit Singh (Damodara Hazra LLP)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Citation[2017] SGHC 237
Sundaresh Menon CJ (delivering the judgment of the court ex tempore):

As a country with a scarcity of human resources, we depend on foreigners who come here to undertake work. With rising levels of affluence and the opportunity for families to enjoy double incomes, very much of the menial work in our country is done by foreign workers. Foreign domestic workers are pervasive in many segments of Singapore’s society. In some senses, the work opportunities this presents provides economic incentives for nationals of other countries who seek to work their way out of their own difficult conditions.

It is imperative in this milieu of circumstances that we as a society ensure that these foreign workers are treated decently and accorded the sort of guarantees of human dignity that we would accord to any human being. This is important for several reasons but in my judgment, one consideration of special significance is what this says about ourselves as a society. We too have progressed as a nation from the direst of circumstances just 52 years ago. If we reach the point where we do not set our face firmly against the treatment of our fellow human beings in a way that reasonable people would regard as not being in keeping with the most basic standards of decency, then we have condemned ourselves.

I say this by way of prelude because I think it is critical that we not understate the deplorable nature of the conduct of the two respondents in this case.

I also observe that this is entirely in keeping with the settled jurisprudence of our courts on the sentencing approach we should take to cases where foreign domestic workers are ill-treated. In ADF v Public Prosecutor [2010] 1 SLR 874 (“ADF”), the Court of Appeal said as follows at [55] (per VK Rajah JA):

In a case of domestic maid abuse, ordinarily, the principles of deterrence and retribution take precedence. A deterrent sentence signifies that there is a public interest to protect over and above the ordinary punishment of criminal behaviour. The protection of domestic maids from abuse by their employers is always a matter of public interest, given their vulnerable status and the prevalence of such relationships in Singapore. No employer or household member has the right to engage in abusive behaviour against a domestic maid. All maids should be treated fairly, with dignity and respect.

[emphasis in original]

And at [61] of the same case, the learned judge said that “[t]he courts have unwaveringly recognised domestic maids as vulnerable victims and a category of persons in need of constant protection”.

More recently, in Janardana Jayasankarr v Public Prosecutor [2016] 4 SLR 1288 (“Janardana”), I said as follows at [3] and [4]: The special provision enacted for the abuse of this class of victim stems from the recognition that domestic helpers are particularly vulnerable to abuse by their employers and their immediate family members (see Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (20 April 1998) vol 68 at col 1923 (Mr Wong Kan Seng, Minister for Home Affairs)). This is so for several reasons, of which I will mention just three: First, domestic helpers are in a foreign land and will often not have the time or opportunity to develop familiarity or a support network. Domestic helpers who have just arrived in Singapore or have only been working here for a few months, such as the victim in this case, are especially vulnerable. Second, they are in an inherently unequal position of subordination in relation to their employers. Third, the abuse will usually take place in the privacy of the employer’s home and without the presence of any independent witnesses. This not only makes the offence very difficult to detect, but also invariably increases the difficulty of prosecuting such offences because it will usually be a case of one’s word against that of the other. This, coupled with the fear of jeopardising their prospects of employment as well as the general fear of the employer engendered by the situation they find themselves in, is likely to discourage victims from making a complaint. The upshot of this is that domestic helpers usually do not have a voice and, in many senses, are dependent on the good faith of their employers. It is critical that the law steps in to protect domestic helpers from being abused by their employers, who are the very people who should be taking care of them. Deterrence therefore takes centre stage where such abuse has taken place and offenders can expect a stiff sentence.

In my judgment, these principles will be relevant in assessing the culpability of the respondents in this case. However, before I turn to the facts of this case, I wish to make some preliminary observations.

The circumstances in the present case were perhaps somewhat complicated by the fact that there appeared to have been a misstep in the prosecution that has led to this appeal. The case had evidently been initiated by the enforcement unit of the Ministry of Manpower. According to the learned Deputy Public Prosecutor Mr Sellakumaran, by the time the Public Prosecutor took carriage of the matter, some time had passed and in all the circumstances it was decided, in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, that the case would proceed under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (Cap 91A, 2009 Rev Ed) (“EFMA”) instead of bringing other possible charges under the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) for offences such as voluntarily causing hurt or voluntarily causing grievous hurt.

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4 cases
  • PP v Gaiyathiri d/o Murugayan
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 4 August 2021
    ...PP v Aniza bte Essa [2009] 3 SLR(R) 327; [2009] 3 SLR 327, CA (refd) PP v Kong Peng Yee [2018] 2 SLR 295 (refd) PP v Lim Choon Hong [2017] 5 SLR 989 (refd) PP v Loqmanul Hakim bin Buang [2007] 4 SLR(R) 753; [2007] 4 SLR 753 (refd) PP v P Mageswaran [2019] 1 SLR 1253 (refd) PP v Raveen Balak......
  • Tay Wee Kiat and another v Public Prosecutor and another appeal
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 2 March 2018
    ...Chin [2001] 3 SLR(R) 851; [2002] 1 SLR 117 (refd) PP v Kwong Kok Hing [2008] 2 SLR(R) 684; [2008] 2 SLR 684 (refd) PP v Lim Choon Hong [2017] 5 SLR 989 (refd) PP v Rosman bin Anwar [2015] 5 SLR 937 (refd) PP v Singh Kalpanath [1995] 3 SLR(R) 158; [1995] 3 SLR 564 (folld) Soh Meiyun v PP [20......
  • Public Prosecutor v Bong Sim Swan Suzanna
    • Singapore
    • District Court (Singapore)
    • 5 December 2018
    ...v Public Prosecutor [2010] 1 SLR 874, Janardana Jayasankarr v Public Prosecutor [2016] 4 SLR 1288, Public Prosecutor v Lim Choon Hong [2017] 5 SLR 989, to name a few. A sentencing framework for maid abuse cases was subsequently developed in Tay Wee Kiat and another v Public Prosecutor [2018......
  • Public Prosecutor v Chia Yun Ling and Tay Wee Kiat
    • Singapore
    • Magistrates' Court (Singapore)
    • 28 March 2019
    ...just plain rice and water. No compensation was offered to the victim. In line with the precedent cited in PP v Lim Choon Hong [2017] 5 SLR 989, I imposed a sentence of three months’ imprisonment. For C12A MAC-903407-2017, Chia had forced the victim to eat rice with sugar on two occasions, o......
1 books & journal articles
  • Criminal Procedure, Evidence and Sentencing
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2017, December 2017
    • 1 December 2017
    ...1291 at [39]–[40]. 129 Arun Kaliamurthy v Public Prosecutor [2014] 3 SLR 1023 at [19]. 130 ADF v Public Prosecutor [2010] 1 SLR 874. 131 [2017] 5 SLR 989. 132 Cap 91A, 2009 Rev Ed. 133 Public Prosecutor v Lim Choon Hong [2017] 5 SLR 989 at [8]. 134 Fu Foo Tong v Public Prosecutor [1995] 1 S......

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