Public Prosecutor v Amerunissa Bee Binte Shaik Mohamed

CourtMagistrates' Court (Singapore)
JudgeTerence Chua Seng Leng
Judgment Date07 July 2003
Neutral Citation[2003] SGMC 24
Citation[2003] SGMC 24
Publication Date02 October 2003
Plaintiff CounselBenjamin Yim (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Defendant CounselSyed Ahmad Alwee Alsree and Ms Chan Lai Fong (M/S Billy & Alsree)

1 The Respondent faced a total of four charges under Section 323 read with Section 73(2) of the Penal Code, Chapter 224. The charges all dealt with various alleged assaults against one Balkannu Kanagavalli, a domestic maid, taking place sometime in January and on 4 and 5 February 2002 respectively, all at the Respondent’s home at Pasir Ris.

2 The Respondent claimed trial to all four charges. At the end of the trial, and upon hearing submissions from both Prosecution and Defence, the Respondent was acquitted on all the charges.

The Prosecution case

3 The Prosecution called ten witnesses. They were as follows:

PW1 – Balkannu Kanagavalli
PW2 – Doctor Foo Chik Loon
PW3 – Doctor Stephen Teoh Charn Beng
PW4 – Senior Staff Sergeant Muhammad Ghazali Rahman
PW5 – Jumiatun Kasmul
PW6 – Asha d/o K P Kunji, Grace
PW7 – Arumugam Sathguru
PW8 – M A Kumar
PW9 – Sergeant Noor Effendi
PW10 – Senior Staff Sergeant Azam

4 All witnesses gave evidence from the witness box. The photographs and negatives were admitted by consent.

PW1's evidence

5 Kanagavalli was an Indian national who worked in Singapore as a domestic maid. She had worked in Singapore previously for 4 years. Her last stay in Singapore began when she arrived on 19 September 2001, brought in by her agent, Grace (PW6). She started work at the Respondent’s premises on 22 September 2001, initially a maisonette at Eunos. She described her household duties as cleaning the house and furniture, washing and ironing the clothes and mopping the floor. She would also sometimes cook or prepare items for cooking, buy provisions and send the Respondent’s two children to school.

6 Kanagavalli worked from the Respondent until 6 February 2002, when she was transferred to her new employer, M A Kumar and a new maid, one Kavitha, was brought by the agent, Grace, to replace her in the Respondent's household. When asked about her relationship with the Respondent, she replied that the Respondent used to scold her and beat her very often. When asked if that had started from September, Kanagavalli replied that the scolding started two to three weeks after she had started work and the beatings began one month after she had started work. Despite being scolded and beaten, however, Kanagavalli did not do anything about it because she was afraid she might lose her job. Also, she stated that the Respondent threatened her, saying that if she were to complain to anyone that she was being beaten up, the Respondent would accuse Kanagavalli of stealing all her jewellery, that she left the front door open while they were sleeping, that she left the gas stove on and that she tried to kill the children. However, the Respondent did not specify as to how Kanagavalli was supposed to have tried to kill the children. Kanagavalli gave evidence that once, when she was assaulted and bleeding at her mouth, she showed the maid next door, Jumiatun (PW5), the bruise. When asked when this was, she initially said she could not remember, but when prompted by the Prosecution as to whether it was sometime in January, she then replied yes.

7 Kanagavalli also stated that Jumiatun “used to ask me whenever she saw me” if she had been beaten up, and that she would tell Jumiatun what happened. Jumiatun advised her to get in touch with her agent. This discussion would be conducted apparently in sign language because neither of them could speak the other’s language. When asked to elaborate, Kanagavalli stated as follows:

CT: What do you mean by sign language?

A: She would put her palm on my cheek and tap my face - I would take my face – I would take that to mean that my employer had slapped me and beat me. I would nod my head in agreement and repeat the action.

CT: And how would she communicate her suggestion for you to call your agent?

A: She showed this “telephone” gesture and said in English – “you call agent”.

(NE, page 11)

8 However despite this, Kanagavalli stated that she did not call the agent about this assault. According to Kanagavalli, the Respondent would scold or beat her whenever she would have a misunderstanding or quarrel with her husband, or upset with her children. She would also scold or beat Kanagavalli when she made a mistake, forgot to do something or do it slowly. Kanagavalli also said that the Respondent called the agent, Grace, down to the premises three times over the course of her employment to counsel her – twice at Eunos and once at Pasir Ris. Kanagavalli testified that she told Grace the last time she spoke to her that she wanted to work somewhere else.

9 She said initially that request from her this took place sometime in January, but under cross-examination stated she did not recall when, then said that the last time she spoke to Grace was 2 to 3 days before 5 February. Kanagavalli claimed under cross-examination that, on that occasion, the Respondent had beaten her up very badly and then called Grace to complain that Kanagavalli was not doing her work. Kanagavalli stated that she told Grace that she could not work in the Respondent's house any longer because the Respondent was beating her up very badly and asked for another employer. Kanagavalli also stated that the Respondent further assaulted her for saying this to Grace. Kanagavalli also vacillated between whether it was 2 to 3 days before 5 February or 6 February that this happened. She also stated that the Respondent had on this occasion used her hands to beat her back, her face, pulled her hair and her clothes. No injuries were sustained but she felt a lot of pain.

10 However, she subsequently stated that she did not mention the Respondent beating her up to Grace and that she only told Grace about the incident where her upper lip bled, and that was when Grace came to the Respondent's premises to counsel her (Notes of Evidence page 73). When asked why she had said otherwise, she replied that she must have made a mistake.

11 Kanagavalli stated during examination-in-chief that the Respondent was aware of her request for a new employer as she "used to listen to my conversation with the agent using another phone" and was also told of her request for transfer, to which the Respondent initially refused, but then subsequently agreed, adding that if Kanagavalli were to tell her new employer what the Respondent did to her, she "would burn [her] alive".

12 Kanagavalli stated that around the third week of January ("About 20 days before 5 February"), late at night, the Respondent was telling her something in the hall and Kanagavalli replied softly back to her. The Respondent then said that Kanagavalli spoke too softly and hit her on the mouth with an open palm, and her mouth began to bleed from the inner part of her upper lip and it also became swollen. Kanagavalli then rinsed out her mouth, following which the Respondent scolded her and asked her to go to bed. When asked what the Respondent had been telling her, Kanagavalli replied that she could not recall but she believed it was something pertaining to sending her salary back to India. Kanagavalli also said she showed Jumiatun the bleeding the next morning. Subsequently, she stated under cross-examination that the bleeding had stopped by the lip was still swollen when Jumiatun saw it. Kanagavalli could not remember whether it was when she was taking out the rubbish or hanging out clothes, but stated that Jumiatun observed it from 6 to 7 meters away. Under further cross-examination, she said that she was not certain when Jumiatun had seen the injured lip.

13 Also, Kanagavalli said that she saw Grace the day after the assault and the lip was still swollen. Kanagavalli stated that during that encounter she pointed Grace to her upper lip but the Respondent's elder daughter, who was about 10, saw this and told her mother what she was doing – whereupon the Respondent immediately came, scolded her and asked her to go to the kitchen and do her work. This incident was not included in her first report to the police (Exhibit P17).

14 Kanagavalli also gave evidence that on the morning of 5 February 2002, at about 1.00am to 1.30am, the Respondent woke her up, shouted at her and told her she had not folded the children's clothes properly. The Respondent then punched her on the left scalp while she was standing and slapped her on the left cheek and ear. Under cross-examination she said it was two punches and one slap. The Respondent told her that if she went back to bed without folding the clothes she would pour water on her to wake her up. Under cross-examination she changed her story and said that it was the Respondent's husband who had told her this. This incident took place at the entrance to Kanagavalli's room shown in Exhibit P14 and was witnessed by the Respondent's husband who was beside her at the time. Kanagavalli stated she suffered extreme pain in the left cheek and ear. She also said that she did not see if the Respondent's fists were clenched but she assumed it was a punch "because she has punched me many times before and that day I felt the same pain I felt when she punched me previously."

15 Kanagavalli also stated that at about 7.00am to 7.30am that same morning, she had prepared some chutney in the kitchen. Under cross-examination she said that she might have been frying or cooking something but she was not sure what. She went on to state that the Respondent called her and asked her why she had prepared so little chutney. Kanagavalli stated she went over to the Respondent who was standing near the fridge, and after that the Respondent ran up to the stove and hit her with a ladle (Exhibit P16) on the left back of her body just above her waist. Kanagavalli said she did not see the Respondent take the ladle but saw her hitting her with the ladle. According to Kanagavalli, the Respondent was standing in front of her, on the left facing her, and hit her three times or more in the same area continuously. She claimed she did not see the Respondent swing but claimed that she could see the ladle come...

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