Public Prosecutor v Chong Siew Chin

JudgeYong Pung How CJ
Judgment Date13 December 2001
Neutral Citation[2001] SGHC 372
Date13 December 2001
Subject MatterWhether burden discharged on present facts,Applicable principles,Aggravating factors,Nature of alibi defence,Criteria for lies to amount to corroboration,Employer assaulting domestic maid,Evidence,s 323 read with s 73(2) Penal Code (Cap 224),Proof of evidence,Criminal Procedure and Sentencing,s 105 Evidence Act (Cap 97, 1997 Ed),Power of appellate court to reverse trial court's findings of fact,Policy considerations,Offences,Appeal,Non-custodial sentence,Whether charges made out,Whether any reason to interfere with trial judge's findings of fact,Sentencing,Defence of alibi,Lies by accused,Criminal Law,Voluntarily causing hurt,Appeal against sentence,Maid abuse,ss 73(1)(a) & 323 Penal Code (Cap 224),Whether sentence manifestly inadequate,Corroboration,Mental abuse calculatedly applied in conjunction with physical abuse,Accused to bear evidential burden of proof
Docket NumberMagistrate's Appeal No 160 of 2001
Published date19 September 2003
Defendant CounselOng Cheong Wei (Ong Cheong Wei & Co)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Plaintiff CounselRavneet Kaur (Deputy Public Prosecutor)

: The respondent was convicted on three charges for voluntarily causing hurt to her domestic maid, Bonasih Sarmo (`Bonasih`) pursuant to s 323 read with s 73(1)(a) of the Penal Code (Cap 224). The charges comprised the same act by the respondent of slapping Bonasih on the left side of her face at the respondent`s house on three separate occasions; once in the early morning, once later in the morning and once in the evening of 24 July 1999.

The s 323 Penal Code offence is punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or with fine which may extend to $1,000, or with both.
However, under the enhanced penalties for offences against domestic maids provided under s 73(2) of the Penal Code, a court may enhance the sentence to one and a half times the amount of punishment to which the offender would otherwise have been liable for that offence; making for a maximum sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding 18 months, or with fine which may extend to $1,500 or with both.

In the court below, the respondent was fined $1,500 on each charge, in default, two weeks` imprisonment on each charge, making a total fine of $4,500, in default, six weeks` imprisonment.
The fine was paid.

The prosecution appealed against the sentence on the ground that it was manifestly inadequate while the respondent appealed against the conviction.
I dismissed the respondent`s appeal against conviction and allowed the prosecution`s appeal on sentence. I now give my reasons.

The facts

Bonasih arrived in Singapore from Indonesia around 15 July 1999. She commenced work as a domestic maid at the respondent`s bungalow on 22 July 1999.

At or about 3am on 24 July 1999, the respondent entered Bonasih`s room and discovered that she was sleeping with the bedroom lights and fan on.
Angered, the respondent used her right hand to slap Bonasih`s left cheek. The respondent then inquired about her husband`s clothes, and upon hearing an unsatisfactory answer, she slapped Bonasih again. The following morning, Bonasih noticed that she had a bruise on the left side of her face and a cut on her lips. These were the facts of the first charge.

On the second charge, at or about 8.30am later that morning, Bonasih was in the kitchen boiling water to fill a flask.
The respondent entered the kitchen and scolded Bonasih for putting too much water into the flask. The scolding was followed by another slap from the respondent.

Later that evening, the respondent was again displeased with Bonasih`s work.
This time, the respondent was unhappy with the way in which Bonasih cooked the rice. The respondent slapped her again in the same manner, using her right hand on the left side of Bonasih`s face. These were the facts of the third charge.

On 28 July 1999, Suyanti Sastro Sugito (`Yanti`), another domestic maid working in the vicinity of the respondent`s house, inquired about Bonasih`s bruises.
After being questioned by Yanti repeatedly, Bonasih finally told her that the respondent had slapped her. Yanti alerted the police. When they arrived, police officer Mohammad bin Suporno (`Mohammad`) observed that there was a three to four centimetre bruise on the left side of Bonasih`s face and a cut on the left side of her lips. However, Bonasih told Mohammad that she was responsible for her own injuries as she had fallen in the toilet while cleaning the wall. Mohammad observed that she appeared very frightened, particularly after the respondent joined them. He asked her to show him how she fell and, after the demonstration, he felt that the injuries were inconsistent with her story.

On 8 August 1999 at around 3pm, Bonasih`s sister, Buniyah bte Sarmo (`Buniyah`) visited her at the respondent`s house.
Bonasih confided to her sister that she was frequently physically abused by the respondent. Subsequently, the respondent returned home and Buniyah left. Shortly after, Bonasih fled the respondent`s house, seeking refuge with her sister who was still waiting at a nearby bus stop. Buniyah recounted that she looked very frightened and was crying. Later, Bonasih reported the assaults to the police.

When sent for a medical examination, Bonasih informed the examining doctor that she had been slapped on the face by the respondent and was also punched on her right arm.
She also said that her ear was pulled and her face pinched. The medical report from Dr Adrian Koh Jit Hin (`Dr Koh`) stated that there was tenderness on the left side of Bonasih`s jaw. There were no bruises or fractures. However, Dr Koh opined that her injuries were consistent with her account and were consistent with injuries caused by blows from a `blunt object`.

The decision below


The crux of the case was factual. After hearing the witnesses for both sides and after observing their demeanour during the course of the trial, the magistrate noted that the maid came across as a very honest and credible witness. He also felt that she was not a very intelligent person who was capable of weaving a consistent story to support her allegations against the respondent.

In sharp contrast, the magistrate described the respondent as a very intelligent witness who was always slow and careful with her answers.
In spite of this, her fa+ade cracked when inconsistencies arose during the course of her testimony and when compared with the evidence given by her own witnesses. As such, the magistrate found that she was not an honest witness and her version of events was not to be believed.

In view of the evidence before him, the magistrate convicted the respondent on all three charges of voluntarily causing hurt to Bonasih.


During mitigation, the respondent submitted that she had suffered greatly from this incident and that she was extremely remorseful over the incident. It was also submitted that she had co-operated fully with the police.

The magistrate noted that the events leading to the assaults were extremely trivial matters and there was no provocation from Bonasih prior to being assaulted.
The magistrate also noted that Parliament had amended the law in 1998 to provide for enhanced punishment in cases involving, inter alia, voluntarily causing hurt to domestic maids. However, noting that Bonasih`s bruises had healed soon after the assaults and that, within a week after the incidents, there was no visible evidence of bruising, the magistrate considered these injuries to be minor and regarded this factor as the key consideration during sentencing.

Examining case precedents, the magistrate found that a heavy fine was usually imposed for offences charged under s 323 of the Penal Code where the hurt caused was not severe.
In particular, he noted PP v Tan Siam Keow (PS 643 and 644/2000) where the victim was slapped in the face several times, her head was hit and her hair pulled. As a result of the assaults, the victim suffered multiple bruises on her arm and legs. The magistrate noted that the judge in that case took a further three charges into consideration and fined the accused the maximum of $1,500 per charge.

As such, after taking into account s 73(2) of the Penal Code, the magistrate imposed the maximum fine of $1,500 per charge.

Both the prosecution and the respondent appealed.

The appeal


It was undisputed that Bonasih suffered injuries that included facial bruises and a cut to her lip. The key question in the current appeal was whether these injuries were the result of the respondent`s assaults as laid out in the charges. The respondent challenged various findings of fact and inferences drawn by the magistrate. I dealt with them as follows:

(1) Injuries on Bonasih

(2) Bonasih`s credibility

(3) The respondent`s credibility

(4) Motive to frame the respondent

Injuries on Bonasih

The respondent contended that the magistrate did not properly consider her evidence. Despite Bonasih`s statement that she was slapped almost every day, the respondent alleged that the magistrate failed to consider why Buniyah did not testify to have seen visible bruises on Bonasih when she visited her on 8 August 1999. Also, she contended that the magistrate failed to properly assess the evidence given by Dr Koh, in particular that the injuries alleged to be suffered by Bonasih were not independently observed or verified.

I found that it was absurd for the respondent to rely on these grounds of appeal since Bonasih`s injuries were undisputed.
The respondent testified to have seen bruises and swelling on Bonasih`s face on 25 July 1999. Her injuries were also independently observed by the police officer, Mohammad, when he first interviewed Bonasih at the house. While Mohammad was not strictly an expert witness, I was prepared to accept his observations and conclusion, which was made after watching the demonstration from Bonasih about the way she allegedly fell in the toilet and comparing it with the injuries sustained by Bonasih. In cases such as these, a normal person`s human experience is sufficient to conclude that the injuries sustained could not have been the result of a fall as described. In any case, after evaluating Mohammad`s testimony in the light of other evidence, the magistrate also found that Bonasih`s injuries were not caused by a fall.

The respondent`s family doctor of 16 years, Dr Singh, testified that had Bonasih been slapped on the cheek, she would have shown bruises.
Dr Singh`s examination occurred on 2 August 1999, nine days after Bonasih was first assaulted. More importantly, the magistrate correctly noted that Dr Singh`s evidence was irrelevant since the injuries were not in issue at the trial and the respondent had testified that Bonasih`s `left face was reddish and slightly swollen` on 25 July 1999. I also rejected the respondent`s contention that Bonasih ought to have complained to Dr Singh if she was really hurt. Such failure to...

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