Public Prosecutor v Koh Lai Hoong

CourtMagistrates' Court (Singapore)
JudgeChong Kah Wei
Judgment Date30 May 2003
Neutral Citation[2003] SGMC 18
Citation[2003] SGMC 18
Published date01 October 2003
Plaintiff CounselChan Wang Ho (DPP)
Defendant CounselJeffrey Beh Eng Siew (Lee Boh Leong & Co),Bernard Sahagar s/o Tanggavelu (Lee Boh Leong & Co),Diane Ang (Lee Boh Leong & Co)

1 The accused, Mdm Koh Lai Hoong, Margaret, claimed trial to a total of eleven charges. The eleven charges consisted of nine charges of voluntarily causing hurt to one Ruth Vailoces Zeguerra (“Ruth”), a foreign domestic maid under Koh Lai Hoong’s employment, under section 323 read with section 73(2) of the Penal Code, and two charges of using criminal force against Ruth, under section 352 of the Penal Code. The eleven charges upon which I had called for the Defence, and incorporating the various amendments made during the trial, are summarised below:

PS 226/02 (Amended First Charge) (Exh. “P1A”)

That Koh Lai Hoong on or about 11 December 2000 at or about 6.00am at Blk 201 Jurong East St 21 #19-101, Singapore, did voluntarily cause hurt to Ruth by slapping Ruth’s right cheek and hitting her occipital bone with her hand.

PS 227/02 (Amended Second Charge) (Exh. “P2A”)

That Koh Lai Hoong on or about 13 December 2000, sometime in the morning, at Blk 201 Jurong East St 21 #19-101, Singapore, did voluntarily cause hurt to Ruth by hitting Ruth’s back with her hand.

PS 228/02 (Re-amended Third Charge) (Exh. “P3B”)

That Koh Lai Hoong on or about 21 December 2000 at or about 6.00am at Blk 201 Jurong East St 21 #19-101, Singapore, did use criminal force on Ruth by pinching both her cheeks.

PS 229/02 (Re-amended Fourth Charge) (Exh. “P4A”)

That Koh Lai Hoong on or about 23 December 2000 at or about 8.00am at Blk 201 Jurong East St 21 #19-101, Singapore, did voluntarily cause hurt to Ruth by hitting Ruth’s upper arm with her hand.

PS 230/02 (Re-amended Fifth Charge) (Exh. “P5B”)

That Koh Lai Hoong on or about 28 December 2000 at or about 6.00am-7.00am at Blk 201 Jurong East St 21 #19-101, Singapore, did use criminal force on Ruth by throwing a toothbrush with toothpaste and pushing her into the storeroom.

PS 231/02 (Sixth Charge) (Exh. “P6”)

That Koh Lai Hoong on or about 23 January 2001 at or about 11.00pm at Blk 201 Jurong East St 21 #19-101, Singapore, did voluntarily cause hurt to Ruth by hitting Ruth’s left chest region with her handbag and causing a bruise over the second rib.

PS 232/02 (Amended Seventh Charge) (Exh. “P7”)

That Koh Lai Hoong on or about 24 January 2001 at or about 4.00pm at Blk 201 Jurong East St 21 #19-101, Singapore, did voluntarily cause hurt to Ruth by hitting Ruth’s back three times with her hand.

PS 233/02 (Re-amended Eighth Charge) (Exh. “P8B”)

That Koh Lai Hoong on or about 25 January 2001 in the morning at Blk 201 Jurong East St 21 #19-101, Singapore, did voluntarily cause hurt to Ruth by slapping Ruth twice on her left cheek and thrice on her right cheek and kicking her right hip bone and causing a bruise over her right inguinal regional.

PS 234/02 (Ninth Charge) (Exh. “P9”)

That Koh Lai Hoong on or about 26 January 2001 at or about 10.00am at Blk 201 Jurong East St 21 #20-101, Singapore, did voluntarily cause hurt to Ruth by slapping Ruth’s head using her hand.

PS 235/02 (Amended Tenth Charge) (Exh. “P10A”)

That Koh Lai Hoong on or about 26 January 2001 at or about 2.00pm at Blk 201 Jurong East St 21 #19-101, Singapore, did voluntarily cause hurt to Ruth by slapping Ruth’s right cheek with her hand and causing a haematoma and superficial abrasion over the middle third clavicle.

PS 236/02 (Eleventh Charge) (Exh. “P11”)

That Koh Lai Hoong on or about 27 January 2001 at or about 3.00pm at Blk 201 Jurong East St 21 #20-101, Singapore, did voluntarily cause hurt to Ruth by throwing a metal fork and causing two penetrating wound marks on Ruth’s right fingertip.

2 At the conclusion of the trial, I found that the Prosecution had not proven its case against Koh Lai Hoong on all eleven charges beyond a reasonable doubt and accordingly I acquitted her on all eleven charges. The Prosecution has now appealed against the order of acquittal for all eleven charges.

Issues in this trial

3 In this trial, the Court was faced with essentially two different versions of the events. The foreign domestic maid, Ruth Vailoces Zeguerra (“Ruth”) contended that on five separate occasions in December 2000 and on six separate occasions in January 2001, her employer, Koh Lai Hoong assaulted her in a variety of ways, as a result of dissatisfaction over certain work-related mistakes.

4 Koh Lai Hoong in her Defence denied the allegations, and suggested that Ruth was homesick and was also unhappy working in her household because she was required to work at Koh Lai Hoong’s mother’s house as well. Ruth wanted to return home or a transfer to another employer. But when the arrival of the replacement maid was delayed due to passport problems, Ruth got impatient and ran away with the assistance of another maid working for Koh Lai Hoong’s brother, and falsely alleged that she had been abused.

5 The main issue which the Court had to resolve was which version of facts was to be believed.

Undisputed and Admitted Facts

6 The following facts are either undisputed or admitted by Koh Lai Hoong. Ruth started work at Koh Lai Hoong’s residence on 8 December 2000. At the material time, Koh Lai Hoong resided at Block 201 Jurong East Street 21 #19-101, Singapore. Living with Koh Lai Hoong in her flat were her twelve-year-old son and two-year-old baby daughter, and her ex-husband, Ow King Lam. Koh Lai Hoong and her ex-husband, Ow King Lam, were recently divorced and were not on good terms.[i]

7 Also living in three separate apartments in the same block of flats, but one floor above, on the 20th floor, were Koh Lai Hoong’s mother, and two of Koh Lai Hoong’s brothers and their respective families. Koh Lai Hoong’s mother resided at unit #20-101, which was the flat directly above (“the mother’s flat”). Her youngest brother (Koh Wing Hoo) and sister (Koh Lai Khin), who were both unmarried, lived with the mother in that flat. Her brother, Koh Wing Keong resided at unit #20-103 together with his family and an Indonesian maid named Sumiah, while her brother, Koh Wing Kwin resided at unit #20-105 together with his family and a Filipino maid named Lisa. Each floor had only four apartment units.

8 Koh Lai Hoong had a total of eight other brothers and sisters. The mother’s flat served as a place where the extended family would visit on Sundays and during the Chinese New Year. Her eldest sister Ko Lai Chow would come to the mother’s flat on Sundays with her family and maid. Her brother Koh Wing Yeap would also visit the mother’s flat on Sundays with his family. Koh Wing Keong’s family would have dinner at the mother’s flat everyday, and his Indonesian maid was in fact the one who prepared the food. However, Koh Wing Kwin’s family did not have dinner at the mother’s flat, and his maid, Lisa did not help out at the mother’s flat.

9 Koh Lai Hoong visited her mother’s flat on a daily basis. She would leave her daughter at the mother’s flat together with Ruth when she went to work. After work, she would return to the mother’s flat to have dinner and pick up the daughter before going home. Ruth was required to look after the daughter, do housework at her flat as well as help with the housework in the mother’s flat. Koh Wing Keong’s Indonesian maid also helped out at the mother’s flat, but Koh Wing Kwin’s Filipino maid, Lisa did not.

10 In December 2000, Koh Lai Hoong’s son did not go to school because it was the school holiday. On 28 December 2000 (Thursday), she was on leave, and did not go to work. On 28 December 2000, two police officers attended at the mother’s flat in response to Lisa’s telephone call to the police alleging that her friend (meaning Ruth) had been abused by her employer. The police officers left without any incident. One or two days after the visit by the police, Koh Lai Hoong brought Ruth to the maid agency to arrange for a transfer of employer for her, and selected a replacement maid.

11 The Chinese New Year fell on 24 January 2001 (Wednesday), and Koh Lai Hoong’s company was closed between 23 to 28 January 2001, and she did not go to work on those days. On 27 January 2001, Ruth ran away from Koh Lai Hoong’s house in the afternoon, and went to the Philippines embassy. She then went to Alexandra Hospital where she sought medical attention and made a police report.

The Prosecution Case

12 I now turn to the evidence in dispute. The Prosecution called five witnesses:

(a) PW1 – Ruth Vailoces Zeguerra – victim / domestic maid

(b) PW2 – Dr Kharina Kho Soo Ee – examining doctor

(c) PW3 – Dr Lim Hwee Yong – doctor who prepared report

(d) PW4 – Dr Toh Khai San – doctor who prepared further report

(e) PW5 – SI Mohamad Rojim bin Razali – investigating officer

13 All witnesses gave oral testimony on the witness stand. The Prosecution’s evidence consisted mainly of Ruth’s testimony. The Prosecution called Dr Kharina Kho to give evidence regarding the injuries observed on Ruth’s body when she was examined on 27 January 2001. Dr Lim Hwee Yong was a formal witness, while Dr Toh Khai San was called to give an expert opinion on the recorded injuries.

Evidence of the maid, Ruth Vailoces Zeguerra (PW1)

14 Ruth Vailoces Zeguerra was 28 years old at the date of the trial and single. She was from Suragao City in the Philippines, and had completed two years of undergraduate studies in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing programme before coming to Singapore to work. She was 26 years old when she first came to Singapore.

15 Ruth arrived in Singapore on 6 December 2000, and started work on 8 December 2000 as a domestic helper for Koh Lai Hoong at her residence at Block 201 Jurong East Street 21 #19-101. This was the first time she had come to Singapore to work as a domestic helper, and was the first time she had left Philippines and her home. Ruth had taken a loan from the maid agent in order to come to Singapore, and the loan was to be repaid through deduction of her first six months’ salary. Before coming, she had received training in Philippines on how to be a domestic helper. During her training, Ruth was briefed that she would be working for only one...

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