Public Prosecutor v Lau Ah Lam

JudgeMavis Chionh Sze Chyi
Judgment Date27 January 2001
Neutral Citation[2001] SGDC 27
Published date19 September 2003
CourtDistrict Court (Singapore)


Grounds of Decision

The accused was tried before me on the following charge:

DAC 40244/1999

You, Lau Ah Lam (M/40 years old), are charged that you, on the 11th day of October 1998 at or about 7.00 pm, inside Singapore Bus Service 143, registration bus number SBS 9016Y, whilst the bus was travelling along Orchard Boulevard, Singapore, did use criminal force on one Chua Li Hua, female 23 years, knowing it to be likely to outrage her modesty, to wit, by using your hand to touch her right breast, and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under section 354 of the Penal Code (Chapter 224).

2. I acquitted the accused at the conclusion of the trial. The prosecution has appealed against the acquittal; and I therefore set out below the reasons for my decision.

The facts

3. By way of summary: the complainant in the present case was one Chua Li Hua. It was not disputed that she and the accused were both passengers in an SBS bus no. 143 at the time of the alleged incident of molest. It was also not disputed that Chua was then seated in front of the accused. However, the accused denied any contact with Chuas right breast: he claimed that at the very most, he would merely have touched her on the right side of her body below her armpit; and he also claimed that any such physical contact would have been accidental.

4. The prosecution called a total of four witnesses.

Evidence from PW1 Pauline Tan

5. PW1 Sgt Pauline Tan was the investigation officer of the case. The first information report (FIR) was adduced through her. This was a police report made by Chua Li Hua, in which Chua had stated that she "felt that [her] modesty had been outrage [sic] by a man sitting directly behind" her on SBS bus no. 143 on 11 October 1998 at "around 7.00 pm". Chua also stated in the report that the accuseds "right hand" was placed "on the side of [her] right breast, right under [her] armpit"; that she was "sleeping on the bus until [she] woke up and realised that a hand" had "moved away from" her breast.

6. In cross-examination Sgt Pauline Tan stated that the above report was written by Chua Li Hua herself. She also confirmed that she had recorded a long statement from the accused on 12 October 1998 as well as a cautioned statement sometime later; and that the accused had denied committing the offence of outraging Chuas modesty.

Evidence from PW2 Tan Cheng Kiat

7. PW2 Sgt Tan Cheng Kiat was the police photographer who produced the photographs of the bus in which the offence was allegedly committed. In cross-examination, he testified that neither he nor Sgt Pauline Tan had tried putting their hands between the wall of the bus and the side of the seat in which Chua was sitting at the time of the incident.

Evidence from PW3 Rusli bin Bulat

8. PW3 Sgt Rusli bin Bulat testified that he was the police officer who received a complaint of outrage of modesty whilst on duty at Tanglin Police Station, on the evening of 11 October 1998. The SBS bus where the offence was alleged to have taken place was then stopped outside the police station. Sgt Bulat went to the bus and arrested the alleged molester, whom he identified in court as the accused. He also confirmed that the bus shown in PW2s photographs was the bus in question.

Evidence from PW4 Chua Li Hua

9. PW4 was the complainant Chua Li Hua. Chua testified that on 11 October 1998, she had boarded SBS bus 143 along West Coast Road, with the intention of going to Ngee Ann City. She was then seated on the right side of the lower deck, next to the window. After boarding the bus, she read a magazine for a while before dozing off. The alleged incident of molest occurred along Orchard Boulevard, just before she reached her destination. According to her evidence-in-chief:

Along the way, I did wake up once or twice to see if I had reached my destination. But I didnt notice anybody yet. That means I didnt notice anything wrong till I reached Orchard Boulevard. I suddenly woke up. It was clear that I woke up because my head which was bending down suddenly straightened up. At that point, I noticed something withdrawing from the right side of my breast. I realised that I was being molested because it felt warm at the side of my breast I turned back and saw Accused sitting behind me. He was staring at me and I slapped him about three times. I slapped him because I knew he had molested me. I told him he had outraged my modesty and everybody on the bus heard it as well. He did not retaliate. He just sat there and looked at me. The person sitting next to Accused mentioned that he did not see anything.

10. Chua added that there was "some commotion" aboard the bus after she slapped the accused. Another female passenger "kept mentioning" to Chua that she should not have slapped the accused. Chua replied that the accused had outraged her modesty by touching the right side of her right breast. She then informed the bus driver that she had been molested and asked him to drive the bus to the police station. By then, the bus had reached the bus stop behind Hotel Phoenix. At this point, the accused "said that hes sorry and that he would like to get down the bus and let the matter rest". According to Chua, he also added that he could have touched Chuas shoulder. Chua added that he might have apologised to her even earlier, but she might not have heard him due to the commotion in the bus. In any event, she did not agree that it was her shoulder which had been touched, nor was she prepared to let the matter rest. When the bus arrived at Tanglin Police Station, the accused was placed under arrest by the police; and Chua subsequently made a police report.

11. Asked to amplify on her evidence regarding the alleged act of molest, Chua stated that she had "suddenly" woken up because she had "felt pressure on the right side of [her] right breast". She reiterated that she "felt something withdrawing" from the right side of her breast when she awoke. She was of the view that it was a hand which withdrew through the gap between the wall and the right side of her seat. Although she conceded that she did not at any time see a hand, she asserted that a hand had indeed touched her breast because she could feel "pressure" and "heat" on the right side of the breast. The pressure, she said, had been applied to her breast "for a long while to cause the heat". She denied defence counsels suggestion that the physical contact she felt could have been on her "back below [her] right armpit", or that any physical contact she felt must have been accidental. She added that it was possible, in her view, for someone to put his hand through the gap between the wall and the right side of her seat.

12. In cross-examination, Chua also agreed that she was "heavily asleep" up till the moment when she woke up near the Hotel Phoenix bus-stop. She agreed that the only time she became aware of what was happening around her was when she awoke. She was unable to say whether she awoke "immediately" upon feeling the alleged physical contact.

The close of the prosecutions case

13. The prosecution closed its case with the conclusion of Chuas testimony.

14. At the close of the prosecutions case, defence counsel submitted that Chua had "vacillated" in her evidence regarding the alleged act of molest. Counsel suggested that if the defence were to be called at all, it should be called only on an amended charge which would allege that the accused had touched the right side of Chuas body. The prosecution disagreed, pointing out that Chua had maintained her claim about being touched on the right side of her breast.

15. Having heard Chuas testimony, I held that there was sufficient evidence to satisfy the Haw Tua Tai test insofar as the existing charge was concerned. After all, even counsel did not dispute that the Haw Tua Tau test involved only a minimum evaluation of the evidence at the close of the prosecutions case. I thus rejected counsels submissions and called for the defence on the existing charge.

The defence:

The accuseds evidence

16. The accused elected to give evidence. He testified that on the evening of 11 October 1998, he had been having dinner and drinks with some friends. After dinner, at around 7.40 pm, he boarded SBS bus 143 at Upper Cross Street. He was then with his friend, one Mr Zee (DW3). Both of them intended to go to Mr Zees house in Toa Payoh, where the accused had arranged to meet with one Mr Albert Low. The accused was, at the material time, President of the Society of Construction Supervisors, while Mr Low was the societys treasurer: they were apparently meant to meet for the purpose of going through the society accounts. Mr Zee too was then a committee member of the society.

17. On boarding the bus, both the accused and Mr Zee sat on a two-seater on the right side of the lower deck. The accused was seated next to the window, with Mr Zee on his left. The accused felt drowsy, having drunk beer earlier that evening; and he fell asleep in the course of the bus journey. He woke up at about the time the bus was making a turn into Penang Road. According to him, he awoke when the bus travelled over a hump in the road; and at the time he awoke, he found himself feeling unwell:

On the route to Penang Road, theres a side road looking to Oxley Rise where there is a hump. At that time I was not well so I lunged my body forward, I fell forward I lunged my body forward because at that time I felt like vomiting and had nausea but I didnt vomit out. My left hand goes to the front seat (M)y left hand went to the rail or the top frame of the seat. The black railing. My left hand went to hold the black railing. My right hand went to the side to grab it. To hold it, to hold the side of the seat. I tried to hold to the seat, the thickness of the seat. At that time I was not going to the gap, I was going to the seat. I think maybe the person was asleep, sleeping sideways, in a slanted posture, my...

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