Public Prosecutor v Teo Kwang Kiang

JudgeS Rajendran J
Judgment Date28 September 1991
Neutral Citation[1991] SGHC 139
Date28 September 1991
Subject Matters 40 Environmental Public Health Act (Cap 95, 1988 Ed),Whether regular checks by Ministry of Health absolved accused from blame,Public health,Possession of food unfit for human consumption,Strict liability,Accused had no knowledge that food contaminated,Criminal Law,Whether offence was one of strict liability
Docket NumberMagistrate's Appeal No 1 of 1989
Published date19 September 2003
Defendant CounselPT Wong (Ng & Ng)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Plaintiff CounselJennifer Marie (Deputy Public Prosecutor)

Cur Adv Vult

This is an appeal by the public prosecutor against the order of a district judge acquitting the respondent on the following charge on which he was tried:

You, Teo Kwang Kiang NRIC No 0323429-J are charged that you on 10 November 1987 at about 9.15am at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre (Vegetable Auction Hall) without lawful excuse had in your possession, a food intended for human consumption, to wit, snow peas (vegetable) which was unfit for human consumption, in that it contained 38.34ppm of dithiocarbamates (carbon disulphide), and you have therefore committed an offence under s 40(1) of the Environmental Public Health Act 1987, and punishable under s 42(1) of the aforesaid Act.

At the trial the prosecution led evidence that in the morning of 9 November 1987, at the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Market, officers from the Ministry of the Environment took a sample of snow peas from a basket of peas in the possession of the respondent.
The sample of snow peas was sent for analysis and was found to contain 38.34ppm of carbon disulphide. Dr Chng Ai Lee (`Dr Chng`), an analyst with the Primary Production Department, testified that carbon disulphide in excessive quantities causes hepatoma and is also carcinogenic and that the permissible level for human consumption was less than 5ppm. She told the court that the sample containing 38.34ppm of carbon disulphide was unfit for human consumption.

The respondent at the trial did not challenge the evidence of Dr Chng nor did he dispute that he was in possession of the basket of snow peas.
The respondent said that he was a vegetable importer and that he had imported the snow peas in question from Cameron Highlands. He told the court that the Ministry of the Environment had imposed very tight controls and procedures on the import and sale of vegetables. Under these procedures he would not sell any vegetables until the health inspector had inspected the vegetables and approved them for sale. If the health inspector did not approve any particular basket for vegetables, the health inspector, after taking a sample, would seal and set aside the basket. If, upon analysis, the sample was found to be unfit for human consumption, the basket of vegetables would be destroyed in the presence of a health inspector; if the sample was found fit, the basket would be released to the importer for sale.

The learned district judge accepted the respondent`s claim that although he imports vegetables into Singapore for purpose of sale he had, in view of the stringent controls of the ministry, no intention to sell any of the vegetables until approval to do so was given.
That being so the trial judge held that the respondent had cast a sufficient doubt on the prosecution case that this basket of snow peas was `intended for human consumption`. The learned trial judge also took the view that absence of knowledge that the vegetables were contaminated was a good defence to the charge. In the words of the district judge:

The defendant imports the vegetables on consignment from West Malaysia. He has no control at the other end as to whether the vegetables sent here is fit for human consumption or not. In answer to a question posed by the court, the defendant said that he had no agent at West Malaysia to check the vegetables. He only received the consignment when it arrived at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre. That was why he had to wait for the inspection by the Ministry of Environment inspector and, before approval was obtained, the vegetables could not be offered for sale. This procedure was imposed by the Ministry of Environment and the defendant had followed this procedure strictly over the years.

The prosecuting officer said that s 40(1) of the Act is an absolute liability provision and the words importing mens rea are not present in s 40(1).
The vegetables were in his possession and therefore he was guilty of an offence under the Act.

If this argument is accepted, then the Act would be oppressive and resulting in injustice.
The defendant has no control of what vegetables would be sent to him on consignment. That is why he has to wait for the inspection and approval of the health inspector before the vegetables are offered for sale.

What more could he have done?
Does it mean that he has to go to West Malaysia personally each time to carry out test to ensure that the vegetables he has imported are fit for human consumption? If that is so, then why should strict rules be laid down by the Ministry of Environment and the public health inspector`s approval has to be obtained to ensure that the vegetables are fit for human consumption...

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11 cases
  • MC Strata Title No 641 v Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • April 5, 1993
    ... ... would be vital in promoting the objects of the statute and encouraging greater vigilance to prevent the commission of the offences: PP v Teo Kwang Kiang [1992] 1 SLR 9 To this end, many of the offences under the Act are offences of strict liability, and I am inclined to take a similar ... ...
  • Tan Kiam Peng v Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • Court of Appeal (Singapore)
    • September 28, 2007
    ...168 (refd) PP v Tan Siew Lam [2000] SGHC 161 (refd) PP v Teo Ai Nee [1995] 1 SLR (R) 450; [1995] 2 SLR 69 (distd) PP v Teo Kwang Kiang [1991] 2 SLR (R) 560; [1992] 1 SLR 9 (refd) PP v Tseng Yue-Wey [2003] SGDC 288 (refd) PP v Virat Kaewnern [1993] 1 SLR (R) 358; [1993] 2 SLR 9 (refd) PP v W......
  • Tan Meng Lian and Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • District Court (Singapore)
    • July 30, 2001
    ...human consumption, an offence under Section 40(1) of the Environmental Public Health Act (Cap 95) (Public Prosecutor v Teo Kwang Kiang [1992] 1 SLR 9). It was held that this provision is designed to prevent the sale of food for human consumption where the food is dangerous to human health, ......
  • PP v Yue Mun Yew Gary
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • September 14, 2012
    ...PP v Param Cumaraswamy [1986] 1 MLJ 512 (refd) PP v Tan Fook Sum [1999] 1 SLR (R) 1022; [1999] 2 SLR 523 (refd) PP v Teo Kwang Kiang [1991] 2 SLR (R) 560; [1992] 1 SLR 9 (refd) R v Blackshaw [2012] 1 WLR 1126 (refd) R v Liam Stacey (Appeal No: A 20120033 of the Swansea Crown Court) (refd) T......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2006, December 2006
    • December 1, 2006
    ...liability dichotomy. 143 Supra n 125 (accused held strictly liable for being in possession of obscene books for sale). 144 [1992] 1 SLR 9 (accused held strictly liable for possession of contaminated vegetables for sale). 145 [1997] 1 SLR 406. 146 Id, at [74]—[76]. 147 Supra n 129, at [48] (......
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 1999, December 1999
    • December 1, 1999
    ...Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed) may be compared with s 40 Environmental Public Health Act (Cap 95, 1988 Rev Ed) and PP v Teo Kwang Kiang[1992] 1 SLR 9. 87 Supra, note 36, at paras 12, 18, 19. 88 Ibid, at para 17. 89 As defined in s 52 Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed). 90 Gerald Orchard, ......
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 1997, December 1997
    • December 1, 1997 record levels. 46 s11. 47 s13. 48 s14. Upon conviction, a fine not exceeding $1,000 may be imposed. 49 s20(4). 50 [1995] 3 SLR 123. 51 [1992] 1 SLR 9. 52 Cap. 95, Rg 15. 53 For the period November 1992 to April 1997. 54 [1997] 1 SLR 534. 55 [1996] 3 SLR 566. 56 These can be found in the ......

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