Public Prosecutor v Tong Lai Chun

CourtMagistrates' Court (Singapore)
JudgeChong Kah Wei
Judgment Date31 March 2003
Neutral Citation[2003] SGMC 7
Citation[2003] SGMC 7
Published date01 October 2003
Plaintiff CounselAmarjit Singh (DPP)
Defendant CounselPeter Keith Fernando (Leo Fernando)

1 The Accused, Mdm Tong Lai Chun (“Tong”) claimed trial to six charges of voluntarily causing hurt to one Toifah Paino (“Toifah”), a domestic maid, at Tong’s residence at Blk 765 Choa Chu Kang North 5 #08-315, Singapore, whilst being a member of the household of Toifah’s employer. All six alleged offences were punishable under section 323 read with section 73 of the Penal Code, Cap 224.

2 The first charge (PS 357/02, exhibit P1) alleged that sometime in April 2001, Tong caused hurt by throwing a plastic container at Toifah, which hit her on the nose and caused a cut on her nose. The amended second charge (PS 358/02, exhibit P2) alleged that sometime in April 2001, Tong caused hurt by hitting Toifah on the head with a packet of frozen peas / beans. The third charge (PS 359/02, exhibit P3) alleged that sometime in September 2001, Tong caused hurt by pegging plastic clothes pegs on Toifah’s eyebrows. The fourth charge (PS 360/02, exhibit P4) alleged that sometime in September 2001, Tong caused hurt by hitting Toifah with a metal utensil on her right knee. The amended fifth charge (PS 361/02, exhibit P5) alleged that sometime in September 2001, Tong caused hurt by hitting Toifah on her arm with a baby cot. The amended sixth charge (PS 362/02, exhibit P6) alleged that on or about 13 September 2001, Tong caused hurt by kicking Toifah on her left arm, and hitting her head against the toilet wall while holding her by the hair.

3 At the conclusion of the trial, I found that the Prosecution had proven its case against the Accused on the third to sixth charges (PS 359-362/02) beyond a reasonable doubt and accordingly I convicted the Accused on these four charges. I imposed the following sentences on these four charges:

(a) Third Charge (PS 359/02 - one month’s imprisonment

(b) Fourth Charge (PS 360/02) - four months’ imprisonment

(c) Fifth Charge (PS 361/02) - three months’ imprisonment

(d) Sixth Charge (PS 362/02) - six months’ imprisonment.

I ordered the sentences for the fourth charge (PS 360/02) and the sixth charge (PS 362/02) to run consecutively, with the remaining sentences to run concurrently, giving a total term of ten months’ imprisonment. The Accused has appealed against the orders of conviction and sentence for these four charges.

4 I also found that the Prosecution had not proven its case against the Accused on the first and second charges (PS 357-8/02) beyond a reasonable doubt and accordingly I acquitted the Accused on these two charges. The Prosecution has now appealed against the order of acquittal for these two charges.

Issues in this trial

5 In this trial, the Court was faced with two different versions of the various events. The maid, Toifah contended that in the early hours of the morning on 13 September 2001, her employer, Tong kicked her on her left arm, and hit her head against the toilet wall while holding her by her hair. Toifah then ran away from the house later that morning. Toifah also contended that about one week before 13 September 2001, Tong hit her arm with a baby rocker, and that about three to four days before 13 September 2001, Tong hit her on her right knee with a metal meat tenderiser. Toifah contended that about a week before 13 September, whenever she was sleepy, Tong would peg her eyebrows with clothes pegs and leave the pegs on for about half an hour. Toifah further contended that sometime in April 2001, Tong thew a plastic container at her, which hit her on her nose and caused a cut on her nose. About one week after this incident, Tong hit Toifah on her head with a packet of frozen peas or beans.

6 Tong in her Defence denied the allegations, and suggested that Toifah was unhappy working in the house and wanted a transfer to another employer. When her request for transfer was turned down, Toifah took the opportunity of the injuries arising from her fall, to run away and make these false allegations to cover up the actual reason for running away.

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

The Prosecution Case

8 The Prosecution called seven witnesses:

(a) PW1 – Toifah Paino – victim / domestic maid

(b) PW2 – Noorhayati bte Samsuri – playschool teacher

(c) PW3 – Ong Lay Eng – playschool teacher

(d) PW4 – Dr Bertha Woon – examining doctor

(e) PW5 – SSgt Lee Kok Pang – police photographer

(f) PW6 – SSSgt Hafiz bin Shariff – investigating officer

(g) PW7 – Nurlin bte Saini – nurse interpreter

9 All the witnesses mainly gave oral testimony on the witness stand. The Prosecution’s evidence rested mainly on Toifah’s testimony. The Prosecution called Dr Bertha Woon to give evidence regarding the injuries observed on Toifah’s body when she was examined on 13 September 2001. Noorhayati bte Samsuri and Ong Lay Eng were called to give evidence regarding their discovery of Toifah on 13 September 2001 morning and her condition then. SSgt Lee Kok Pang gave evidence regarding the photographs of Toifah’s injuries, while Nurlin bte Saini gave evidence regarding Toifah’s account of her injuries at the hospital.

Evidence of the maid Toifah Paino (PW1)

10 Toifah Paino was from Central Java, Indonesia. She was a 25-year old mother of two children aged eight years and two years. She and her ex-husband were divorced in 2001, after which she came to Singapore on 1 March 2001 to work as a maid. This was the first time she had left Indonesia to work.

11 In cross-examination, Toifah stated that prior to arrival in Singapore, she was trained to be a domestic maid in a training centre in Batam, Indonesia, during which she was told that her employer was not allowed to assault her in any way. She could report to the police if her employer assaulted her. In cross-examination, Toifah stated that she had experience looking after her own children, but not looking after other people’s children.

12 Toifah started working for Tong immediately after coming to Singapore. Toifah’s actual employer was Tong’s husband, Koey Chin Ming (“Koey”). Tong’s household consisted of Tong, Koey, her three-year old child and two eight-month old twins. Toifah’s duties were to wash the clothes, sweep, mop and do house-cleaning, cook and prepare porridge for the kids, feed the kids and put them to sleep. While Tong’s husband worked, Tong was a housewife, and was with Toifah in the house most of the time. Toifah was given a bedroom to use solely for herself.

First charge – Plastic bowl incident

13 The first incident of assault took place on one Saturday in April 2001, perhaps in the middle of April 2001, at around 9.00am.[i] Toifah was asked to boil water in a kettle but because the water in the kettle was too full, Toifah threw out some of the water into a container (exhibit P12) in the sink. Tong’s husband, Koey saw this and informed Tong about it. Tong scolded Toifah, saying that water in Singapore was expensive and asking why Toifah was wasting water. Tong threw the container at Toifah’s face, which hit the bridge of her nose, causing bleeding. In cross-examination, Toifah added that it was very painful, and she also felt a headache. Tong gave her a “handiplast” to apply on the bridge of her nose. Koey was also present in the kitchen, but did not say or do anything.

14 In cross-examination, Toifah testified that as a result of the injury to her nose, the bridge of her nose was slightly bent inwards and there were marks which could be felt.[ii]

Second charge – Frozen beans / peas incident

15 The next incident took place in April 2001, on a normal working day about a week after the first incident, at around 10.00am.[iii] Toifah was asked to cook porridge for the baby twins. Tong asked her to put green beans in the porridge, but she put leafy vegetables instead. Tong then took the packet of frozen green beans / peas (“kacang hijau”, resembling match-stick heads) from the fridge and used it to hit her on the centre of the head three to four times. It was painful and there was bleeding. Tong brought Toifah to the toilet, and used tissue paper to wipe the blood from Toifah’s head. Tong then gave Toifah a “handiplast”. The bleeding stopped after a while. Tong apologised to her. Only Tong and Toifah were present at that time. Koey was working then.

Third charge – Clothes peg incident

16 About a week before 13 September 2001, whenever Toifah was sleepy while feeding the baby, Tong used clothes pegs (a sample clothes peg was marked as P13) to clip her eyebrows, and would leave the clothes peg there for about half an hour. Four clothes pegs were clipped to each eyebrow.[iv] When Tong asked her to remove them, she would then remove them. Toifah could not recall when this happened, but it happened perhaps a week before she ran away. In cross-examination, Toifah added that this kind of assault took place daily for one or two weeks, commencing in September 2001.[v] Koey witnessed this, but just kept quiet. Toifah did not scream, but she did inform Tong that it was painful.

Fifth charge – Baby cot incident

17 In September 2001, on a weekday perhaps a week before Toifah ran away, she was in Tong’s room putting the baby to sleep at about 2.00pm to 3.00pm.[vi] When Tong saw that Toifah was sleepy, Tong used the plastic baby chair and hit her on her head and the whole of her right arm. Toifah shielded herself with her right arm. The baby chair was made of plastic and could be carried, swung and shaken. In cross-examination, Toifah clarified that Tong owned two such chairs, and the baby chair had no legs, but had a handle and could be swung. The main purpose of the baby chair was to make the baby sleep, but it could also be used for feeding. The injuries on the upper arm, elbow and bottom side of the forearm as shown in photograph P11 were caused by the baby chair.

Head stamping incident

18 About four to five days before she ran away, Toifah’s head was banged on the floor, and Tong used her leg to stamp on her head when her head was on the floor. In cross-examination, Toifah testified that the injury...

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