Sim Gek Yong v Public Prosecutor

JudgeYong Pung How CJ
Judgment Date02 February 1995
Neutral Citation[1995] SGHC 27
Docket NumberMagistrate's Appeal No 327 of 1994
Date02 February 1995
Published date19 September 2003
Plaintiff CounselRonald Ng (Ng Lee & Pnrs)
Citation[1995] SGHC 27
Defendant CounselFrancis Tseng (Deputy Public Prosecutor)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Subject MatterWhether discount must always be given in respect of these factors -Need to balance the public interest with mitigating factors,What constitutes the 'worst case' scenario,Principles,Plea of guilty,Possibility that a more serious charge might have been brought against offender on same set of facts,'Worst possible type of case',Sentencing,Not a relevant factor in deciding sentence,Benchmark sentences,Maximum sentence,Criminal Procedure and Sentencing,Appeal,When maximum sentence prescribed for an offence may be imposed on offender,Absence of similar antecedents,Words and Phrases

The appellant was charged in the district court as follows:

You, Sim Gek Yong, male, 36 years, NRIC No S1311412/I, are charged that you, on or about 17 November 1994, between 9.30pm and 9.35pm, from Xilin Ave to the junction of Simei Road and Simei St 3, Singapore, in motor car SBH 5230 D, did obstruct officers of customs, Hoo Sen Kwi and Liew Chia Min in customs vehicle No SBB 4915 A, in the execution of their duties, to wit, by driving and using the said motor car to block and prevent the said customs vehicle from intercepting motor van No GH 6192 P which was conveying uncustomed goods, to wit, 1,970 cartons of assorted brands of duty-unpaid cigarettes, and you have thereby committed an offence under s 137(a) of the Customs Act (Cap 70) and punishable under s 137 of the same Act.

The appellant pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced by a district judge to nine months` imprisonment as well as a $5,000 fine (in default six months` imprisonment), this being the maximum punishment prescribed under s 137(a) of the Customs Act.
The present appeal was brought against the sentence imposed. Having heard the submissions of counsel for the appellant and of the deputy public prosecutor, I dismissed the appeal and now give my reasons in writing.

The facts

The facts of the case are set out in the statement of facts to which the appellant admitted unreservedly in pleading guilty to the charge against him. Essentially, the appellant had agreed to assist a friend, one Toh Hai Cheow (Toh), in Toh`s plan to smuggle into Singapore cigarettes on which customs duty had not been paid (the duty-unpaid cigarettes). The smuggling activity was to be carried out on 17 November 1994. At about 7.30pm on that day, therefore, the appellant proceeded to Changi Coast Road in motor car SBH 52130 D. His task, as agreed with Toh, was to drive close to the van driven by Toh (in which the cigarettes were being conveyed) and to keep a lookout for customs vehicles.

While driving along Changi Coast Road, the appellant noticed Toh`s van being trailed by a car which he suspected to be a customs vehicle.
As it turned out, his suspicions were well founded: the car was a customs vehicle carrying officers from the Customs Investigations Branch. The appellant accelerated his vehicle and overtook the customs vehicle along Xilin Ave, after which he intentionally slowed down. From Xilin Ave to Upper Changi Road East, he then manoeuvred his car by repeatedly swerving from one side of the road to the other, in such a way as to block the customs vehicle`s path. Eventually, however, Toh`s van was forced to stop at a red light, at which point one of the customs officers alighted from the customs vehicle and attempted to remove Toh`s ignition key through the window of the van. The officer failed to do so and Toh`s van sped off. The customs officer, then still clinging to the van window, was dragged for a short distance before falling off. The appellant too fled from the scene in his car, although he surrendered himself to the police four days after the incident.

The present appeal

On appeal, counsel for the appellant contended that the maximum sentence imposed by the district judge below was erroneous and manifestly excessive for the following reasons: first, because the district judge failed, in meting out sentence, to give any discount for the appellant`s act of voluntary surrender and his plea of guilt; secondly, because he failed also to take account of the fact that the appellant had no similar antecedents; thirdly, because the appellant`s role throughout the entire episode was that of a mere lookout, which role was not a sufficiently significant one to merit the imposition of the maximum sentence; and, finally, because the district judge erred in drawing a comparison between the appellant`s case and the case of an offence under s 353 of the Penal Code (Cap 224), which offence involves an assault or the use of criminal force on a police officer and which carries a maximum custodial sentence of two years.

Plea of guilt and absence of similar antecedents

The mitigating force of the appellant`s act of voluntary surrender and his guilty plea was in fact canvassed in the court below. The district judge pointed out that such factors had no mitigating effect where an accused had been caught `red-handed` and where a plea of guilt was practically speaking inevitable. On appeal before me counsel for the appellant made much of the fact that the...

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202 cases
  • R Yoganathan v Public Prosecutor and another appeal
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 13 September 1999
    ... ... appear to be so exceptional as to warrant the imposition of a lighter sentence on the appellant ( Lai Oei Mui Jenny v PP [1993] 3 SLR 305 ), whilst the remaining mitigating factors brought up by counsel were outweighed by the aggravating circumstances present in this case ( Sim Gek Yong v PP [1995] 1 SLR 537 at 541). Thus, taking into account the relevant considerations, I enhanced the appellant`s sentence to 36 months` imprisonment and 12 strokes of the cane. Conclusion ... For the above reasons, I dismissed the appellant`s appeal against conviction and sentence, ... ...
  • Annis bin Abdullah v Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 5 March 2004
    ...considered alongside other factors, including any aggravating factors against him. This was the approach I adopted in Sim Gek Yong v PP [1995] 1 SLR 537 at 541, Like any other personal factor put forward on the accused’s behalf in mitigation, the absence of similar antecedents is something ......
  • Balasubramanian Palaniappa Vaiyapuri v Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 23 January 2002
    ...cases the need to protect the public might outweigh any mitigating effect to be attached to an accused’s guilty plea: Sim Gek Yong v PP [1995] 1 SLR 537. It has been subsequently reaffirmed that the protection of the public is an exception to the general rule that the plea of guilt would en......
  • Leaw Siat Chong v Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 20 November 2001
    ... ... PERSONAL CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE APPELLANT ... The appellant relied on the fact that he was a first offender, an issue which he had already raised in the court below. Sim Gek Yong v PP [1995] 1 SLR 537 makes it clear that, although being a first offender is a mitigating factor, it must be weighed against other factors, the first and foremost consideration in this balancing process being the public interest. It was clear from the discussion in the grounds of decision of ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4 books & journal articles
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2004, December 2004
    • 1 December 2004
    ...sentencing which is based on advancing the public interest”: see infra, n 14 at 533E—G and the accompanying text), and Sim Gek Yong v PP[1995] 1 SLR 537 at [19], HC (“The first and foremost consideration in this balancing process, however, must be the public interest”). The Singapore Court ......
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 1997, December 1997
    • 1 December 1997 normally (though not always) treated as a mitigating factor: Melvani[1971] 1 MLJ 137; Khrishan Chand[1995] 2 SLR 291; Sim Gek Yong[1995] 1 SLR 537. Although this was once explained on the basis of remorse, the modern justification is definitely one of efficiency: The Australian Law Refor......
  • Criminal Procedure, Evidence and Sentencing
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2001, December 2001
    • 1 December 2001
    ...opposing factors, the first and foremost consideration in this balancing process being the public interest (see Sim Gek Yong v PP[1995] 1 SLR 537). The nature of the offence of illegal employment and the public interest in deterring its commission outweighed the fact that the appellant had ......
  • Intellectual Property Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2004, December 2004
    • 1 December 2004
    ...a court in deciding an appropriate sentence is that of public interest, citing PP v Tan Fook Sum[1999] 2 SLR 523 and Sin Gek Yong v PP[1995] 1 SLR 537. In respect of intellectual property, the public interests were the promotion of Singapore as a regional intellectual property centre and th......

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