Sivakumar s/o Rajoo v Public Prosecutor

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeYong Pung How CJ
Judgment Date20 February 2002
Neutral Citation[2002] SGHC 28
Docket NumberMagistrate's Appeal No 327 of 2001
Date20 February 2002
Year2002
Published date19 September 2003
Plaintiff CounselRakesh Vasu (Gomez & Vasu)
Citation[2002] SGHC 28
Defendant CounselJanet Wang (Deputy Public Prosecutor)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Subject MatterRoad Traffic,Definitions,Words and Phrases,Whether discretion ought to be exercised in offender's favour,"special reasons",s 67(2) Road Traffic Act (Cap 276, 1997 Ed),Whether special reasons exist for court not to make minimum mandatory disqualification order,Circumstances to consider,Drink driving,Offences,Statutory Interpretation,Factors to take into account,Offender driving while under influence of drink in attempt to save lives of his friend and her children,'Special reasons'

Judgment

GROUNDS OF DECISION

The appellant pleaded guilty in the district court to the following two charges:

First Charge

That you, Sivakumar s/o Rajoo NRIC No. S7525422I are charged that you, on or about the 8th day of July 2001, at about 1.55 am, along Ang Mo Kio Ave 5, Singapore, when driving motor car SBT 5831G, did have so much alcohol in your body that the proportion of it in your breath exceeded the prescribed limit and you have thereby committed an offence under section 67 (1) (b) of the Road Traffic Act, Cap 276.

Second Charge

That you, Sivakumar s/o Rajoo NRIC No. S7525422I are charged that you, on or about the 8th day of July 2001, at about 1.55 am, along Ang Mo Kio Ave 5 Singapore, did drive motor car SBT 5831G at a speed of 133 kmph, in excess of the authorised speed limit of 60 kmph of the road, and you have thereby committed an offence under section 63 (4) of the Road Traffic Act, Cap 276 and punishable under section 131 (1) (a) of the same Act.

2 As the appellant had no prior convictions of a similar nature, the first offence was punishable under the Road Traffic Act ("the Act") with a fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $5,000, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, and in the absence of ‘special reasons’, to an order disqualifying the offender from holding or obtaining a driving licence for a period of not less than 12 months from the date of his conviction. The second offence is punishable under s 131(1A) of the Act with a fine not exceeding $1,000 or with imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months. Further, under s 42 of the Act, the court has discretion to order a convicted person to be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for life or for such period as the court may think fit.

3 On the first charge, the judge below imposed a $2,000 fine, in default 20 days imprisonment, and ordered that the appellant be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for all classes of vehicles for 12 months. On the second charge, the judge imposed a $800 fine, in default eight days imprisonment, and ordered that the appellant be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for all classes of vehicles for three months. The periods of disqualification were to run concurrently, making for a total fine of $2,800 and 12 months’ disqualification.

4 The defendant appealed against sentence, in particular, the order disqualifying him from holding or obtaining a driving licence for the 12 months’ period from the date of his conviction. At the end of the hearing before me, I dismissed the appeal. I now give my reasons.

The facts

5 On the night of 7 July 2001, the appellant received a call from his brother-in-law informing him that his estranged wife was about to commence divorce proceedings against him. This news saddened him and the appellant consumed some beer.

6 Soon after, the appellant’s close friend who was facing similar marital problems, Ms Rajee, telephoned the appellant and informed him that she had received several threatening phone calls from loan sharks. She told the appellant that she could no longer handle her problems and was thinking of taking the lives of her children and then ending her own life. The appellant pleaded with her not to do anything foolish but she hung up abruptly. Thereafter the appellant tried several times to contact Ms Rajee but the latter refused to answer the telephone. The appellant started to worry that Ms Rajee was serious about carrying out her threat and he became frantic. He got into his car and drove towards Ms Rajee’s house. En-route, however, the appellant was stopped by the Traffic Police along Ang Mo Kio Ave 5 for speeding. Smelling alcohol in his breath, the appellant was made to undergo a breathalyser test by the police officer. He failed. Following a Breath Evidential Analyser ("BEA") at Traffic Police Headquarters, it was revealed that the proportion of alcohol in his breath was 64 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath, exceeding the prescribed limit which is 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath.

7 At the court below, the appellant pleaded guilty to the above-stated charges.

The decision below

8 In his written judgment, the trial judge found that there was no real threat to Ms Rajee from the loan sharks. He noted from Wilkinson’s Road Traffic Offences (18th ed, volume 1 at page 1119 paragraph 21.49) that before the English High Court would recognise that an emergency is capable of amounting to a ‘special reason’, the defendant must first show that there was no other alternative but for him to drive, and that he had explored every reasonable alternative before driving. The judge held that there were no extenuating or pressing circumstances in this case. He also held that the appellant had not considered other forms of transport, nor did he attempt to resolve the emergency by other means such as by contacting the police or emergency services. As such, he concluded that there were no ‘special reasons’ that should excuse the appellant from an order of disqualification.

9 Even though it was unnecessary for him to go on, the judge noted the words of Lord Widgery CJ in Taylor v Rajan [1974] RTR 304:

… the discretion where special reasons are found should only be exercised in clear and compelling circumstances, that in deciding whether to exercise their discretion, the justices should have regard to the way in which the car was driven, and that they should have regard to the defendant’s level of alcohol.

10 As such, he held that, even if ‘special reasons’ existed, he would not have been minded to exercise his discretion not to disqualify the appellant for 12 months.

Appeal against sentence

11 In his petition of appeal, the appellant contended that the judge erred in holding that his driving whilst under the influence of drink in the attempt to save Ms Rajee and her children did not amount to extenuating or pressing circumstances which constituted ‘special reasons’ for the purposes of s 67 (2) of the Act. Also, the appellant contended that the judge erred in holding that, even if there were ‘special reasons’, he would not have exercised his discretion not to disqualify him. The appellant argued that the judge ought to have exercised discretion in his favour in view of the extenuating or pressing circumstances. He appealed to set aside the disqualification order.

Special reasons

12 The first question arising in the appeal was whether the facts surrounding the commission of the s 67(1)(b) offence were extenuating or pressing circumstances that amounted to ‘special reasons’. It was thus necessary to examine the provisions of s 67(2) of the Act, which states:

A person convicted of an offence under this section shall, unless the court for special reasons thinks fit to order otherwise and without prejudice to the power of the...

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    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2006, December 2006
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