Soh Meiyun v PP

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeChao Hick Tin JA
Judgment Date29 April 2014
Neutral Citation[2014] SGHC 90
Citation[2014] SGHC 90
Defendant CounselKumaresan Gohulabalan (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Published date05 May 2014
Plaintiff CounselQuek Mong Hua and Nicholas Poa (Lee & Lee)
Hearing Date22 January 2014,02 April 2014
Docket NumberMagistrate's Appeal No 304 of 2012 and Criminal Motion No 42 of 2013
Date29 April 2014
Subject MatterSentencing,Causing hurt to a domestic maid,Criminal Procedure and Sentencing,Evidence of psychiatric condition of appellant offender,Adducing fresh evidence,Compensation and costs,Compensation orders,Appeal
Chao Hick Tin JA:

This is an appeal against sentence in a case of maid abuse. The appellant, a 34-year-old female Singaporean who was 29 years old at the time she committed the offences, claimed trial in the court below to two charges of voluntarily causing hurt simpliciter and one charge of voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means punishable under ss 323 and 324 of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) (“Penal Code”) respectively. The trial judge (“the District Judge”) convicted her on all three charges and imposed on her a total sentence of 16 months’ imprisonment.

In support of her appeal the appellant sought, by way of Criminal Motion No 42 of 2013, to admit fresh evidence on appeal pursuant to s 392 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68, 2012 Rev Ed) (“CPC 2012”). This evidence consisted of a medical report dated 10 June 2013 prepared by a psychiatrist from the Institute of Mental Health, where he expressed the opinion that the appellant was suffering from “major depressive disorder” and “obsessive compulsive disorder” at the time she committed the offences against her domestic maid.

Facts as found by the District Judge

The facts of the case may be gleaned from the District Judge’s written grounds of decision (“GD”) dated 7 January 2013 (see Public Prosecutor v Soh Meiyun [2013] SGDC 12) as well as his oral judgments delivered earlier on 16 November 2012 and 7 December 2012 respectively. In the first oral judgment he explained his decision as to the appellant’s guilt on the charges, while in the second oral judgment and the GD he explained his decision on the sentence he imposed on her.

The victim entered the appellant’s employ as a domestic maid on either 19 or 21 March 2009. She was then 26 years old. For the first two weeks of her employment she was not abused. But thereafter, the District Judge found that “incidents of assault and abuse” occurred “almost every day” until 28 May 2009, the day on which the victim escaped from the appellant’s home: at [39] of the GD.

Although the District Judge found that the victim was assaulted almost every day, the fact is that the prosecution preferred only three charges against the appellant. Each charge related to a separate incident of abuse against the victim. Dealing with the incidents in chronological order, the incident involving the second charge, which was one of the two charges of voluntarily causing hurt simpliciter (the other being the third charge), took place sometime in April 2009. The appellant used a bamboo pole to hit the victim on her head, back, and thighs; it is not clear whether all this took place at a single incident or at different times, but that is not important. As a consequence of the beatings the victim sustained multiple bruises, including a particularly large bruise measuring 18 cm by 30 cm on her left thigh and two smaller bruises each measuring 5 cm by 2 cm on her right thigh, as well as two cephalohematoma on her head (ie, bleeding and subsequent bruising above the skull but beneath the skin of the head) measuring 3 cm and 5 cm, respectively.

The next incident occurred sometime in May 2009 and this formed the subject of the first charge, which was for voluntarily causing hurt with dangerous weapons or means. The appellant asked the victim if she wanted a heated spoon applied to her skin, to which she replied in the negative; but the appellant nevertheless proceeded to turn on the gas stove and heated a metal spoon over the fire before pressing the hot spoon against the victim’s arm. After this was done the appellant asked the victim the same question, and upon receiving the same response, once again placed the heated spoon on the victim’s skin.

The final incident, which formed the subject matter of the third charge, took place on 28 May 2009, the day on which the victim finally made her escape. The District Judge found that the appellant had forced the victim to strip naked and went on to use a sewing needle to inflict punctures and scratches on various parts of her body, including her neck, chest, and lower back.

Sentences imposed by the District Judge

Under s 323 of the Penal Code, the maximum punishment for an offence of voluntarily causing hurt simpliciter is two years’ imprisonment and a fine of $5,000. Under s 324 of the Penal Code, the maximum term of imprisonment for an offence of voluntarily causing hurt with dangerous weapons or means is seven years; the offender is in addition liable to be fined or caned, but with no specification as to the maximum quantum of fine or number of strokes. However, the maximum punishments for these offences are enhanced when the victim is a domestic maid and the offender, the maid’s employer or a member of the employer’s household. This is provided for in s 73(1)(a) and s 73(2) of the Penal Code, which read as follows:

Enhanced penalties for offences against domestic maids 73.—(1) Subsection (2) shall apply where an employer of a domestic maid or a member of the employer’s household is convicted of — an offence of causing hurt or grievous hurt to any domestic maid employed by the employer punishable under section 323, 324 or 325;

Where an employer of a domestic maid or a member of the employer’s household is convicted of an offence described in subsection (1)(a), (b), (c), (d) or (e), the court may sentence the employer of the domestic maid or the member of his household, as the case may be, to one and a half times the amount of punishment to which he would otherwise have been liable for that offence.

This means that the maximum punishment that could have been imposed on the appellant was three years’ imprisonment and a fine of $7,500 for voluntarily causing hurt simpliciter, and 10.5 years’ imprisonment plus a fine with no limit as to amount for voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means. There could be no caning as the appellant is a woman.

The District Judge imposed a sentence of nine months’ imprisonment in respect of the first charge (which involved the heated spoon); seven months’ imprisonment for the second charge (which involved the bamboo pole); and nine months’ imprisonment for the third charge (which involved the sewing needle). He ordered the sentences for the second and third charges to run consecutively, and the sentence for the first charge to run concurrently with the other two sentences, making a total sentence of 16 months’ imprisonment.

Fresh evidence sought to be admitted

Before I could consider the appeal against sentence I had to decide on the appellant’s application to admit, at this stage, evidence on the appellant’s psychiatric condition at the time of the offences. To recapitulate, this evidence consisted of a medical report dated 10 June 2013 put up by Dr Yao Fengyuan (“Dr Yao”), a psychiatrist with the Institute of Mental Health. This medical report (“the Medical Report”) arose out of a request made on 24 April 2013 by the appellant’s counsel at the trial below, Mr Roy Yeo (“Mr Yeo”), that a psychiatric examination be conducted on the appellant as to her mental state at the time the offences were committed. This request was made about five months after the appellant was convicted on 16 November 2012 and about four months after she was sentenced on 7 December 2012. In arriving at his diagnosis that the appellant was suffering from major depressive disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder at the time of the offences, Dr Yao conducted three interviews with her on 7, 16, and 21 May 2013 and likewise conducted three interviews with her husband on 7, 13, and 21 May 2013. Dr Yao also perused the District Judge’s GD, the appellant’s police statement dated 2 June 2009, and the medical report on the victim.

The Medical Report implied that the trigger event which brought about the appellant’s major depressive disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder was the birth of her son on 6 April 2008, which was about a year before she committed the offences. After her son was born, she “faced significant stress” and “subsequently developed depressed mood”. Her symptoms included “loss of interest, poor sleep, poor concentration and poor energy levels”. Her husband said that she would “get frustrated very easily” and quarrel with him “almost every day”. The Medical Report added that the appellant had “recurrent intrusive thoughts” that things would be dirty if not cleaned or handled in a certain way, and the way in which she coped with these thoughts was to “follow a ritualistic way of cleaning and packing things”. Her husband said that she would “spend many hours just to wash milk bottles, wash the clothes and pack the dry clothes in the cupboard”.

In response to the Medical Report, the prosecution wrote to Dr Yao by way of a letter dated 23 July 2013, setting out a list of questions meant to test the reliability of his diagnosis and his methodology. One of the prosecution’s chief concerns was that in the appellant’s interviews with Dr Yao, she appeared to have provided him with a description of her offences that differed significantly from the facts as found by the District Judge and that portrayed her in a markedly more positive light. She told Dr Yao that she pressed a heated spoon against the victim’s skin but “lightly”, and only once, and merely in order to educate the victim on the hazards of placing spoons inside pots while the pot was being heated over the stove; she told him that she did not use a bamboo pole to hit the victim, although she acknowledged using a hanger just once; and she told him that she did not use a sewing needle to scratch the victim, but instead inflicted scratches unintentionally when she tried to grab onto the victim for support, having slipped on the wet living room floor.

Dr Yao answered the prosecution’s list of questions by way of a letter dated 27 August 2013. As this is not a very lengthy document it is worth setting out in full the...

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