Tan Chee Wee v Public Prosecutor

JudgeChao Hick Tin JA
Judgment Date10 January 2004
Neutral Citation[2004] SGCA 2
Docket NumberCriminal Appeal No 13 of 2003
Date10 January 2004
Published date15 January 2004
Plaintiff CounselPeter Yap (Peter Yap) and Teo Choo Kee (CK Teo and Co)
Citation[2004] SGCA 2
Defendant CounselJames E Lee (Deputy Public Prosecutor)
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Subject Matter"Fight",Criminal Law,Special exceptions,Murder,Offences,Whether sufficient that intention to kill formed on the spot,Words and Phrases,Whether striking deceased on head with hammer constitutes taking undue advantage,Whether blow struck in sudden fight in heat of passion occasioned by sudden quarrel,Meaning,Whether striking deceased on head with hammer repeatedly constitutes acting in cruel or unusual manner,Sudden fight

Yong Pung How CJ (delivering the judgment of the court):

1 The appellant was convicted on the following charge and sentenced to death:

That you, Tan Chee Wee, on the 9th day of January 2003, between 10.42 am and 12.25 pm, at Block 45 Chai Chee Street #09-168, Singapore, committed murder by causing the death of one Thabun Pranee, female/26 years old, and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under section 302 of the Penal Code, Chapter 224.

2 He appealed against his conviction. We heard his appeal and dismissed it for the reasons that we now give.


3 The appellant, a Malaysian, was 29 years old on the date of the offence. He was married to Goh Ai Hoon (“Goh”), also a Malaysian. The couple worked at Polycore Optical (Pte) Limited (“Polycore”), a Singapore company. Despite being married, they lived separately in the male and female quarters provided by Polycore for its employees at Hougang.

4 The deceased, Thabun Pranee, was a Thai national holding a long-term pass. She was married to one Ler Lee Mong (“Ler”). Ler had brought the deceased to Singapore shortly after their marriage. The deceased could not speak English and could only manage a little Hokkien. They stayed at a flat at Chai Chee Street (“the flat”).

5 The appellant was a friend of Ler. He was a regular visitor to the flat. He came by two to three times a week to play mahjong with Ler and two other friends, namely Seow Chiak Kwang (“Seow”) and Alveen Ong, as well as to watch soccer matches. During these visits, the appellant hardly spoke to the deceased and they had merely nodded at each other owing to communication problems.

Prosecution’s case

6 At the trial below, the Prosecution’s case was simple. They contended that the appellant had gone to the flat to rob the deceased. In the course of the robbery, he had attacked her and intentionally inflicted several blows to her head. The injuries caused by those blows were sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death. As such, the Prosecution contended that the appellant was liable under both limbs (a) and (c) of s 300 of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed) (“s 300”), which reads:


300. Except in the cases hereinafter excepted culpable homicide is murder —

(a) if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death;

(b) …

(c) if it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person, and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death; or …

7 We now turn to examine the evidence presented by the Prosecution in greater depth. Their case begins on 9 January 2003 when the appellant was not feeling well. He went to see Polycore’s company doctor and was given one day’s medical leave. The appellant returned to Polycore’s office premises to submit the medical certificate and to issue some instructions to his staff. He then hailed a taxi and went to the flat. He reached the void deck of the flat at about 10am.

8 At that time, the deceased was alone at home as Ler had already left home for work. The appellant managed to gain access to the flat. The story then moves to about 5.50pm when Ler called home. No one answered his calls. He reached home at about 6.10pm and found the main wooden door to the flat wide open. The left side of the iron gate was also open and the padlock to the iron gate was hanging on the hinge with the keys dangling from the keyhole. He immediately entered the flat and walked to the master bedroom. He found his wife lying in a pool of blood on the floor next to the bed. She was lying on her left side. She was only wearing a black T-shirt and panty. He tried to wake her up, but failed to elicit any visible response. He immediately ran out of the master bedroom and called the police.

9 While waiting for the police to arrive, Ler noticed that the wardrobe drawers had been forced open. He also found that his wife’s jewellery box and wallet were empty. Upon the arrival of the police, they asked Ler to check his belongings thoroughly. Ler complied and discovered that other items including one gold Rolex watch, gold chains, gold bracelets, the gold rings that his wife normally wore, a red packet containing $120 and cash of about $300 were all missing.

10 A paramedic arrived on the scene at 6.31pm and the deceased was pronounced dead at 6.38pm. The officers from the Special Investigation Section, Criminal Investigation Division (“SIS”) arrived at the flat at about 8pm. ASP Christopher Jacob was the investigating officer. In the course of his investigations, he activated the caller-ID display screen of the master bedroom telephone and noticed that there were two incoming calls that day. The first was at 10.42am from a mobile telephone number 98773531 and the second was from Ler in the evening.

11 Further investigations revealed that the mobile phone number was registered to Seow who told the police that he had subscribed to the line on behalf of the appellant. At 11.30pm, the SIS officers went to Polycore’s male quarters and confirmed that the appellant was in possession of a mobile phone carrying the said number. They invited him back to the station for an interview. The appellant did not object and went along.

12 The next morning, the appellant gave a statement to the SIS officers in which he admitted to entering the flat for the purpose of robbery. He further admitted that a struggle occurred in which he had used a hammer to hit her head and the deceased had rolled onto the floor, following which the appellant left the flat. The SIS officers then placed the appellant under arrest for murder.

13 The appellant was brought back to his quarters where a black haversack was recovered. In that haversack, the police found four gold chains, five bracelets, three rings, one Buddha pendant, one bangle and one gold Rolex watch, which were identified by Ler as being the items taken from his flat. The police also found a hammer, spanner, screwdriver and test pen which the appellant identified as the tools that he had brought along for the robbery.

14 The police subsequently recovered from a rubbish collection centre the T-shirts that the appellant had worn during the robbery and from Senoko Incinerator Plant the gloves, string and knife that the appellant had used during the robbery. All these items were identified by the appellant. A subsequent analysis by the DNA Profiling Laboratory at the Centre of Forensic Science revealed that blood was found on the hammer, knife, strings and glove. This blood was found to match the blood of the deceased.

15 On the same day, the police recorded a cautioned statement under s 122(6) of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68, 1985 Rev Ed) from the appellant at about 7pm. In that statement, which was admitted without challenge, the appellant stated:

On that day, when I went up, it had never occurred to me that the matter would become so serious. On that day, she had run out of the room and I pointed the knife at her. She struggled. I only pointed the knife at her and she was struggling away. I do not know how my knife ended up stabbing her throat. On that day when I went up, I had only wanted money. I did not intend to kill her…

16 As their final witness, the Prosecution called Dr Gilbert Lau, the forensic pathologist who had conducted the autopsy. He testified that from his preliminary examination of the body on 9 January 2003 at 11pm, he estimated the post mortem interval to be in the region of 6–12 hours. He further testified that he established at the autopsy that the victim’s attire was heavily stained with blood. He found 18 scalp lacerations of varying dimensions, with the most severe being “Injury No 1” which was a “gaping, deep stellate laceration measuring 6x4cm across the lower central and right occipital regions”. There was also an underlying fracture measuring 3x3cm from which a linear fracture 6cm in length radiated from. In addition, there was a stab wound across the lower neck and several fine scratch marks around the stab wound, as well as several more minor injuries such as bruises on her face and ligature marks on both her wrists.

17 Dr Lau testified that the deceased’s death was due to “blunt force trauma of the head, with resultant bilateral, diffuse, acute subdural and subarachnoid haemorrhage”. In plain terms, this meant that death had resulted from the blows to the victim’s head, which had caused damage to the brain. He further opined that the stab wound to the neck was “unlikely to have caused or contributed to death”.

18 Dr Lau further testified that he was of the opinion that the hammer found in the appellant’s quarters could have been used to inflict the lacerations of the scalp and the underlying fractures of the skull. Dr Lau also noted that while it was, in theory, possible for one or two of the scalp lacerations to have been caused by the deceased’s head falling onto the spanner, this would require the deceased to have been pushed with considerable force. Further, it was highly unlikely given the wide splatter of blood in the bedroom, which instead suggested to him that repeated blows were inflicted upon the victim’s head by “up and down movements of the bloodstained instruments” at various locations in the room.

19 Lastly, Dr Lau testified that he was of the opinion that the head wounds (in particular, the injuries caused to the brain by the blows) would be sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death.

20 After hearing the Prosecution’s evidence, the trial judge found that the Prosecution had made out a case against the appellant which, if left unrebutted, would warrant his conviction. As such, he called upon the Defence to present their case.

Defence’s case

21 At trial, the appellant put forward several defences. First, the appellant, while admitting that he had struck the deceased on her head with the hammer, denied inflicting all the head wounds. Instead, he contended that...

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    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
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    ...to s 300(c) PC has taken a shift in terms of the interpretation that has been given to it. The Court of Appeal in Tan Chee Wee v PP [2004] 1 SLR 479 at [43] held [I]n examining whether s 300(c) has been made out, the court’s approach to mens rea is only to determine whether the accused had ......
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    • Court of Appeal (Singapore)
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    ...ask is whether the wounds that were caused were in fact wounds which the accused intended to cause. As the court in Tan Chee Wee v PP [2004] 1 SLR(R) 479 (“Tan Chee Wee”) at [42] stated: Section 300(c) thus envisions that the accused subjectively intends to cause a bodily injury that is obj......
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4 books & journal articles
  • Criminal Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2004, December 2004
    • 1 December 2004
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    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2010, December 2010
    • 1 December 2010
    ...Bock v Public Prosecutor [1991] 2 SLR(R) 608, Public Prosecutor v Lim Poh Lye [2005] 4 SLR(R) 582, Tan Chee Wee v Public Prosecutor [2004] 1 SLR(R) 479 and Mohammed Ali bin Johari v Public Prosecutor [2008] 4 SLR(R) 1058. In these cases, the accused were rightly convicted of s 300(c) murder......
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    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2006, December 2006
    • 1 December 2006
    ...SLR 564 (“Visuvanathan”). 16 Id at 568, [14]. 17 Visuvanathan v PP [1978—1979] SLR 49. 18 For a recent declaration, see Tan Chee Wee v PP[2004] 1 SLR 479 at [42]: Section 300(c) thus envisions that the accused subjectively intends to cause a bodily injury that is objectively likely to cause......
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    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2005, December 2005
    • 1 December 2005
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