Tan Eng Chye v The Director of Prisons

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeKan Ting Chiu J
Judgment Date17 April 2004
Neutral Citation[2004] SGHC 77
Citation[2004] SGHC 77
Published date20 April 2004
Defendant CounselLeong Kwang Ian and Vinod Sabnani (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Date17 April 2004
Plaintiff CounselTan Gee Tuan (Gee Tuan and Khin Wai) and A Rajandran (A Rajandran Joseph and Nayar)
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 32 of 2004
Subject MatterCertiorari,Administrative Law,Forms of punishment,Sentencing,Section 232(1) Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68, 1985 Rev Ed),Remedies,Criminal Procedure and Sentencing,Caning,Whether grounds for judicial review exist,Thoroughness of medical assessment required prior to administering sentence,Whether leave to apply for order of certiorari should be granted

17 April 2004

Kan Ting Chiu J:

1 This is an application for leave to apply for an order of certiorari. The applicant is Tan Eng Chye and the respondent is the Director of Prisons.

2 The applicant pleaded guilty to a charge of robbery under s 392 of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed). Before sentence was passed on him, the district judge was informed that the applicant suffered from Marfan Syndrome, a congenital condition which affects the heart, eyes and other parts of the body. That was discovered when he went for pre-enlistment screening for National Service on September 2000, and he was medically downgraded and placed in a service vocation.

3 As the punishment under s 392 includes caning, the district judge was concerned whether caning should be ordered. He postponed sentence for a “[m]edical report on whether accused is fit for caning” to be produced to him.

4 In compliance with the order, the applicant was seen by Dr Ooi Poh Hin, Medical Officer, Queenstown Remand Prison, who put up a report dated 16 October 2003 that:

I have examined the [accused] today.

He is fit for caning.

The report does not state whether Dr Ooi had referred to any previous medical records, or even whether he had addressed his mind to the applicant’s condition of Marfan Syndrome.

5 Apparently, the district judge did not find the report useful, as he did not refer to it in his grounds of decision after he sentenced the appellant to imprisonment of four years and six months and 12 strokes of the cane.[1] He stated:

It was not clear from the Mitigation Plea what Marfan Syndrome is, but the following posting on the web-site of the US National Marfan Organisation (www.marfan.org) states that –

What is the Marfan syndrome?

The Marfan syndrome is a heritable disorder of the connective tissue that affects many organ systems, including the skeleton, lungs, eyes, heart and blood vessels. The condition affects both men and women of any race or ethnic group. It is estimated that at least 200,000 people in the United States have the Marfan syndrome or a related connective tissue disorder.

What medical problems are associated with the Marfan syndrome?

1. The Cardiovascular System

The most serious problems associated with the Marfan syndrome involve the cardiovascular system. The two leaflets of the mitral valve may billow backwards when the heart contracts (mitral valve prolapse). This can lead to leakage of the mitral valve or irregular heart rhythm.

In addition, the aorta, the main artery carrying blood away from the heart, is generally wider and more fragile in patients with the Marfan syndrome. This widening is progressive and can cause leakage of the aortic valve or tears (dissection) in the aorta wall. When the aorta becomes greatly widened, or tears, surgical repair is necessary.

2. The Skeleton

Skeletal manifestations common in people with the Marfan syndrome include curvature of the spine (scoliosis), abnormally shaped chest (pectus deformity), loose jointedness and disproportionate growth usually, but not always, resulting in tall stature.

3. The Eyes

People with the Marfan syndrome are often near-sighted (myopic). In addition, about 50 percent have dislocation of the ocular lens.

Although this appears to be a medical problem that can seriously affect a person’s health, there was nothing in the materials before me which showed that the accused was so affected. Therefore, while I accepted that the accused had a medical problem, as well as psychiatric and behavioural problems, these were of limited mitigating value. Similarly, while the surrender of the accused, his co-operation in the investigations, and his admission of guilt were also mitigating factors, not much weight could be given to them because he was known to the victim, and his identity was established very early.

6 I surmise that the district judge called for the medical report because he wanted to know about Marfan Syndrome, the severity of the applicant’s condition, and the effects caning could have on him.

7 Dr Ooi’s report did not give him the necessary information as it made no reference to Marfan Syndrome or its effects. The district judge had to obtain information from the Internet instead.

8 The district judge’s initiative is commendable, but it is not a substitute for a proper medical report because he still did not get answers to the second and third questions.

9 I feel that the district judge should have asked for another examination and report. If there were doubts whether the applicant should be caned, they could not have been removed by Dr Ooi’s report or the information obtained from the Internet.

10 This is the applicant’s complaint, that the report is inadequate. In an affidavit affirmed by the applicant’s counsel, Tan Gee Tuan, in support of the application, she deposed that:

7 The Applicant has been assessed to suffer from the Marfan Syndrome and a person with such disability is likely to suffer serious injury affecting his heart, eyes, and skeletal structure. The fact that the Applicant suffers from the Marfan Syndrome is confirmed by the medical reports from the Ministry of Defence assessing the Applicant as such. …

8 Subsequent to the sentencing of the Applicant, the Applicant underwent further medical examination and the assessments made by the respective doctors are stated in the affidavits of Dr Paul Ho and Dr Lim Tock Han filed herewith. The further assessment shows that there is a real danger or risks of the Applicant suffering serious injury upon the infliction of caning. This is clearly contrary to the medical certification made by the Prisons Department.

9 An even more worrying consideration is the fact that it would appear that the medical examination and subsequent certification of the Applicant by the Prisons Department did not give full or sufficient assessment of the Marfan Syndrome and the ensuing risks and disabilities which could be inflicted by the caning.

11 Dr Paul Ho is a general practitioner in private practice. He saw the applicant on 10 November 2003 and found that he has classical Marfan Syndrome. Dr Ho was of the opinion that:

[A]s he has the features of Marfan Syndrome he should not be caned as there are complications of lens dislocation, dissecting aneurysm and dislocation of joints and possible hernia presentation.

The disabilities caused to such a patient can be permanent and irreversible and may also require surgical correction in future.

12 Dr Lim Tock Han is a consultant ophthalmologist and Head of the Department of Ophthalmology,...

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4 cases
  • Iskandar bin Muhamad Nordin v Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 4 November 2005
    ...5962 (refd) R v Rundle (1983) 24 Man R (2d) 252 (refd) R v Sargeant (1974) 60 Cr App R 74 (folld) Tan Eng Chye v Director of Prisons [2004] 2 SLR (R) 640; [2004] 2 SLR 640 (folld) Tok Kok How v PP [1995] 1 SLR (R) 292; [1995] 1 SLR 735 (folld) Wong Churn Hoong v PPMagistrate's Appeal No 250......
  • Chai Chwan v Singapore Medical Council
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 13 May 2009
    ...other considerations which might make the extensions questionable. 41 Ms Chew cited the authority of Tan Eng Chye v Director of Prisons [2004] 2 SLR 640 (“Tan Eng Chye”), but the decision did not assist Dr Chai. In Tan Eng Chye, the applicant pleaded guilty to a charge of robbery under s 39......
  • Tan Eng Chye v The Director of Prisons (No 2)
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 6 September 2004
    ...issue an application for an order of certiorari to quash the medical report of Dr Ooi Poh Hin dated 16 October 2004. The High Court (see [2004] 2 SLR 640) granted the application and the relevant parts of the grounds of decision are set out as 18 The argument is that the report dated 16 Oct......
  • Tan Eng Chye v The Director of Prisons (No 2)
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 6 September 2004
    ...issue an application for an order of certiorari to quash the medical report of Dr Ooi Poh Hin dated 16 October 2004. The High Court (see [2004] 2 SLR 640) granted the application and the relevant parts of the grounds of decision are set out as 18 The argument is that the report dated 16 Oct......
1 books & journal articles
  • Administrative and Constitutional Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2004, December 2004
    • 1 December 2004
    ...to receiving caning as a punishment raised a judicially-reviewable question was discussed in Tan Eng Chye v The Director of Prisons[2004] 2 SLR 640 and Tan Eng Chye v The Director of Prisons (No 2)[2004] 4 SLR 521. A challenge to the finding that there had been a misuse of discretion on sub......

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