Wang Wenfeng v PP

CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Judgment Date23 August 2012
Docket NumberCriminal Appeal No 17 of 2011
Date23 August 2012
Wang Wenfeng
Public Prosecutor

[2012] SGCA 47

Chan Sek Keong CJ, Andrew Phang Boon Leong JA and V K Rajah JA

Criminal Appeal No 17 of 2011

Court of Appeal

Criminal Law—Elements of crime—Coincidence of mens rea and actus reus—Whether secondary or accretive cause of death displaced criminal liability for s 300 (c) murder—Section 300 (c)Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed)

Criminal Law—Offences—Murder—Actus reus—Medical cause of death unascertainable—Whether death caused by stabbing or other natural causes—Section 300 (c) Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed)

Criminal Law—Offences—Murder—Mens rea—Severity of stab to victim's chest by assailant positioned behind victim indicative of non-accidental nature of its infliction with firm hand—Section 300 (c) Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed)

The appellant was convicted of murder under s 300 (c) of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) for the death of a 58-year-old taxi driver, Yuen Swee Hong (‘Yuen’). The appellant had set out to rob Yuen and, in the course of a struggle, had stabbed Yuen in the chest while he was positioned behind Yuen in the taxi. Believing Yuen to be dead, the appellant then abandoned Yuen's body amongst the undergrowth in a nearby forested area. By the time Yuen's body was found six days later, it was in a highly decomposed and skeletonised state with heavy maggot infestation and loss of the internal organs. Consequently, the injuries sustained by Yuen had to be inferred from inter alia the cuts found on Yuen's shirt.

The Prosecution's case was that the appellant had repeatedly stabbed Yuen who was attempting to fend off the knife. However, the appellant was only willing to concede to the existence of one stab wound, which, he argued, had been caused accidentally during the struggle. The factual dispute over the number of stabs stemmed from the fact that while the pathologist observed a single wavy 3 cm cut (‘3 cm Wavy Cut’) on Yuen's shirt, the forensic scientist found four additional, but smaller, cuts. The trial judge did not make any conclusive finding on the number of wounds inflicted, having satisfied himself that Yuen had, in any event, been stabbed, and his injuries were sufficient to lead to death in the ordinary course of nature.

On appeal, the appellant argued that (a) Yuen's death was caused, not by the stabbing, but by other natural causes; and (b) he had stabbed Yuen accidentally and not intentionally. He argued that the trial judge should have made a finding on the number of wounds inflicted because a single wound, as opposed to five wounds, was more likely to have been accidentally caused. The Court of Appeal rejected these arguments, finding that both mens rea and actus reus were made out on the facts. The appellant also failed to establish the defence of sudden fight under Exception 4 to s 300 of the Penal Code because the evidence disclosed not a fight but a one-sided attack.

Given that (a)the Prosecution's case on actus reus was premised on the appellant's stabbing of Yuen and/or subsequent abandonment of Yuen's body; and (b)the appellant's purported belief that Yuen was dead at the point of abandonment, a question arose as to whether there was a problem of non-concurrence of the mens rea and actus reus, assuming that Yuen was alive after the stabbing and had died due to the subsequent abandonment. The Court of Appeal answered the question in the negative and upheld the appellant's conviction and sentence.

Held, dismissing the appeal:

(1) To establish the offence of murder under s 300 (c) of the Penal Code, it had to be shown that (a) death has been caused to a person by an act of the accused; (b) the bodily injury caused to the deceased had been intentionally inflicted; and (c) that bodily injury was sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death. ‘Sufficiency’ in this context was assessed objectively: at [32] and [33].

(2) The appellant's account of how Yuen came to be stabbed showed that such stabbing was not accidental, but had been intentionally done during a struggle. While Yuen was holding the appellant's hand and was trying to push the knife away from himself, the appellant was trying to pull the knife towards Yuen: at [35], [38] and [57].

(3) While there was, in the abstract, some force in the appellant's argument that a finding on the number of wounds could affect the determination of whether he had the requisite mens rea, this argument did not assist him on the facts as the evidence showed that Yuen had been stabbed at least five times on his chest. Even if only one stab corresponding to the 3 cm Wavy Cut was inflicted, such a deep and severe wound could only have been intentionally caused with a firm hand intent on bringing the knife towards Yuen's chest: at [34] to [36].

(4) Although it was not possible for the pathologist to pinpoint precisely the time or medical cause of Yuen's death, it was open to the court to look beyond the autopsy findings, and at the totality of the evidence, to determine the cause of death. On the facts, the evidence supported the trial judge's finding of death caused by extensive loss of blood: at [39] to [42] and [57].

(5) It was a fundamental principle of criminal law that there had to be a concurrence between the mens rea and actus reus for an offence to be established. This requirement would always be satisfied in a s 300 (c)situation, where the mens rea was the intention to inflict the particular bodily injury, which was sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, and the actus reus was the actual infliction of that bodily injury: at [45] and [61].

(6) If the bodily injury intentionally inflicted was sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, s 300 (c) murder would have been committed as a matter of course. An accretive or secondary cause of death would not operate to displace the primary cause of death. In such cases, it was therefore not necessary to rely on the ‘one transaction principle’ in Thabo Meli v The Queen[1954] 1 WLR 228 in order to satisfy the concurrence principle: at [59] to [61].

(7) On the facts, there was a concurrence of the mens rea and actus reus when the appellant intentionally stabbed Yuen and caused his death in the ordinary course of nature, through the massive loss of blood from the stab wounds. Yuen would have died from loss of blood even if he had been left in the taxi: at [59] and [61].

Abdul Ra'uf bin Abdul Rahman v PP [1999] 3 SLR (R) 533; [2000] 1 SLR 683 (refd)

Kaliappa Goundan v Emperor AIR 1933 Mad 798 (refd)

King-Emperor v Nehal Mahto (1939) ILR 18 Pat 485 (refd)

Lingaraj Das v Emperor AIR 1945 Pat 470 (refd)

Mohammed Ali bin Johari v PP [2008] 4 SLR (R) 1058; [2008] 4 SLR 1058 (refd)

Muhammad Radi v PP [1994] 1 SLR (R) 406; [1994] 2 SLR 146 (refd)

Oh Laye Koh v PP [1994] SGCA 102 (folld)

Palani Goundan v Emperor (1919) ILR 42 Mad 547 (refd)

PP v Mohammed Ali bin Johari [2008] 2 SLR (R) 994; [2008] 2 SLR 994 (folld)

Queen-Empress v Khandu Valad Bhavani (1890) ILR 15 Bom 194 (refd)

R v Smith [1959] 2 QB 623 (refd)

Rajwant Singh v State of Kerala AIR 1966 SC 1874 (refd)

Thavamani, Re AIR 1943 Mad 571 (refd)

Shaiful Edham bin Adam v PP [1999] 1 SLR (R) 442; [1999] 2 SLR 57 (refd)

Tan Chee Wee v PP [2004] 1 SLR (R) 479; [2004] 1 SLR 479 (folld)

Thabo Meli v R [1954] 1 WLR 228 (refd)

Virsa Singh v State of Punjab AIR 1958 SC 465 (folld)

Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) s 300 (c) (consd) ;s 300 Exception 4

Penal Code 1860 (Act No 45 of 1860) (India) s 307

Wong Hin Pkin Wendell (Drew & Napier LLC) and Luo Ling Ling (Colin Ng & Partners LLP) for the appellant

Bala Reddy, Thong Lijuan Kathryn and Tan Lin Yen Ilona (Attorney-General's Chambers) for the respondent.

Chan Sek Keong CJ

(delivering the grounds of decision of the court):


1 This was an appeal by the appellant, Wang Wenfeng, against the decision of the trial judge (‘the Judge’) in Public Prosecutor v Wang Wenfeng [2011] SGHC 208 (‘the Judgment’). The Judge convicted the appellant of murder under s 300 (c) of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) based on the following charge (‘the Murder Charge’):

on the 11th day of April 2009, sometime between 4 a.m. and 9.04 a.m., in the vicinity of Jalan Selimang, Singapore, did commit murder by causing the death of one Yuen Swee Hong (male/Date of Birth: 4 July 1951), and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under section 302 of the Penal Code, Chapter 224.

2 The appellant appealed against his conviction and sentence in relation to the Murder Charge, arguing that the Judge erred in finding that (a)he had caused the death of Yuen Swee Hong (‘Yuen’); and (b)he had the requisite mens rea under s 300 (c) of the Penal Code. At the conclusion of the appeal, we dismissed the appellant's appeal and upheld his conviction and sentence. We now set out our detailed grounds of decision.

Background of the case

3 The deceased, Yuen, was a 58-year-old SMRT taxi driver who had been driving taxis for a living for 20 years. On 11 April 2009, he was robbed and killed during one of his night shifts, and subsequently abandoned in a forested area. This appeal illustrates the risk faced by taxi drivers when driving would-be robbers alone at night and in the early hours of the day. Unlike in some other cities, taxis in Singapore are not fitted with safety partitions to shield taxi drivers from potentially violent assault by passengers. The presence or absence of such safety devices could, however, make all the difference in certain situations, such as the present.

4 The appellant, aged 31 at the time of the offence, was a male foreign worker from the Fujian province of China. He was facing difficult personal circumstances as he needed money to pay for his sick mother's medical fees in China, but was unable to secure regular employment in Singapore. He had also been told by his last employer...

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6 cases
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    ...resulting in bodily injury was done with the intention of causing that bodily injury to the accused: Wang Wenfeng v Public Prosecutor [2012] 4 SLR 590 (“Wang Wenfeng”) at [32]. Where an accused is charged under s 300(c) of the Penal Code, element (b) is objectively determined, while element......
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2 books & journal articles
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    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal Nbr. 2013, December 2013
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