Wong Hoi Len v Public Prosecutor

JudgeV K Rajah JA
Judgment Date02 September 2008
Neutral Citation[2008] SGHC 146
Docket NumberMagistrate's Appeal No 47 of 2008
Date02 September 2008
Published date03 September 2008
Plaintiff CounselTan Siah Yong (Piah Tan & Partners)
Citation[2008] SGHC 146
Defendant CounselDavid Khoo (Attorney-General's Chambers)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Subject MatterAppellant intoxicated during encounter,Benchmark sentences,Victim a public transport worker,Criminal Procedure and Sentencing,Sentencing,Appellant convicted of voluntarily causing hurt,Section 323 Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed)

2 September 2008

V K Rajah JA:

1 The appellant pleaded guilty before the district judge to one charge of voluntarily causing hurt, an offence punishable under s 323 of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed). He was then sentenced to a term of imprisonment of one month. Dissatisfied with the outcome, he appealed to the High Court for a lighter sentence. After hearing counsel, I not only dismissed the appeal but increased the sentence to a term of imprisonment of three months. I now give the full reasons for my decision.

The factual background

2 The victim, Toon Chin Joon, was a taxi driver. On 19 May 2007 at about half an hour after midnight, he picked up the appellant who had just finished a drinking session with his friends. Shortly before reaching his destination, the appellant requested that the victim stop the taxi as he felt like throwing up. Before the victim could respond, the appellant threw up and soiled the taxi. The victim then stopped the vehicle, alighted and severely reprimanded the appellant. The appellant responded by angrily pushing the victim to the ground with both his hands. Here, the district judge quite correctly noted that “[e]ven after the victim had fallen, the [appellant] attacked the victim and rained several blows with his fists on the victim’s forehead and face” (PP v Wong Hoi Len [2008] SGDC 73 at [8]). In the midst of the struggle, the victim stopped moving and lay motionless on the ground. Shortly thereafter, the police and an ambulance arrived. Tragically, the victim was pronounced dead at the scene by the attending paramedics.

3 The appellant was examined by a doctor at Alexandra Hospital some 12 hours after the incident. The doctor observed in his report that “[a] superficial scratch mark was seen over [the appellant’s] left cheek 5cm in length. No other injuries were noted”. An analysis of his blood sample also revealed 5mg of ethanol per 100ml of blood. It should, however, be noted that the level of alcohol at the time of the incident must have been considerably higher.

4 In stark contrast, the injuries suffered by the victim were far more significant and disturbing. The senior consultant forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy found 13 external injuries on the victim’s body. These injuries were:

1. A right peri-orbital haematoma, measuring 5.5x4.5 cm, involving mainly the right upper eyelid, with mild swelling of the left upper eyelid.

2. An abrasion, measuring 2.2x0.6 cm, on the lower part of the right forehead, just above the lateral end of the right eyebrow.

3. An abrasion, measuring 2.1x2 cm, on the upper part of the right upper cheek, just below the outer canthus of the right eye.

4. A bruise, measuring 4x2 cm, of the nose.

5. An abrasion, measuring 1.4x1.3 cm, on the upper posterolateral aspect of the right forearm, just distal to the right elbow.

6. An abrasion, measuring 1.1x1.1 cm, on the right thenar eminence (the right palm of the right hand), just distal to the right wrist.

7. An abrasion, measuring 3.5x0.6 cm, across the dorsum of the right wrist.

8. A pin-point abrasion, measuring 0.1 cm in diameter, on the dorsum of the right hand.

9. An abrasion, measuring 0.4x0.1 cm, over the second metacarpophalangeal joint of the right hand (the knuckle of the right index finger).

10. An abrasion, measuring 0.4x0.2 cm, over the third metacarpophalangeal joint of the right hand (the knuckle of the right middle finger).

11. An abrasion, measuring 0.6x0.4 cm, over the third metacarpophalangeal joint of the left hand (the knuckle of the left middle finger).

12. A group of abrasions, measuring 0.5x0.3 cm – 2.5x1.5 cm, distributed over an area of 10x5 cm, on the anterior aspect of the right knee and the adjacent part of the right upper shin.

13. Small scabs on the left knee and left upper shin, anteriorly, and over the right lateral malleolus (at the right ankle).

5 Apart from the external injuries, the autopsy also revealed that the victim had suffered relatively minor internal injuries. An examination of the latter’s scalp revealed “bruising of the right temporalis muscle and some associated subgaleal haemorrhage”, while his meninges showed “minimal, patchy, acute [subarachnoid] haemorrhage, mainly over the superior aspect of the left cerebral hemisphere”.

6 On the basis of the above injuries, the forensic pathologist commented, inter alia, in his report that:

4. There was some limited blunt force trauma to the head, comprising the external injuries to the forehead and face (nos. 1 – 4), together with the corresponding areas of deep facial bruising; the bruising of the left temporalis muscle and the surrounding scalp; and minimal, acute subarachnoid haemorrhage. It is unlikely that these injuries could have caused or contributed to death in themselves.

5. The external injuries of the forehead and face (nos. 1 – 4), as well as the corresponding areas of deep facial bruising, are consistent with their having been inflicted by means of several blows with a fist.

6. The abrasions near the right elbow and on the palm of the right hand (external injuries nos. 5 & 6) may represent either defensive injuries or injuries associated with a fall.

7. The abrasions on the dorsal aspects of the right wrist and hand (external injuries nos. 7 – 11) are consistent with defensive injuries.

8. The abrasions on the right knee and shin (external injury no. 12) are consistent with a fall. It would not be possible to determine from the autopsy findings whether the deceased had fallen on his own accord, or had been pushed, as the very act of pushing per se usually leaves no mark or injury on the body.

[emphasis added]

7 He concluded his report by stating that the victim had died from a natural cause:

9. Death may be deemed to be due primarily to a natural medical cause … possibly aggravated by limited blunt force trauma to the head and/or a fall. However, it must be emphasised that, given the severity of the underlying heart disease, sudden death could have occurred at any time, even in the absence of any preceding trauma or antecedent stress. [emphasis added]

The law

Custodial sentence as the starting benchmark

8 Taxi drivers in Singapore provide a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week service. With some 23,000 taxis on the roads, the industry is one with an average daily ridership of over 900,000 passenger-trips, according to the Land Transport Authority’s “Singapore Land Transport Statistics in Brief 2007” (available at (accessed 26 August 2008)). Indeed, in PP v Neo Boon Seng [2008] SGHC 90 at [13], Chan Sek Keong CJ aptly described taxi drivers as performing a public service and depicted the taxi industry as “a pillar of Singapore’s public transport system”.

9 Notwithstanding the significant role played by taxi drivers as public transport workers, they are not infrequently underappreciated by the general public. According to one taxi driver,[note: 1] from time to time they have had to endure scolding from unreasonable passengers, deal with rude private car owners who insist on the right of way, and run the risk of picking up passengers who subsequently walk away without paying. Lamentably, on rare occasions such as the present, taxi drivers encounter something far worse.

10 Just two days after this court rendered oral judgment, The Straits Times (24 July 2008) at p H6 reported yet another case of a taxi driver who was subjected to physical violence.[note: 2]In that case, the taxi driver was assaulted by a drunken passenger. The driver, fearing for his life, fled his taxi. The passenger then drove off in the taxi. The increase in robberies against taxi drivers has not gone unnoticed and the issue was raised only recently in Parliament, when the Minister for Transport was asked, in the light of the recent rise in robbery cases on taxi drivers, what measures were being taken by his Ministry to enhance the safety of taxi drivers (see Order Paper, 11th Parliament of Singapore, First Session (21 July 2008), question No 49 by Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim). More recently, in a feature article, Leong Wee Keat, “More cabbies attacked” Today (4 August 2008), at pp 1 and 4, it was observed that:

Cabbies may say assaults against them are rare, but they are on the rise, according to the largest taxi operator here.

ComfortDelGro – which has 15,000 of the 24,000 taxis on the roads here – told Today that assaults against the company’s drivers have more than doubled from a year ago.

[M]ost attacks could happen after fare disputes, when passengers try to cheat their way out of paying and when dealing with drunken passengers – a perennial headache cabbies face.

While passengers might grumble about high fares, cabbies said most would get agitated if they got caught in a traffic jam, or felt that the cabbie was out to cheat them by taking a longer route.

The authorities have taken a tougher stance to deter crimes against cabbies.

Unlike other countries, attacks against taxi drivers are just a blip on the crime radar here, but an alarming one nonetheless. For example, the number of reported taxi robberies rose from 24 to 49 between 2006 and last year, according to the police.

[emphasis added]

11 The reported increase in criminal acts targeting persons working in the field of public transport is worrying. It should be nipped in the bud through, inter alia, deterrent sentencing of offenders. There is little doubt that public transport workers (this includes bus captains) are more vulnerable to criminal violence than their counterparts in most other professions. They are constantly exposed on the service frontline and, very often, are left to fend for themselves when confronted with difficult and/or unruly passengers. In Duncan Chappell & Vittorio Di Martino, Violence at Work, (International Labour Office, 2nd Ed, 2000) at p 67, the authors observed that, of lone workers, taxi drivers in many places were at the “greatest risk of violence”. At the same time, other public transport workers such...

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