Case Summaries

Neo Chuan Sheng v Public Prosecutor [2020] SGHC 97

SUPREME COURT OF SINGAPORE

18 May 2020

Case summary

Neo Chuan Sheng v Public Prosecutor [2020] SGHC 97

Magistrate’s Appeal No 9236 of 2019

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Decision of the High Court (delivered by Justice Chua Lee Ming):

Outcome: The court dismisses the appeal against the disqualification order of ten months imposed on the appellant who was convicted of a charge of dangerous driving.

Facts

1 The appellant pleaded guilty to an offence of dangerous driving under s 64(1) of the Road Traffic Act (Cap 276, 2004 Rev Ed) (“RTA”). He had reversed his car for about 203m along a two lane road to avoid a police road block.

2 The District Judge imposed a fine of $4,500 and disqualification from holding or obtaining all classes of driving licences for ten months with effect from the date of sentence. In determining the period of the disqualification order, the District Judge reasoned that the period of disqualification should be commensurate with the fine imposed and took guidance from the disqualification orders imposed in s 64(1) RTA cases in which fines of between $4,000 and $5,000 were imposed.

3 The appellant paid the fine and appealed against the disqualification order on the basis that it was manifestly excessive.

Decision on appeal

4 The court first set out the principles relevant to deciding the appropriate disqualification period. As the disqualification order and the fine imposed are not mutually compensatory, the fact that close to the maximum fine had been imposed was not a reason to reduce the period of disqualification (at [19]).  

5 The period of disqualification should also increase in tandem with the severity of the offence (at [20]). Per Public Prosecutor v Koh Thiam Huat [2017] 4 SLR 1099, the two principal parameters which a sentencing court would generally have regard to in evaluating the seriousness of a crime are the harm caused by the offence and the accused’s culpability (at [20]). In the context of s 64(1) RTA, the level of harm depends on the severity of the injury or damage actually caused or the potential harm that might have resulted (at [20] and [21]). The assessment of potential harm necessarily involves an assessment of the likelihood of the harm occurring. This assessment must be made against the relevant factual matrix and not in a vacuum (at [21] and [41]). An accused’s culpability would be increased by factors such as a particularly dangerous manner of driving or where the dangerous driving was deliberate (at [20] and [23]). The disqualification order would also take into consideration any mitigating and aggravating factors (at [25]).

6 A disqualification order of at least 12 months (“the 12-month threshold”) is significant because it means that the offender has to retake his driving test. Using the harm and culpability framework, this threshold would certainly be crossed if both harm and culpability are high. Conversely, if harm and culpability are both low, the 12-month threshold would not be crossed and, depending on the facts, arguably no disqualification order may be necessary (at [24]).

7 The court then considered the District Judge’s decision to view the appellant’s history of compounded traffic offences as an aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing. The court was of the view that a compounded offence is relevant for the purposes of sentencing only if it can be said to amount to an admission of guilt (at [27]). Section 135(1A) RTA provides that on payment of the composition sum, “no further proceedings are to be taken” against the alleged offender in respect of the offence (at [32]). The court reasoned that the effect of compounding an offence is that the compounded offence cannot be regarded as an admission of guilt and therefore cannot be taken into consideration for the purposes of sentencing, absent legislative intervention (at [31] and [33]).The court also noted that people may choose to compound an offence for a host of other reasons, such as practicality and expediency, without admitting liability (at [35] and [37]). It would also be curious if, absent statutory intervention, compounded RTA offences were relevant to sentencing but not compounded offences under other legislation which are of a similarly regulatory and/or straightforward nature (at [36]). Finally, the newly enacted s 139AA RTA showed that the general principle that compounded offences are not relevant in sentencing should be departed from only by way of statutory intervention (at [40]).

8 On the facts of the present case, no actual harm had resulted but the court disagreed with the District Judge that the potential harm was great or serious. There were no other vehicles or pedestrians along the road nor was there any evidence to suggest that other vehicles or pedestrians could reasonably have been expected to be on the road then, at about 2.10am. Hence, the potential harm was low, perhaps at the higher end of low (at [41]). The court agreed with the District Judge that the appellant’s culpability was medium. The appellant had deliberately reversed against the flow of traffic for a significant distance and had done so in order to undermine police operations by avoiding a road block (at [42]).

9 The court held that the District Judge should not have treated the appellant’s history of compounded traffic offences as an aggravating factor but agreed that the appellant’s previous convictions for traffic offences were aggravating (at [43]).

10 Taking into account the levels of harm and culpability, as well as the appellant’s previous traffic-related convictions and the limited mitigating weight of his plea of guilt, the court dismissed the appeal as the disqualification period of ten months was not manifestly excessive (at [51]).

 

This summary is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s grounds of decision. It is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Court. All numbers in bold font and square brackets refer to the corresponding paragraph numbers in the Court’s grounds of decision.

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