Case Summaries

Tay Wee Kiat and another v Public Prosecutor

SUPREME COURT OF SINGAPORE

2 March 2018

Case Summary

Tay Wee Kiat and another v Public Prosecutor [2018] SGHC 42
Magistrate’s Appeals Nos 9079 and 9080 of 2017

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Background

1          Tay Wee Kiat (“Tay”) and his wife Chia Yun Ling (“Chia”), together “the appellants”, were convicted of various offences relating to their abuse of a domestic maid. Tay was sentenced to an aggregate of 28 months’ imprisonment and Chia to two months’ imprisonment. They both appealed against their convictions and sentences, while the Prosecution appealed against their sentences only.

2          The High Court (consisting of Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Justice See Kee Oon) upheld the appellants’ convictions. Tay’s aggregate sentence was increased to 43 months’ imprisonment, while the appeals in relation to Chia’s sentences were dismissed.

 

The material facts and the charges

3          The victim, Fitriyah, was a 33-year-old Indonesian woman who worked as a domestic maid in the appellants’ household from 7 December 2010 to 12 December 2012. For some of this time the appellants also employed another maid, Moe Moe Than. Criminal investigations began when Moe Moe Than, after leaving Singapore, reported that she had been abused by the appellants.

4          Tay was convicted after trial of 10 charges of voluntarily causing hurt to the victim under s 323 read with s 73(2) of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) between February 2011 and December 2012. Some of the incidents involved slapping her, hitting her head with a bundle of three canes tied together, and pushing her head against a cabinet. On one occasion, Tay made the victim stand on a plastic stool on one leg and hold up another plastic stool with one hand, while he pushed an empty plastic bottle into her mouth (“the Stool Incident”). On another, Tay made the victim and Moe Moe Than kneel and get up before a Buddhist altar in the home 100 times and then slap each other 10 times (“the Prayer Incident”). On a third occasion, Tay made the victim and Moe Moe Than assume a push-up position and then kicked the victim on her left waist (“the Push-Up Incident”).

5          Tay was also convicted of two other charges: one under s 204B(1)(a) of the Penal Code, for offering to pay the victim’s full salary and send her back to Indonesia on condition that she abstain from reporting him for maid abuse; and one under s 182 of the Penal Code, for instigating the victim to lie to the police that he had not physically abused her.

6          Chia was convicted of two charges of voluntarily causing hurt to the victim, one for slapping her face and one for punching her forehead.

 

Appeals against conviction

7          The appellants made three preliminary arguments against their convictions: that the Prosecution’s amendment of some of the charges had prejudiced their defence; that the Prosecution had double-counted some offences because some of the charges were worded identically; and that the Prosecution had breached its obligations under Muhammad bin Kadar and another v Public Prosecutor [2011] 3 SLR 1205 (“Kadar (No 1)”) by failing to disclose the statements which the victim had made to the police. ([20])

8          The court rejected these arguments. First, the charges were amended before the Defence was called and the appellants had sufficient opportunity to meet the Prosecution’s case. Moreover, the amendment of charges did not undermine the veracity or reliability of the victim’s and Moe Moe Than’s evidence. ([21], [22])

9          Second, although some of the charges were worded identically, they referred to separate and distinct incidents of abuse. The details pertaining to each charge were dealt with in the evidence, the submissions and by the trial judge. ([23])

10        Third, the Prosecution had not breached its obligations under Kadar (No 1). The victim’s statements were inadmissible under s 259 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68, 2012 Rev Ed), and would not provide a real chance of pursuing a line of inquiry that leads to material that is likely to be admissible and that might reasonably be regarded as credible and relevant to the appellants’ guilt or innocence. The mere fact that the charges had been amended did not constitute reasonable grounds to believe that the duty of disclosure had been breached. ([25][28])

11        The appellants also highlighted various aspects of the victim’s evidence which they alleged were inconsistent with other aspects of her testimony and/or other evidence. While there were some inconsistencies, these were largely immaterial and did not affect the victim’s credibility. Discrepancies between the victim’s testimony and that of other witnesses were minor and understandable given the passage of time. Moreover, five incidents of abuse were corroborated by Moe Moe Than’s testimony. ([33], [35], [36], [39], [40][46])

12        The appellants also argued that, if the victim had really been abused, she would have reported the abuse to the police or to the doctors during her biannual medical check-up. However, there were adequate explanations for the victim’s failure to do so, including her belief in the appellants’ assurances that they would not hit her again and her perception  that the doctor would not be in a position to help her. ([47], [48])

 

Appeals against sentence

13        The court observed that psychological abuse, in conjunction with physical harm, was what characterised egregious instances of maid abuse. Domestic maids were particularly vulnerable to such abuse by reason of their circumstances. The psychological harm and mental anguish they can suffer from being trapped in a situation of fear, abuse and oppression can be just as acute and enduring as physical harm, if not more. The emotional trauma resulting from psychological abuse was therefore a critical sentencing consideration in maid abuse cases. ([66], [68][69])

14        The court set out the following sentencing framework for cases of maid abuse:

a          First, the court should determine whether the harm caused to the victim was predominantly physical, or both physical and psychological. In the former case, the court should consider the degree of harm and the aggravating and mitigating factors in determining the appropriate sentence, bearing in mind other maid abuse precedents. ([70])

b          If the abuse was both physical and psychological, the second step was for the court to identify the degree of harm caused in relation to each charge. Psychological harm could be indicated by behaviour which was humiliating or degrading, or calculated to reinforce the offender’s authority and oppress and bully the victim into submission. The following indicative sentencing ranges would then apply: ([71], [72])

 

Less serious physical harm

More serious physical harm

Less serious psychological harm

3–6 months’ imprisonment

6–18 months’ imprisonment

More serious psychological harm

6–18 months’ imprisonment

20–30 months’ imprisonment

 

c          Third, the court would adjust each sentence in the light of aggravating factors (eg, use of a weapon; efforts to prevent the victim from accessing help; motive; deliberation; an intention to cause greater harm than resulted; past convictions) and mitigating circumstances (eg, remorse; cooperation with the authorities; contributory mental illness).  ([73][74])

d          Finally, the court would decide which sentences to run consecutively, bearing in mind the duration and frequency of abuse. Where psychological harm arose from a sustained pattern of abuse, it was more appropriate to take that harm into account at this stage, rather than in sentencing each charge individually. ([72(c)], [75])

15        Applying the framework to the facts, the appeals against Chia’s sentences were dismissed. The harm that resulted from Chia’s offences was predominantly physical. Taking into account the degree of harm and her lack of remorse, two months’ imprisonment was not manifestly inadequate or excessive. ([77])

16        In contrast, Tay’s sentences for the Prayer Incident, the Stool Incident and the Push-Up Incident were manifestly inadequate given the degree of psychological harm inflicted, and were increased to 12, 10 and 12 months’ imprisonment respectively. The sentence in relation to pushing the victim’s head against the cabinet was also increased to 10 months’ imprisonment given the degree of physical harm caused. Considering the cumulative effect of Tay’s abuse over the two-year period, five sentences were ordered to run consecutively. ([78][81], [84])

17        The court will hear parties’ submissions on the matter of compensation to the victim. ([86])

 

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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