Public Prosecutor v Yeo Poh Choo Elizabeth Ann
[2006] SGMC 21

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Suit No:    PS 770/2006, 772/2006
Decision Date:    11 Sep 2006
Court:    Magistrates Court
Coram:    Eugene Teo Weng Kuan
Counsel:    Imran bin Abd Hamid (Deputy Public Prosecutor) for the Prosecution, Subhas Anandan and Sunil Sudheesan for the defence


Judgment

11 September 2006

 

District Judge Eugene Teo Weng Kuan

1.         The defence application for the court’s consent to composition was fixed before me as a special hearing. The application was contested by the prosecution. After considering the matter, I decided to withhold the court’s consent to composition on account of the inherent public interest involved.

The Brief Background Facts & The Proposed Terms of Composition

2.         The accused is charged with two counts of voluntarily causing hurt to her domestic maid, Ngafiah, under section 323 read with section 73(2) of the Penal Code, Chapter 224. Both incidents allegedly took place a few weeks into the employment, and appear to involve the maid’s failure or inability to follow certain instructions. In the first, the maid was allegedly struck once on the right side of her head with a milk bottle. In the second, the maid was kicked twice on the right side of her buttock. The Investigation Officer’s Complaint alluded to medical evidence of injury.

3.         Counsel informed me that the maid was willing to compound both offences with a lump sum payment of $5,000.00. His client was agreeable to this, and accordingly sought the court’s consent to the composition under section 199 of the Criminal Procedure Code, Chapter 68.

4.         After the learned DPP objected on the ground of public interest, learned Counsel submitted that public interest and policy was a fluid concept and not something which is ‘cast in stone’. He then urged the court to review the facts (as alleged) in this case and allow composition on account of an absence of aggravating factors.

The Court’s Decision

5.         Implicit in learned counsel’s submission was the acknowledgment that the public interest does feature in maid abuse cases. It is in fact undeniable. Public concern over increasing incidents of maid abuse led to the enactment of heavier penalties for such offences in an effort to protect maids and deter offenders. This was noted by the High Court in the case of Kee Leong Bee v PP [1999] 3 SLR 190 at paragraph 24:

The Public Prosecutor highlighted the May 1998 amendment to the Penal Code, whereby the maximum penalty for an offence under s 323 of the Penal Code committed by employers of domestic maids was enhanced to one and a half times the prescribed punishment by virtue of s 73(2) of Penal Code. The amendment was the result of public concern over the increase in number of maid abuse cases reported to the police, from 105 in 1994 to 192 in 1997. It was recognized in Parliament that domestic maids are more vulnerable to abuse by employers and their immediate family members than any other categories of employees, and that abuse of foreign domestic maids can damage our international reputation and bilateral relations.

6.         In my judgment, that same passage also sets out the two aspects of the public interest which is driving this stricter approach in maid abuse cases, i.e. the damage to Singapore’s international reputation, and the damage to our bilateral relations. Where such public interest is involved, it would be proper to withhold consent to composition. The rationale for this approach was elaborated by the High Court in the case of Ho Yean Theng Jill v PP [2003] SGHC 280 at paragraph 32:

… I agreed with the Prosecution’s submission that leaning against the granting of consent to compound the offence in maid abuse cases will send a clear signal to would-be maid abusers that they will not escape the consequences of their actions by simply “paying off” their victim. Further, it will send a right message to the neighbouring countries that persons who abuse their nationals who come to Singapore to work as domestic maids will not be allowed to “purchase” their way out of the criminal justice system and be immune from prosecution.

7.         In the light such case law from the High Court regarding the manner in which the court should exercise its discretion in this area, it was really incumbent upon the defence to show how the public interest did not apply in this case. Unfortunately, apart from a general submission that public interest may change (and which I accept), the defence produced no material before me to show that it has. In my judgment, after reviewing the matter, the public interest driving the approach in such maid abuse cases still applies in equal force today. The risk of damage to Singapore’s reputation and its bilateral relations as a result of the commission of such offences is not only still present, but just as great. One might even argue that it has been heightened since the increased regional competition faced by Singapore as a hub of commerce, information and the arts also brings with it a less forgiving environment.

8.         In my judgment, the particular facts of this case also did not justify a departure from the general norm to withhold consent to composition in maid abuse cases. Such abuse demeans an already vulnerable victim, and I took into account that there was more than one instance of abuse being alleged in this case. Moreover, the alleged abuse in the second charge was not only especially demeaning, but the acts of violence were also aggravated; the kicks apparently resulted in bruising measuring 11cm by 8 cm. Such violence was more severe than the incidents of abuse in the case of Kee Leong Bee v PP. In that case, even though the abuse was relatively minor in comparison (i.e. a slap, poking with finger and squeezing food into the mouth), and despite support for composition by the foreign Embassy concerned (and which learned Counsel in this case was also confident of being able to obtain), the High Court nonetheless still held that the public interest militated against consenting to composition.

9.         All considered, the present case did not appear to be a trivial case of abuse and there were no facts which merit it for consideration for exceptional treatment. Accordingly, I found that the public interest inherent in maid abuse cases applied in this case and I withheld my consent to composition.

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