The Courts have always taken a harsh stance on cases regarding maid abuse.

Typically, the Court is of the opinion that Maids require additional protection because of their special circumstances, and as maid abuse usually takes place within a home where offences are hard to detect (PP v Chong Siew Chin [2001] 3 SLR(R) 851 at [40] and [43]). Similarly, Parliament regards Maids as a vulnerable category of employees. Thus, Section 73 of the Penal Code 1871 was enacted to offer protection under the law.

The Court of Appeal has highlighted in numerous cases that the ‘protection of domestic maids from abuse by their employers was always a matter of public interest, given their vulnerable status and the prevalence of such relations in Singapore.’

What are the Court’s sentencing principles?

In cases related to domestic maid abuse, the principles of deterrence and retribution take precedent. This is as detailed in ADF v PP [2010] 1 SLR 874.

Deterrent sentence: Public interest to protect over and above the ordinary punishment of criminal behavior.

All domestic helpers should be treated fairly, with dignity, and respect. This is important on a level of human decency and basic respect. Additionally, domestic helpers arrive from several different neighboring countries. Thus, when considering the big picture, the implications of maid abuse can leave repercussions as manifest in diplomatic relations, quotas on domestic maids working in Singapore, and more.

There are two aspects to deterrence, being:

  • Specific deterrence; and
  • General deterrence.

Specific deterrence relates to the effects felt when an offender experiences and endures the punishment of a particular offence. Its intention is to instill fear of re-offending and thus re-experiencing the same punishment received. It’s more relevant where the accused commits the offence deliberately and not on the basis of irrational and uncontrollable impulse.

General deterrence aims to educate and deter other members of the general public by making an example out of the offender. In PP v Law Aik Meng [2007] 2 SLR(R) 814; [2007] 2 SLR 814, the Court listed the types of offences warranting a general deterrence sentence. They include offences against vulnerable victims, prevalence of the offence, and difficulty of detection and/or apprehension.

Retribution: This principle sets out that the offender must may for his actions. Here, it indicates the importance of condemnation of the wider community for maid abuse, and not necessarily following the old adage of ‘an eye for an eye, and tooth for tooth’.

Finally, the sanction imposed must not contravene the principles of proportionality.

This means that the Court must be aware that the sanction must be curbed of the severity of the offence committed against the moral and legal culpability of the offender.

The current Court sentencing framework

The landmark decision within Tay Wee Kiat and another v Public Prosecutor and another appeal [2018] 4 SLR 1315 set out a sentencing framework to be used within cases of maid abuse.

The steps/considerations are as follows:

  • Whether the harm caused to the victim was predominantly physical, or both physical and psychological; and
  • Identify the degree of harm caused in relation to each charge; and
  • Adjusting the sentence for each charge in regard of other aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

(1) Whether the harm caused to the victim was predominantly physical, or both physical and psychological

Psychological harm could be indicated if the abuse is sustained, humiliating and degrading, or occurs in a generally oppressive and exploitative relationship. Pre-dominant physical harm cases require consideration of the degree of harm and aggravating as well as mitigating factors.

(2) Identify the degree of harm caused in relation to each charge

For the second step, the sentencing range is set out in an indicative table found within the case as follows:-

 Less serious physical harmMore serious physical harm
Less serious psychological harm3–6 months’ imprisonment6–18 months’ imprisonment
More serious psychological harm6–18 months’ imprisonment20–30 months’ imprisonment

Found within Tay Wee Kiat and another v Public Prosecutor and another appeal [2018] 4 SLR 1315.

Where both physical and psychological abuse have occurred, the sentencing range should start the level of months rather than days.

(3) Adjusting the sentence for each charge in regard of other aggravating and mitigating circumstance

The Court adjusts the sentence imposed through referring to the aggravating and mitigating circumstances. Typical aggravating factors are as follows:-

  • The use of weapon or other implement of harm or injury;
  • Efforts to prevent the victim from seeking or accessing help;
  • The offender’s motive;
  • Offender who demonstrates a degree of deliberation or premeditation;
  • Offender’s intention to inflict greater harm than actually resulted;
  • The presence of past convictions of similar offences; and
  • A lack of remorse by the offender.

Possible mitigating factors are as follows:

  • The offender’s remorse;
  • Co-operation with the authorities in the investigations; and
  • Offender suffering from a mental illness, psychological condition, or learning disability at the time of the offence which significantly contributed to the commission of the offence.

Where an offender faces multiple charges of maid abuse, the Court should take into consideration the duration and frequency of abuse in determining whether to order more than two sentences to run consecutively (ADF v PP [2010] 1 SLR 874).

Our Criminal Lawyer, Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu, has defended numerous clients over the years over a wide variety of offences. With vast experience in Singapore’s laws, Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu will be able to provide valuable and timely advice for your situation. For more information, or if you have been caught in a similar situation, feel free to contact us for a consultation.

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