SINGAPORE - The High Court has upheld the conviction of a married couple found guilty in a district court of abusing their Indonesian maid for almost two years.
The court has also laid out a sentencing framework for maid abuse cases. If the abuse is both physical and psychological, the court will identify the degree of harm caused in relation to each charge.
This comes after Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon signalled the need to review sentencing benchmarks “upwards” for maid abuse offences.
For instance, for a charge where there is less serious psychological harm but more serious physical harm, the indicative sentencing range would be between six and 18 months.
Delivering the decision on Friday (March 2), following appeals against the couple’s conviction and sentence, Justice See Kee Oon said that former regional IT manager Tay Wee Kiat’s original sentence of 28 months’ jail will be increased to 43 months.
However, the jail term of his wife, Chia Yun Ling, 41, remains at two months.
Justice See heard the case as part of a panel of three judges, which included Chief Justice Menon and Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang.
On Friday, Justice See said that Tay’s original sentence was “manifestly inadequate”, given the degree of psychological harm inflicted.
In one incident, Tay, 39, forced his two maids, Ms Fitriyah, 34, who is an Indonesian, and Ms Moe Moe Than, 28, a Myanmar national, to slap each other 10 times.
But the physical pain was only half the story, said Justice See.
He added: “This punishment was both humiliating and degrading, particularly given that Tay forced them to bow and get up 100 times before a Buddhist altar, notwithstanding the fact that the victim is Muslim and Moe Moe Than is Christian.
“The extent of humiliation, bullying and cruelty reflected in Tay’s behaviour placed this charge firmly in the category of more serious psychological harm.”
Another “highly humiliating and degrading” incident occurred when Tay forced the two maids to position themselves in a push-up position. He then kicked Ms Fitriyah, whose name has just one word, and she hit a glass panel.
Justice See also highlighted a third incident which involved “humiliating treatment”.
In this incident, Tay forced Ms Fitriyah to stand on a stool while holding another stool above her head. He then pushed a plastic bottle into her mouth and made her stay in that position for about 30 minutes.
Justice See said: “Tay’s behaviour in this regard was plainly cruel and almost sadistic.”
Chia, a former senior sales manager, slapped Ms Fitriyah some time between June and December 2012 and punched her forehead on Dec 7 that year. However, the court found that her culpability was nowhere near her husband’s. Justice See said that the harm from her offences was relatively minor and Ms Fitriyah did not appear to have suffered any lasting injury.
After a 14-day trial, District Judge Shaiffudin Saruwan had earlier found the couple guilty of abusing Ms Fitriyah and sentenced them in March last year. She had worked for them in their home in Yishun Avenue 6 from Dec 7, 2010, to Dec 12, 2012.
Tay was convicted of 12 charges, while his wife was convicted of two.
Their maid abuse trial involving Ms Moe Moe Than is ongoing.
The court has allowed the couple’s sentences to commence after the end of the trial involving the Myanmar national.
As of now, the couple have not been ordered to pay compensation to Ms Fitriyah. The couple's lawyer, Mr Wee Pan Lee, and the prosecution led by Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck will be making written submissions on this matter.