Apex court seeks enhanced sentencing powers to protect the young

The apex court explained why it had raised the jail term of Noraidah Mohd Yussof in a fatal child abuse case.
The apex court explained why it had raised the jail term of Noraidah Mohd Yussof in a fatal child abuse case.

The Court of Appeal has asked Parliament to give the courts enhanced powers to mete out tougher sentences in cases where the offender commits certain crimes against the vulnerable, especially children.

The apex court said this in written grounds released yesterday explaining why it had in July increased the jail term of a woman who had abused her four-year-old son so violently that he died .

Noraidah Mohd Yussof, 35, who had taken out her frustration on the boy because he could not recite the numbers 11 to 18 in Malay correctly, had her eight-year sentence raised to 141/2 years. The three judges said they would have given Noraidah an even harsher sentence for causing grievous hurt if they had the powers to do so.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who penned the judgment, said the courts show their condemnation by considering the victim's vulnerability an aggravating factor in sentencing. But this may not be sufficient.

"We therefore invite Parliament to consider affording the courts the power, when dealing with such offences, in particular those against children and young persons, to enhance the permitted punishment to 11/2 times the prescribed maximum penalty for certain offences."

The court noted that enacting legislation which identifies a certain class of criminal action as deserving of harsher punishment has been done before.

Parliament did so in 1998 in relation to several offences against foreign domestic workers. The offences included causing hurt or grievous hurt to, or wrongfully confining, such workers.

Similarly, enhanced penalties for racially or religiously aggravated offences were imposed in 2007.

The court also noted that the recent public consultation on a draft Vulnerable Adults Bill had proposed, among other things, inserting a new provision in the Penal Code for enhanced penalties of up to 11/2 times the permitted sentencing range for certain offences against vulnerable adults.

"This proposed change is entirely consistent with our call for the courts to be afforded the discretion to enhance sentences for certain offences against vulnerable victims, especially children and young persons," said the court.

In Noraidah's case, the abuse against her son lasted from March 2012 to August 2014.

In the final incident, she stepped on him and repeatedly pushed him to the ground, causing his head to hit the floor. She also grabbed him by the neck and lifted him off the floor while pushing him against a wall, before letting him fall.

Last year, the High Court sentenced her to eight years in jail after she pleaded guilty to two charges of causing grievous hurt and four charges of ill-treating a child.

Prosecutors appealed to the apex court for a heavier sentence.

In the judgment, the court, which also comprised appeal judges Tay Yong Kwang and Steven Chong, set out the sentencing approach to guide the courts for violent offences against children and young persons that lead to serious injury or death.

For grievous hurt leading to death, the indicative starting point should be a jail term of about eight years, it said. For grievous hurt causing multiple fractures, it should be a jail term of about 31/2 years.

For male offenders below the age of 50, 12 or more strokes of the cane may be warranted if their actions caused death.

In the case of non-fatal serious injury, between six and 12 strokes of the cane may be warranted, said the court.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2017, with the headline 'Apex court seeks enhanced sentencing powers to protect the young'. Print Edition | Subscribe