Apex court seeks enhanced sentencing powers to protect young and vulnerable victims

The apex court is asking Parliament to consider affording it the power to "enhance the permitted punishment to one-and-a-half times the prescribed maximum penalty for certain offences". PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - 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, particularly young victims.

The apex court said this in a written grounds released on Wednesday (Nov 29) explaining why it had in July increased the jail term of a woman who 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 14½ years.

The three apex court 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 one-and-a-half times the prescribed maximum penalty for certain offences."

The court noted that enacting legislation that 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, domestic 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 one-and-a-half 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.

She pleaded guilty to two charges of causing grievous hurt and four charges of ill-treating a child. She was originally sentenced to eight years' jail by the High Court but prosecutors appealed to the apex court, which upped her sentence.

In the judgment, the court, which also comprised appeal judges Tay Yong Kwang and Steven Chong, set out the sentencing approach that should 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, the court said. For grievous hurt causing multiple fractures, the indicative starting point should be a jail term of about three years and six months.

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.

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