Court can't pre-empt SAF's action: Judge

How an offender's career in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) would be affected should have no bearing on the sentence meted out, a judge has pointed out.

Justice Chan Seng Onn said this on the back of raising a motorist's $5,000 fine for punching a pedestrian to three weeks' jail on appeal. He found that the district court was "heavily influenced" by Lim Yee Hua's submission that a jail term would apparently have sounded the death knell for his SAF career.

"It would be unprincipled for the courts to pre-empt how the SAF might discipline its soldiers and attempt to influence that by imposing a more lenient court sentence just because the court takes the view that the soldier might be disciplined too severely by the SAF."

Justice Chan made clear "it is not the business of the courts to indirectly alleviate the consequences" of any SAF disciplinary action.

The judge's remarks supplement a ruling by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in a case earlier this year: The Chief Justice had rejected the argument that an offender should not receive punishment above a certain degree or of a certain type because he would lose his job or face disciplinary proceedings otherwise.

In the current case, Lim, 37, was fined a total $9,000 by a district judge in January for two charges.

He had caused hurt to Mr Basil Ho, 50, near Block 503B, Canberra Link in Sembawang on July 11, 2014.

Mr Ho was about to use the zebra crossing that evening when Lim's black Honda Airwave drove through, almost hitting him.

Upset, Mr Ho hit the top of the car as it passed him. He was later accosted by Lim, an army officer, at the block. He was punched by Lim when an argument ensued.

Mr Ho then went back to the zebra crossing - where Lim had left his car - to take down the car plate number to make a police report.

There, Lim confronted Mr Ho again, and, among other things, punched the back of his neck.

Lim was trying to thwart Mr Ho's bid to make a police report by preventing him from leaving the scene and intimidating him.

Lim was fined $4,000 for the first assault and $5,000 for the second charge. The prosecution appealed to the High Court, arguing that the sentences were inadequate.

Justice Chan affirmed the $4,000 fine for the first charge but allowed the prosecution's appeal on the second offence in judgment grounds last week. He ordered that Lim be refunded the $5,000 fine paid and be jailed for three weeks instead.

Justice Chan said Lim's bid to interfere with Mr Ho's attempt to lodge a police report by intimidating him and preventing him from leaving the scene was a significant aggravating factor for sentencing.

Lim, defended by lawyer Chentil Kumarasingam, said a jail term would increase the likelihood of a discharge from the SAF. This meant the loss of $108,000 in retirement benefits, for example. Prosecutors Mohamed Faizal and Dora Tay said the arguments had no merit.

Said Justice Chan: "Lim's arguments vis-a-vis both the setbacks to his career advancement that he has already endured and the nature of the disciplinary action that might be taken against him by the SAF ought not to have any bearing on my determination of the appropriate sentence."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2017, with the headline 'Court can't pre-empt SAF's action: Judge'. Print Edition | Subscribe