Not court's business to influence how SAF deals with offender, says judge, as he raises fine to jail term

SINGAPORE - How an offender's SAF career 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.

Justice Chan found that the district court was "heavily influenced" by offender Lim Yee Hua's submission that a jail term would apparently have sounded the death knell for his career in the SAF.

"It is not the business of the courts to indirectly alleviate the consequences and severity of any disciplinary action meted out by the SAF by imposing a more lenient court sentence to offset that disciplinary effects on the soldier," said Justice Chan.

He added in judgment grounds issued last week: "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."

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 be punished 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 separate incidents on the same day. He was convicted last November after a trial.

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

Mr Ho was about to use the zebra crossing that evening when a black Honda Airwave multi-purpose vehicle drove through, almost hitting him.

Upset, he hit the top of the MPV with his palm as it passed him. He was later accosted by Lim at the foot of Block 503B.

An argument ensued, which led to Lim punching the right side of Mr Ho's face, causing his spectacles to fall off.

Mr Ho then made his way back to the zebra crossing - where Lim had left his car - to take down the car plate number, with the intention of making a police report.

There, Lim confronted Mr Ho again, and, among other things, punched the back of Mr Ho's 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 one where he tried to prevent Mr Ho from making a police report.

The prosecution appealed to the High Court, arguing that the sentences were inadequate.

Lim appealed only against his conviction for the first assault.

Justice Chan affirmed the $4,000 fine for this charge imposed by the district judge, after taking all things into consideration.

But the judge allowed the prosecution's appeal on the second offence, ordering 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.

The judge noted that Mr Ho suffered soreness in the back of his neck caused by the punch and abrasions on the neck. "Lim was clearly the aggressor and unprovoked," said the judge.

Lim's lack of previous convictions was cancelled out by his lack of remorse in the case, added Justice Chan.

Lim had provided two testimonials which showed he had provided "exemplary service" to the SAF.

Lim, defended by lawyer Chentil Kumarasingam, had also submitted that a jail term would increase the likelihood of a discharge from the SAF, which meant the loss of some $108,000 in retirement benefits, among other things.

The prosecution, represented by Mr Mohamed Faizal and Ms Dora Tay, argued that the submissions had no merit.

"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 to impose in the present appeal," said Justice Chan.