22 January 2018
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Supreme Court Note: Public Prosecutor v Yeo Ek Boon, Jeffrey and another matter [2017] SGHC 306 (sentencing framework for offences of causing hurt to police officers under s 332 of the Penal Code)

Supreme Court Note
12 Dec 2017

The High Court has laid down a sentencing framework for offences of causing hurt to police officers under s 332 of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed).

In this case, two police officers had responded to a call for assistance about a male Chinese who had behaved aggressively at a club. The subject had headed towards the canal along Bukit Timah Road. Subsequently, at about 3.41am that same day, the police officers located him near the canal, asleep on a grass patch. After the police officers woke him up, he started to behave aggressively towards them. He directed vulgarities at them, and slapped one of the police officers once on his left cheek. He later pleaded guilty to a charge under s 332 of the Penal Code and was sentenced to one week’s imprisonment by the district judge. The Prosecution appealed against the sentence on the basis that it was manifestly inadequate.

The High Court allowed the appeal and increased the sentence to ten weeks’ imprisonment. The High Court held further that it was appropriate to have a sentencing framework foroffences against police officers and public servants who were performing duties akin to police duties under s 332 of the Penal Code. The objective of the sentencing framework was to clarify and rationalise the existing state of the law, utilising the full sentencing range prescribed by Parliament, and not to alter established sentencing policy.

The sentencing framework laid down comprisedthree broad sentencing bands, within which the severity of an offence, and hence the sentence to be imposed, may be determined on the basis of the twin considerations of harm and culpability. The first sentencing band applied in cases of lesser harm and lower culpability, and attracted fines or sentences of up to one year’s imprisonment. This encompassed the existing sentencing norm, under which a custodial sentence of two to nine months’ imprisonment would generally be imposed for cases of causing hurt to police officers. Fines should be meted out only in very exceptional cases, where the offending act ranked the lowest in the harm-and-culpability spectrum. They should generally be available only to young offenders or offenders with some mental disorder. The second sentencing band comprised offences of a higher level of seriousness, and attracted sentences of one to three years’ imprisonment. These were usually cases where (a) minor injuries were caused but the offender’s culpability was high or (b) serious injuries were caused but the offender’s culpability was low. The third sentencing band covered the most serious of offences under s 332 of the Penal Code, where there was a high degree of both harm and culpability, and would usually feature a large number of aggravating factors. These would attract sentences of three to seven years’ imprisonment. Caning was appropriate as a general rule where an offender exhibited inordinate violence, used weapons or where he attempted to snatch or to use the police officer’s firearms in the course of causing hurt to the police officer.

The present facts fell in the lower end of the first sentencing band. The harm which the police officer sustained was slight, and the circumstances of the offence were such that there would be no prospect of a possible erosion of public respect for police authority. Factors that increased the offender’s culpability were also few. While a sentence of one week’s imprisonment was manifestly inadequate, ten weeks’ imprisonment was appropriate and sufficient punishment.

At Public Prosecutor v Yeo Ek Boon, Jeffrey and another matter[2017] SGHC 306, paras 50, 52, 57, 59, 67, 68, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76 and 77. To view the judgment, click <here>.

Disclaimer: The above is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s judgment. It is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Court.