22 January 2018
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Supreme Court Note: Public Prosecutor v BDB [2017] SGCA 69 (sentencing approach for offences of voluntarily causing grievous hurt under s 325 of the Penal Code)

Supreme Court Note
22 Dec 2017

In this case, the respondent repeatedly abused her own son (“A”) between March 2012 and August 2014. On the last of these occasions, A was abused to such an extent that he died from his head injuries. The Prosecution proceeded with four charges against the respondent – two under s 325 of the Penal Code for voluntarily causing grievous hurt to A (the first and sixth charges) and two under s 5 of the Children and Young Persons Act (Cap 38, 2001 Rev Ed) (“the CYPA”) for ill-treating A (the third and fourth charges). Two other CYPA charges were taken into consideration for sentencing purposes. After the respondent pleaded guilty, the High Court judge meted out an aggregate sentence of eight years’ imprisonment. The Prosecution appealed against that sentence on the basis that it was manifestly inadequate.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and increased the individual sentences for the two s 325 charges, but not the CYPA charges because the agreed Statement of Facts did not allow the court to draw conclusions as to the precise nature and seriousness of the injuries inflicted on A in relation to those charges. The respondent’s aggregate sentence was enhanced to 14 years and six months’ imprisonment.

The Court of Appeal recognised that there was a special need to protect vulnerable persons and that violence against children would be met with the full force of the law. A parent who betrayed the ultimate relationship of trust and authority between a parent and his or her child stood at the furthest end of the spectrum of guilt.

After reviewing the sentencing precedents involving offenders who inflicted physical violence on young victims, the Court of Appeal set out a two-step sentencing approach to be taken in cases prosecuted under s 325 of the Penal Code: (a) first, an indicative starting point for sentencing should be determined based on the seriousness of the injury; (b) second, the indicative starting point should then be adjusted either upwards or downwards based on an assessment of the offender’s culpability and the presence of relevant aggravating and/or mitigating factors. Where the grievous hurt took the form of death, the indicative starting point should be a term of imprisonment of around eight years; whereas in a case where the grievous hurt took the form of multiple fractures of the type and gravity described in the sixth charge against the respondent, the indicative starting point should be a term of imprisonment of around three years and six months. In addition, where death was caused, a sentence of 12 or more strokes of the cane might be warranted; whereas where non-fatal serious injury was caused, a sentence of between six and 12 strokes of the cane might be considered.

Relevant aggravating factors in the second step of the framework included: (a) the extent of deliberation or premeditation; (b) the manner and duration of the attack; (c) the victim’s vulnerability; (d) the use of any weapon; (e) whether the attack was undertaken by a group; (f) any relevant antecedents on the offender’s part; and (g) any prior intervention by the authorities. Mitigating value might be attributed to an offender’s genuine remorse, as well as to an offender’s mental condition if the evidence established that such mental condition had substantially diminished the offender’s mental responsibility for his conduct at the time of the offence. However, an offender’s difficult personal circumstances could never justify or excuse the abuse of young victims.

Lastly, the Court of Appeal invited Parliament to consider affording the courts the power, when dealing with crimes against vulnerable victims, 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.

At Public Prosecutor v BDB [2017] SGCA 69, paras 34, 35, 55, 56, 62, 72, 74, 75, 76, 139. To view this 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.