High Court cuts maid abuser's jail term from 20 to 8 months on appeal
Suzanna Bong Sim Swan had hit Ms Than Than Moe on the cheek with a medicated oil glass bottle, after allegedly abusing her for two years and not paying her salary.
A convicted maid abuser had her jail term reduced on appeal after a High Court judge on Monday (Nov 11) found "no causal link" between the assault and the maid's injuries.
For two years, Suzanna Bong Sim Swan allegedly abused her domestic helper about two to three times a week, before finally hitting her on the cheek three times with a medicated oil glass bottle on May 17, 2015.
Bong, now 47, was found guilty last year in a district court of a single charge of causing hurt and was sentenced to one year and eight months’ jail. She was also ordered to pay the maid S$38,540 in compensation.
Ms Than Than Soe, who is now 33, had testified in court in 2017 that she suffered several injuries from the assaults, including becoming blind in one eye.
The injuries then included retinal detachment and a macular hole in her left eye.
When sentencing Bong, District Judge Carol Ling had taken Ms Than Soe’s injuries into account when deciding the degree of physical harm Bong had caused to the maid.
Bong had appealed against her conviction, sentence and compensation order.
On Monday, High Court judge Chua Lee Ming ruled that he found no “causal link” between the assault and the maid’s injuries, upholding the conviction but accepting Bong’s other appeals.
The only injury that Bong caused then was a contusion on Ms Than’s face, he added. Bong was not charged over the earlier alleged assaults.
Justice Chua reduced Bong’s sentence to eight months and also reduced the compensation amount that she was ordered to pay the maid to S$1,000.
He dismissed the prosecution’s appeal against Bong’s sentence too.
Prosecutors had sought three years’ jail and a higher compensation order of S$82,879, while Bong’s lawyers from the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme sought the maximum fine.
The maximum penalty for causing hurt is up to two years’ jail and a fine of up to S$5,000. Employers of domestic helpers, or those in their household, are liable to one-and-a-half times the punishment — resulting in up to three years’ jail and a fine of up to S$7,500.
ABOUT THE CASE
During the eight-day trial in the State Courts, Bong claimed that she never physically abused Ms Than Soe and denied hitting her with the bottle.
Ms Than Soe testified then that Bong repeatedly abused her over two years, first by scolding her just four months after starting work in 2013 in Bong’s parents’ Yishun flat.
Bong then began physically attacking her by hitting her eye, rubbing curry on her face and pulling her hair, Ms Than Soe said.
The abuse escalated after she moved into Bong’s Sengkang flat in early 2015, she testified, saying that she would not be given regular meals and had to sleep on her sarong on the floor.
She was never paid her salary throughout her employment and was misled into extending her contract, she said.
The maid further testified that she used to have perfect eyesight as well, but began experiencing blurred vision around January 2014. This culminated in Bong striking her with the glass bottle in May 2015, after smelling the medicated oil that the maid had used to ease her headache.
This prompted Ms Than Soe to call the police.
A senior consultant from the National University Hospital found afterwards that she suffered four broad injuries:
- Retinal detachment in her left eye
- Macular hole in her left eye
- Cataracts in both eyes
- Vitreous haemorrhage in both eyes
NO EVIDENCE OF CAUSAL LINK: HIGH COURT JUDGE
In Monday’s ruling, Justice Chua said that District Judge Ling should not have taken Ms Than Soe’s injuries into account when deciding the degree of physical harm Bong had caused to the maid.
He ruled that it was “more probable” that they were pre-existing injuries caused before May 17, 2015.
“There must be a causal link between the act and the injury in question. If there is, it is not an excuse that the injury was made worse by a pre-existing condition. (But) there is no evidence that the May 17 incident caused any of the four injuries referred to,” he told the court.
The hospital doctor had found that the retinal detachment likely happened at least three weeks or even months before Ms Than Soe was examined on June 1. The cataracts likely had not occurred recently too.
“I have full sympathy for the victim who has suffered such horrific injuries. However, (Bong) was not charged with any of the previous assaults, and in principle it would be wrong to punish her as if she was so charged,” Justice Chua said.
Nevertheless, he agreed that Bong’s use of the glass bottle to “hit a vulnerable part of the body” was an aggravating factor.
Bong will begin serving her sentence on Nov 18.
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