Voluntarily Causing Hurt Penalties in Singapore (Non-Arrestable)

Last updated on May 9, 2022

One woman flinching as another woman raises a hand to slap her

A word of advice: take deep breaths when you get angry, because acting impulsively and assaulting somebody could very well result in a hefty fine or even land you in prison.

21-year-old Shafuan Juraimi could have benefited from this advice – in 2018, he slapped an elderly SMRT service ambassador who advised him to stop eating/drinking at the MRT platform. Shafuan’s spontaneous and poorly thought-out act caused him to be convicted of Voluntarily Causing Hurt and he was handed a 3-week prison sentence.

Read on to learn more about the offence of Voluntarily Causing Hurt (VCH) in Singapore.

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Elements of Voluntarily Causing Hurt

According to section 321 of the Penal Code, VCH is committed when a person does an act that causes hurt to a person, while:

  • Intending to cause hurt to that person; OR
  • Knowing that he is likely to cause hurt to that person.

Hurt” is defined by the Penal Code as any kind of bodily pain, disease, or infirmity. This means that a large range of afflictions, from the stinging pain of a slap to more serious injuries, like bruised ribs, can fall under the meaning of “hurt”.

“Hurt” also includes psychological wounds. For example, if you were to point a weapon at a vulnerable person, causing him to develop mental illness, you might be liable for the psychological hurt that you inflicted upon him.

Extremely severe injuries, such as skull fractures or even death, on the other hand, are classified as forms of “grievous hurt”. Offenders who inflict grievous hurt may be dealt with under the offence of voluntarily causing grievous hurt instead (see below).

Aggravated forms of voluntarily causing hurt

Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means

In 2018, an 18-year-old man stabbed another man outside an entertainment outlet in Clarke Quay with a dagger. This is a classic example of VCH by dangerous weapons or means, as this form of VCH involves the use of a weapon that is likely to cause death.

Common dangerous weapons such as knives, “parangs” and axes will automatically fall under this form of VCH. Seemingly innocuous items, like sticks and golf clubs could also be considered dangerous weapons, since for example, hitting a child’s head with a golf club would likely cause the child’s death. Other weapons that are covered by this provision include:

  • Fire
  • Heated substances such as boiling water
  • Explosive substances
  • Dangerous animals such as vicious dogs
  • Any substance that is harmful to ingest such as faeces.

Voluntarily causing hurt that causes grievous hurt

This is where you intended to cause hurt to the victim, but unintentionally caused the victim grievous hurt instead.

For example, the Penal Code gives the example of A punching Z’s face with the intention to cause minor injuries to Z’s face. However, Z then loses his balance, falls and hits his head against a ledge. As a result, Z suffers severe brain injuries and is permanently paralysed. In this situation, A will be liable for VCH that causes grievous hurt, even though A had not intended for such grievous hurt to happen.

Voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty

You can be liable for this aggravated form of VCH if you assault any public servant who is performing his duties lawfully, or if you try to obstruct a public servant from performing his duties. Public servants do not just refer to the police – prison officers, judicial officers and government officials are also considered public servants.

An example of this aggravated form of VCH would be an incident that occurred in 2018, where a 61-year-old man allegedly kicked a police officer who approached him for a routine security spot check at Paya Lebar MRT station.

Elements of Voluntarily Causing Grievous Hurt (VCGH)

According to section 322 of the Penal Code, VCGH is committed when a person does an act that causes grievous hurt to a person, while:

  • Intending to cause grievous hurt to that person; OR
  • Knowing that he is likely to cause grievous hurt to that person.

The Penal Code has classified certain extreme forms of hurt as “grievous hurt“. These include:

  • Fractures
  • Dislocations
  • Permanent disfigurations of the head or face
  • Loss of sight/hearing
  • Loss of limb
  • Death.

One instance of VCGH occurred in December 2015, when Muhammad Khalis bin Ramlee decided to engage in a spontaneous group fight. Muhammad punched a man who sustained serious head injuries that resulted in his eventual death.

Even though Muhammad had not intended for the man to die, he had intended to cause grievous hurt when he punched the man hard enough for him to lose consciousness. Muhammad was thus charged with VCGH and was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison and 8 strokes of the cane.

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Penalties and Sentencing Framework for Voluntarily Causing Hurt

If found guilty of committing VCH, the maximum punishment meted out can include imprisonment for up to 3 years, and/or a fine up to $5,000.

The High Court devised a sentencing framework for VCH when sentencing an offender, Low Song Chye. Low had been charged with VCH after he slapped a singer so hard that she sustained mild hearing loss. While Low had initially been sentenced to 3 months’ jail, his sentence was increased to 4 months’ jail after the High Court applied its new sentencing framework.

The sentencing framework consists of 3 main sentencing bands, which prescribe sentences based on the severity of harm inflicted on the victim. These bands apply only to first-time offenders who plead guilty to committing VCH.

This table summarises the sentencing framework:

Band Extent of harm suffered by victim Prescribed sentence
Band 1: Low harm No visible injury, or only minor injuries Fine or up to 4 weeks’ imprisonment
Band 2: Moderate harm Short hospitalisation or significant amount of medical leave required Between 4 to 6 weeks’ imprisonment
Band 3: Serious harm Serious injuries that are permanent in nature, or require significant surgery Between 6 months to 2 years’ imprisonment

Note: The prescribed sentences in the framework are shorter than the current maximum penalties for VCH. This is because the framework came into effect before the maximum penalties for VCH were increased to the current maximum 3-year imprisonment term.

Band 1: Low harm

The first band applies when the victim has no visible injury, or only has minor injuries such as bruises, scratches or cuts. If your VCH case falls within this first band, you may either pay a fine or face a short imprisonment term of up to 4 weeks.

In general, an imprisonment term under this band will be imposed only if the offender is deemed to be a danger to members of the public, or when the offender is highly culpable. High culpability can be found if for example, you planned the attack beforehand, or brought a weapon to assault the victim.

In 2022, Shawn Tan was sentenced to 2 weeks’ imprisonment for voluntarily causing hurt to his girlfriend by punching her face, and punching and kicking her abdominal area multiple times. His girlfriend was about 9 weeks’ pregnant at that time.

Tan had initially been given a $3,500 fine for his acts. However, the High Court found it more appropriate to sentence him to an imprisonment term due to his higher culpability. Such higher culpability stemmed from:

  • The sustained and vicious nature of the assault: Tan had not delivered a one-off blow, but had continuously assaulted his girlfriend. Apart from punching his girlfriend’s face and punching and kicking her abdominal area, he also inflicted more extensive injuries to her chest, spine, limbs and other parts of her body.
  • The vulnerability of the victim: Tan’s girlfriend was an especially vulnerable victim, being 9 weeks’ pregnant. However, Tan had deliberately assaulted her abdominal area.

Band 2: Moderate harm

The second band applies in cases where the victim requires short hospitalisation, or a significant amount of medical leave, due to the hurt caused. It also applies when the victim sustains fractures, or mild/temporary loss of a sensory function, such as hearing loss or impaired vision.

If your VCH case falls within this second band, you may be imprisoned for a minimum of 4 weeks to a maximum of 6 months.

Band 3: Serious harm

The third band applies when the victim sustains serious injuries that are permanent in nature and/or require significant surgical procedures to rectify. For example, permanent facial scarring or loss of limbs/hearing/sight, or even loss of life. If you are found guilty, you may be imprisoned for a minimum of 6 months to a maximum of 2 years.

Factors that the court will consider when sentencing

Upon assessing which sentencing band your case falls under, the court will make adjustments to your sentence by assessing aggravating factors that may increase your sentence. These aggravating factors can include:

  • Whether you had planned the assault
  • Whether the victim was vulnerable (such as being handicapped, or a child or elderly person)
  • Whether you are a repeat offender
  • Whether you had used a weapon

The court will also consider mitigating factors that may reduce your sentence, such as whether you have shown genuine remorse.

Penalties for aggravated forms of VCH, and VCGH

For committing VCH by dangerous weapons or means, an offender could face an imprisonment term of up to 7 years, a fine, caning or any combination of these punishments.

If the offender had committed VCH to deter a public servant from his duty instead, the offender will be imprisoned for up to 7 years (unless an imprisonment term should not be imposed due to exceptional circumstances). The offender will also be liable to a fine or to caning.

Alternatively, for VCH that causes grievous hurt, offenders can be imprisoned for up to 5 years and/or fined up to $10,000. This is unless the offender committed VCH that causes grievous hurt after being provoked – in this case, the maximum punishment is imprisonment for up to 1 year and/or a fine of up to $7,500.

Since VCGH involves more severe inflictions of injury than VCH, an offender could face a higher punishment of an imprisonment term of up to 10 years, as well as receive a fine or caning.

Is Voluntarily Causing Hurt/Voluntarily Causing Grievous Hurt an Arrestable Offence?

Voluntarily causing hurt: why won’t the police take action?

VCH, on its own, is a non-arrestable offence. This means that the police must obtain an arrest warrant from the court before they can arrest the alleged offender. So for example, if you intentionally punched another person, causing them to suffer a small bruise, the police do not have the authority to arrest you unless they have a warrant for your arrest.

As a result, the police can take action to arrest an alleged offender in a VCH case only if the court issues them a warrant of arrest to do so. Hence if you are a victim of VCH and you wish to pursue the matter, you will have to file a Magistrate’s Complaint to the court.

A Magistrate’s Complaint is a complaint filed to the State Courts by someone seeking redress for an offence that has been committed against them. The Magistrate will review your complaint and can choose to do any of the following:

  • Order for both the victim and the alleged offender to attend Criminal Mediation
  • Issue a summons for the alleged offender to assist with the complaint
  • Direct the police to conduct an investigation into the complaint
  • Dismiss the case

Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means, voluntarily causing hurt that causes grievous hurt and voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty

VCH by dangerous weapons or means, VCH that causes grievous hurt and VCH to deter a public servant from his duty are all arrestable offences. This means that the police can arrest persons suspected of committing these offences without a warrant.

Once arrested, the suspect can choose to be released on bail and/or personal bond if they have been suspected of committing VCH that causes grievous hurt. However, if they are suspected of committing VCH by dangerous weapons or means or VCH to deter a public servant from his duty, it is up to the police or the court to decide whether to release the suspect on bail.

Voluntarily causing grievous hurt

All forms of VCGH are arrestable offences. So for example, if you intentionally caused someone to sustain multiple fractures, the police would be able to arrest you immediately without a warrant.

If you have committed VCGH as per section 322 of the Penal Code, you can choose to be released on bail/personal bond after you have been arrested. However, if you have committed an aggravated form of VCGH, such as VCGH by dangerous weapons or means, it is up to the police or the court to decide whether to release you on bail.

Will Voluntarily Causing Hurt/Voluntarily Causing Grievous Hurt Result in a Criminal Record?

For voluntarily causing hurt

If you are convicted of just VCH, you will not have a criminal record.

However, you generally will have a criminal record if you are convicted of VCH that caused grievous hurt.

For voluntarily causing grievous hurt and aggravated forms of voluntarily causing hurt

If you are convicted of VCGH, aggravated forms of VCH (such as VCH by dangerous weapons or means) or aggravated forms of VCGH (such as VCGH to deter a public servant from his duty), you may or may not have a criminal record. This depends on whether the Commissioner of Police chooses to exercise his discretion to not register your criminal record.

Even if your criminal record has been registered, you might still have the opportunity to have your criminal record treated as spent. This simply means that your record will be wiped clean. To qualify for having your record spent, you must first meet the following criteria:

  • If you were given a prison sentence, your imprisonment term must have been not more than 3 months;
  • If you were given a fine, the fine imposed on you must have been not more than $2,000;
  • You must not have any other conviction on your criminal record; and
  • You must not have any previous spent record on the register.

If you meet these criteria, you then have to remain crime-free for at least 5 consecutive years, starting from the date of your release from prison, or from the date that your sentence was passed if you were given a fine. Once you accomplish this, your record will be spent automatically, and you will be able to legally declare that you do not have a criminal record.

Can a Victim of Voluntarily Causing Hurt Receive Compensation from the Offender?

After the offender is convicted, it is up to the court to decide whether it is appropriate for the victim to receive compensation from the offender.

If the criminal court awards you, the victim, compensation for a particular injury, you may still sue the offender for further compensation in the form of civil damages. This compensation can be with respect to the same injury that the criminal court has issued you compensation for, or a different injury.

However, if you are suing with respect to the same injury, the amount of compensation that you want to claim must exclude the amount of compensation that the criminal court has already awarded to you.

For more information, read our other article on how crime victims can claim compensation in Singapore.

If you are a victim of VCH, remember that you have the option to file a Magistrate’s Complaint if the police declines to pursue your case. If you need legal advice in this regard, consult a criminal lawyer. Or if you have been accused of committing VCH, you may also want to discuss your options with a criminal lawyer and get advice on how to proceed with your case.

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