Voluntarily Causing Hurt in Singapore
The 2016 abuse and death of two-year-old Mohamad Daniel Mohamad Nassir caused a stir in Singapore, leading to a call for a review the adequacy of the current legal framework. The child’s mother was sentenced to 11 years’ jail, while her boyfriend was imprisoned for 10 years with 12 strokes of cane. Both were charged and convicted for voluntarily causing grievous hurt to the boy. Voluntarily causing hurt and voluntarily causing grievous hurt are two of the most common criminal offences in Singapore.
Meaning of “hurt” and “grievous hurt”
The meaning of “hurt” is defined in section 319 of the Penal Code as “bodily pain, disease or infirmity”. The charge can arise in a variety of situations, such as hitting somebody with an object and causing physical pain or pushing somebody, causing him to fall down and get hurt. In June 2016, a passenger was charged with voluntarily causing hurt for punching a taxi driver on the head when the driver refused to unload his luggage.
Note that voluntarily causing hurt is a different offence from voluntarily causing grievous hurt, which is codified in section 322. The distinction between the two offences is that grievous hurt is a more severe kind of hurt. A list of different kinds of “grievous hurt” is seen in section 320, ranging from blindness to fractures.
Penalty for voluntarily causing hurt
If found guilty of voluntarily causing hurt, the punishment is imprisonment up to 2 years and/or a fine up to S$5,000. However, if the defendant can prove that the hurt was voluntarily caused on provocation, the punishment will be less severe, consisting of imprisonment up to 3 months and/or fine up to S$2,500.
If one is charged with voluntarily causing grievous hurt under section 322, the penalty is more severe: imprisonment up to 10 years and a fine or caning.
The Penal Code also sets out different types of voluntarily causing hurt and voluntarily causing grievous hurt which are more specific in nature:
By dangerous weapons or means
If found guilty of voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means, the punishment is imprisonment up to 7 years and/or a fine and/or a caning. Any combination of such punishments is possible. Here, “dangerous weapons or means” could include:
- An instrument for shooting, stabbing or cutting (e.g. a knife or a pair of scissors)
- An instrument which is likely to cause death when used as a weapon of offence
- By means of fire or any heated substance (e.g. scalding someone with boiling water)
- By means of any explosive substance
- By means of any substance which is harmful to inhale, swallow or receive into the blood (e.g. feces)
- By means of any animal (e.g. letting out a dangerous animal)
If found guilty of voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means, the penalty is different due to the more severe nature of grievous hurt where punishment can go up to imprisonment for life or imprisonment up to 15 years with a fine or caning.
In 2015, 17-year-old ITE student Muhammad Zuhairie Adely Zulkifli was charged under section 326 when he slashed the victim with a bread knife, causing multiple fractures. While his initial conviction comprised an 18-month jail sentence and six strokes of the sentence, he successfully appealed for reformative training instead.
By means of poison, etc., with intent to commit an offence
If found guilty of voluntarily causing hurt by means of poison, etc., with intent to commit an offence, the punishment is imprisonment of up to 10 years and perhaps even find or caning. “Poison” here includes any poison or “any stupefying, intoxicating or unwholesome drug or other thing”. The difference between this charge and the charge under section 324 (see above) is the intention to commit an offence. This could be in the form of administering a drug to render a victim unconscious so as to commit theft successfully.
To extort property or to constrain to an illegal act
If found guilty of voluntarily causing hurt or grievous hurt to extort property or to constrain an illegal act, the punishment is imprisonment of up to 10 years and perhaps even fine/caning. This could be torturing someone in order to acquire any valuable security such as a sum of money, or torturing him to commit a crime such as theft.
To extort confession or to compel restoration of property
If found guilty of voluntarily causing hurt to extort a confession (or any information that may result in the detection of an offence) or to compel restoration of property, the punishment is imprisonment of up to 7 years and perhaps even fine/caning. In the former case, a police officer would be charged if he tortures the victim to induce him to confess to a crime. In the latter case, a police officer would be charged if he tortures the victim to induce him to point out where certain stolen property is located. Police national servicemen were actually charged and convicted for voluntarily causing hurt to extort a confession in the 1996 case of Mohd Shahrin bin Shwi v Public Prosecutor.
If found guilty of voluntarily causing grievous hurt to extort confession or to compel restoration of property, the punishment is imprisonment up to 10 years with possible fine or caning.
To deter public servant from his duty
If found guilty of voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty, the punishment is imprisonment of up to 7 years and perhaps even fine/caning. This could include inducing the public servant to discharge his duty or prevent him from doing so.
If grievous hurt is caused, the punishment is imprisonment of up to 15 years and perhaps even fine or caning.
Arrestable and non-arrestable offences
Note that all forms of voluntarily causing grievous hurt are arrestable offences. While voluntarily causing hurt is a non-arrestable offence, voluntarily causing hurt with a dangerous weapon is arrestable. Therefore, unless a dangerous weapon as defined above was used, the alleged offender may not be arrested even if police officers arrive. However, identities will be submitted and questions asked of the parties involved, including any nearby witnesses. Once a police report is made and a warrant is issued by the Magistrate, the police can then proceed to arrest the alleged offender.
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