Wee Pan Lee & Low Chang Yong act for the Accused
SINGAPORE — Prosecutors on Thursday (Nov 23) called for two maid abusers to be thrown behind bars for a longer spell and proposed a sentencing framework aimed at deterring the physical abuse of domestic helpers.
The jail terms imposed by the lower court on Tay Wee Kiat and his wife Chia Yun Ling “fall far short of recognising the egregious nature of abuse” suffered by their Indonesian helper Fitriyah for two years, argued Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck.
The appeal judges — Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Justice See Kee Oon — reserved judgment after the hearing, during which the couple also appealed against their conviction and sentence.
Tay, 39, was sentenced in March by a District Judge to 28 months’ jail, while his 41-year-old wife was sentenced to two months’ jail after a 14-day trial.
The prosecution is pushing for a jail term of 38 months for Tay and three months for Chia.
Tay’s “systemic” abuse in 2011 and 2012 included hitting Ms Fitriyah’s head with canes and bamboo sticks. He also forced her to stand on a stool for half an hour on one leg and hold another stool overhead, while a plastic bottle was stuffed into her mouth. He made the family’s other maid, from Myanmar, slap her on the face 10 times.
Chia had slapped Ms Fitriyah and punched her on the forehead.
Mr Kwek’s proposed sentencing framework consists of three categories spanning a low to high degree of harm and culpability.
The first category, with an indicative starting point of three months’ jail, would consist of cases with a low degree of harm and of culpability — such as “one-off” acts causing minor or no injury.
Cases in the second category could involve a low degree of harm and high degree of culpability or moderate degrees of both, and have an indicative starting point of nine months’ jail.
Cases in the third category, with a high degree of harm and culpability, would have an indicative starting point of 18 months’ jail. The cases could involve using a heated appliance to burn and scar the victim, or the use of force strong enough to cause serious or permanent injury.
The indicative sentences “would enable the court to better utilise the full range of sentences prescribed by Parliament, while ensuring some measure of consistency in the sentences imposed”, Mr Kwek told the court. They can be adjusted to account for specific aggravating or mitigating factors in each case.
The court must also arrive at a total imprisonment term that reflects “overall criminality” of the offender’s conduct, Mr Kwek argued.
The suffering of Ms Fitriyah, 34, and duration of abuse, among other factors, make Tay’s and Chia’s one of the worst maid abuse cases, he said. Tay had also tried to pervert justice by trying to bribe Ms Fitriyah in exchange for not reporting him and his wife for abuse.
Last year, there were 24 cases of substantiated maid abuse involving simple assault, the highest since 2013. Some recent cases have been particularly heinous and more must be done to convey society’s abhorrence of such conduct, the prosecution said.
On Thursday, defence lawyer Wee Pan Lee pointed to “inconsistencies” during the trial and said the couple’s conviction was “unsafe”.
Ms Fitriyah had “flip-flopped as and when she was confronted by evidence that was against her”, he said.
The couple, who are out on bail pending the outcome of the appeal, have another trial related to the abuse of the other maid, Ms Moe Moe Than.