What is Voluntarily Causing Hurt: Part I
Voluntarily causing hurt cases often appear in the newspapers in Singapore and lies along a wide spectrum with regards to the nature and harm of the hurt inflicted.
Given the myriad of circumstances that form voluntarily causing hurt cases, it is hard to predict the consequent punishment. However, it is certain that the Court considers the totality of the circumstances to determine the appropriate form of punishment and a helpful starting point to better understand this matter would be to turn to the Penal Code.
‘Hurt’ in the Penal Code
The widely scoped definition of ‘hurt’ can be found in Section 319 of the Penal Code, “Whoever causes bodily pain, disease or infirmity to any person is said to cause hurt.” An offence of voluntarily causing hurt is charged under Section 321 of the Penal Code.
In light of its wide scope, the law recognises a distinct category for hurt of a greater severity, defined as ‘grievous hurt’ in Section 320 of the Penal Code. Examples of grievous hurt are death, permanent disfiguration, permanent impairment, fracture or dislocation of a bone, and any hurt which endangers life or cause severe bodily pain for a prolonged period of time. An offence of voluntarily causing grievous hurt is charged under Section 322 of the Penal Code.
Elements of the ‘hurt’ offences
A key element that is required in both Section 321 and 322 is the intention to cause or knowledge that it is likely to cause hurt or grievous hurt. This is in essence an inquiry into the objective state of mind of the offender, drawing inference from the surrounding and objective facts of the case. Without the intention or knowledge, a charge cannot be formed.
Punishment for hurt
Persons convicted under Sections 321 or 322 of the Penal Code would face the punishments as stipulated in Sections 323 and 325 respectively.
|Section 323 of the Penal Code||Voluntarily causing hurt||Up to 2 years imprisonment, or with fine up to $5000, or both|
|Section 324 of the Penal Code||Voluntarily causing grievous hurt||Up to 10 years imprisonment, or with fine, or with caning, or with any combination of such punishments|
A person charged with an offence of voluntarily causing hurt or grievous hurt will be subject to the punishment as stipulated in Sections 323 and 325 of the Penal Code respectively. This merely serves as a ceiling for the punishment that the Court can mete out. The quantum of the punishment remains within the discretion of the Court.
The following two-step approach has been adopted by the Court when deciding on the appropriate sentence. This sentencing framework was laid out in the recent Court of Appeal case, PP v BDB  1 SLR 127, where the accused was charged with voluntarily causing grievous hurt. The accused’s repeated abuse over a span of 2 years led to the tragic death of her four-year-old son.
1. The seriousness of the injury is a good indicator of the gravity of the offence and guides the Court in determining the indicative starting point of sentencing. The Court has also set out the following guideline:
|Type of injury||Indicative starting point for sentencing|
|Death||Voluntarily causing hurt|
|Multiple fractures||Around 3 years and 6 months’ imprisonment|
|Non-fatal but serious||Between 6 to 12 strokes of the cane|
2. Based on the culpability of the offender and the presence of mitigating and aggravating factors, the Court can then consider adjusting the indicative starting point for sentencing upwards or downwards.
Some of the mitigating and aggravating factors the Court considered in this case are:
|1. Mental condition of the offender 2. Reflection of offender’s genuine remorse by way of timely confession of guilt or cooperation with the authorities in investigations|
|1. Relevant prior convictions of the offender 2. Manner and duration of the attack 3. Victim’s vulnerability, especially with regards to age 4. Presence of prior intervention by the authorities|
The accused in this case was charged with two counts of voluntarily causing hurt. In the first charge, the abuse resulted in head injuries that led to the death of her son. In the second charge, the abuse resulted in multiple fractures to her son’s elbow, calf and ribs.
Having adopted the two-step approach above, the Court sentenced the accused to 9 years and 6 months for the first charge and 4 years imprisonment for the second charge. These sentences were above those set in the guidelines primarily due to the abuse of trust in the context of a parent-child relationship, as well as the vulnerability of the four-year-old son.
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