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 (VCH) and he was handed a 3-week prison sentence.
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, which 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
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, 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:
- 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 to a public servant
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 20-year-old woman held a police officer in a choke-hold when he arrived to attend to a dispute along Orchard Road.
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:
- Permanent disfigurations of the head or face
- Loss of sight/hearing
- Loss of limb
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.
Penalties for Voluntarily Causing Hurt
If found guilty of committing VCH, the maximum punishment meted out can include imprisonment for 2 years, and/or a fine up to $5,000.
The High Court devised a new 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 new 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|
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 only be imposed 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.
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 aggravated forms of VCH, including both VCH by dangerous weapons and VCH to a public servant, an offender could face an imprisonment term of up to 7 years, a fine, caning or any combination of these punishments.
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 only take action to arrest the offender in a VCH case 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, and voluntarily causing hurt to a public servant
VCH by dangerous weapons and VCH to a public servant are both arrestable offences. This means that the police can arrest alleged offenders without a warrant. Once arrested, the offender can choose to be released on bail and/or personal bond.
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, 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 and voluntarily causing grievous hurt
If you are convicted of just VCH or VCGH, you will not have a criminal record.
For aggravated forms of voluntarily causing hurt and voluntarily causing grievous hurt
If you are convicted of aggravated forms of VCH (such as VCH by dangerous weapons) or of VCGH (such as VCGH to a public servant), 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 sentenced 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, as the victim, compensation for a particular injury, you will not be able to claim civil damages for that same injury. However, you will still be able to claim civil damages for the other injuries not covered by the compensation issued by the criminal court.
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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