Hearing about instances of people performing violent acts resulting in injuries to another person is unfortunate but pretty common. The term “assault” comes to mind when hearing about such instances. The term ”criminal force” is often misunderstood as the action that causes the assault. However, under law, the meaning of these terms is completely different than what people usually think these terms mean. In this article, these terms will be explained thoroughly and the punishment for such actions in different circumstances will be provided.
Explanation of “Force”
Force is defined under section 349 of the Penal Code 1871 and is critical to understand before learning about criminal force. Section 349 states that a force is said to be used by a person on another if the person:
a) Causes motion to the other person.
b) Causes change in motion to the other person.
c) Causes cessation of motion to the other person.
A person can also be said to use force against another person using a substance by bringing that substance in contact with any body part of the other person, or with anything, the other person is carrying or wearing, or by contact that affects the other person’s sense of feeling if the offender causes such substance:
a) Any motion
b) Change of motion
c) Cessation of motion
Such motion, change in motion, or cessation of motion should be caused by either:
i) The person’s bodily power.
ii) By disposing of any substance so that such action can take place without any further involvement of any other person.
iii) By inducing any animal to move, to cease to move, or change its motion.
Explanation of “Criminal Force”
Criminal Force is defined under section 350 of the Penal Code 1871. This section has to be read together with section 349 of the Penal Code and states that a person is said to use criminal force against another person when they intentionally use force against another, without the other person’s consent to either:
a) Commit any offense
b) Intend to cause injury, fear, or annoyance to the other person
c) Know that such force would likely cause injury, fear, or annoyance to the other person.
Illustrations of Criminal Force
- A was riding a horse. B lashed A’s horse without his consent and as a result, A’s horse quickened its pace. B did this with intention or with the knowledge that such action would likely injure, frighten or annoy A. Thus, in this scenario, B caused a change of motion to A by inducing his horse to change its motion. Since both the criteria of force and criminal force have been satisfied here, B has therefore used criminal force against A.
• A was walking down the street. B intentionally pushed against A in the street with his bodily power. B did this without A’s consent and knew that it would likely injure, frighten or annoy A. Therefore, in this scenario, B has used force against A and also had the intention criteria under criminal force, thus committing criminal force against A.
- A was walking down the street beside a lake. B throws a stone toward the lake intending or knowing that the stone would strike the water of the lake and the water would splash against A’s clothes or his handbag. B did this without A’s consent. In this scenario, the throwing of the stone produced an effect of causing the water to come into contact with A’s clothes or his handbag. If B intended to cause injury, fear, or annoyance to A by throwing the stone in the lake, then B would have committed criminal force against A.
- A was taking a bath in a bathtub. B poured boiling water into the water which was already in the bathtub where A was taking a bath. This was done without A’s consent and was done with an intention to cause A injury, fear, or annoyance. As the boiling water would come into contact with the already existing water in the bathtub, thus in effect coming into contact with A, therefore, B has used criminal force against A.
- A was jogging down the street. B incited his dog after seeing A, to spring upon A without A’s consent. This was done with the intention or knowledge that it would likely injure, frighten or annoy A. Thus, B in this scenario has committed criminal force against A.
What Separates an Assault from Criminal Force?
Unlike criminal force, actual force does not need to be used to commit an assault. A gesture or preparation, beyond words, by a person intending or knowing that such gesture or preparation would likely cause another person to apprehend that criminal force is about to be used on them, constitutes an assault. It means that the other person, after seeing such a gesture or preparation, most likely will think that criminal force is about to be used on them. Physically using such force against the person is not necessary to commit an assault. If the other person is scared into thinking that criminal force will be used on them by another, then that itself would constitute an assault. Mere words do not amount to assault, however, any action followed by such words which would result in the other person thinking that criminal force is about to be used can be considered assault. For example, saying “I will be making sure you get hurt” and then picking up a stick from the road would amount to an assault.
What are Grave and Sudden Provocation?
Grave and sudden provocation is a factor that helps in mitigating the sentence for committing the offense of criminal force or assault. However such grave and sudden provocation by the victim of the offense would not be considered an excuse or mitigating factor if:
a) The offender voluntarily provoked the victim into provoking him/her.
b) The offender sought the provocation.
c) The provocation was done in obedience to the law and the offender knew or had reasons to believe so.
d) The provocation was done by a public servant in the lawful exercise of his/her power.
e) The victim provoked the offender in the lawful exercise of the right to private defense.
Punishments for Committing Criminal Force
1) Criminal Force without Grave and Sudden Provocation
The general punishment for using criminal force against another person without grave and sudden provocation is mentioned under section 352 of the Penal Code and is imprisonment for a period of up to 3 months and a fine of up to $1,500 or either.
2) Criminal Force on Grave and Sudden Provocation
The punishment for using criminal force on a grave and sudden provocation is mentioned in section 358. The penalty is imprisonment for a period of up to 1 month and a fine of up to $1,000 or either. The sentence is mitigated if there is a grave and sudden provocation.
3) Criminal Force to Deter a Public Servant from Discharge of their Duty
The punishment for deterring a public servant when on duty is imprisonment for a period of up to 4 years and a fine or either. This is mentioned in section 353 of the Penal Code 1871.
4) Criminal Force to a Person with Intent to Outrage Modesty
The general punishment for outraging the modesty of a person using criminal force is imprisonment for a period of up to 3 years, fine, caning, or a combination of all three. If the victim is below 14 years of age, the imprisonment period gets increased to up to 5 years. If the offender injures, wrongfully restrains, or causes death to the victim while using criminal force intending to outrage the modesty of such person, the punishment is imprisonment for 2 to 10 years and caning. If the victim of the above-mentioned crime is below the age of 14 years or if the crime was committed in the lift of any building, then the imprisonment period is between 3 to 10 years.
5) Criminal Force to Commit or Attempting to Commit Theft from a Person
The punishment for using criminal force to commit or attempting to commit theft of property that another person is wearing or carrying is imprisonment for a period between 1 to 7 years and caning. This is mentioned under section 356 of the Penal Code.
6) Criminal Force in Attempting to Wrongfully Confine a Person
The punishment for using criminal force in an attempt to wrongfully confine a person is mentioned under section 357 of the Penal Code and is imprisonment for a period of up to 1 year and a fine of up to $3,000 or either.
7) Criminal Force with the Intent to Dishonour a Person
Mentioned under section 355 of the Penal Code, the punishment for using criminal force with the intent to dishonor a person without grave and sudden provocation is imprisonment for a period of up to 2 years and a fine or either.
Cases Concerning Criminal Force
1) Tan Chin Heng v Public Prosecutor  SGHC 7
In this case, a person impersonating a police officer requested sexual services from a woman, who was a prostitute. He threatened the woman that other girls were arrested for being a prostitute and that he would not do the same in exchange for such sexual service to which the woman agreed. The person used criminal force to tie the hands of the victim with plastic cable bonds. The Court sentenced the person to 12 months of imprisonment. The accused appealed against this decision and the Court, after finding that he was a serial offender, dismissed his appeal.
2) Winston Lee Siew Boon v Public Prosecutor  SGHC 186
In this case, the background involved a general physician who on two counts used criminal force intending to outrage the modesty of his patient in his clinic. The trial court convicted the accused on two charges under section 345(1) of the Penal Code and he was sentenced to 10 months of imprisonment. The accused appealed against this decision in the High Court. The High Court noted that the complainant was convincing enough and proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the offenses were committed by the accused. The court dismissed the appeal.
3) Public Prosecutor v BNO  SGHC 243
The victim, in this case, was a 9-year-old boy. The accused’s youngest son was the schoolmate of the victim. The offenses occurred during a sleepover when the victim came to the accused’s house for a sleepover with his schoolmates. The accused sexually abused the victim on three separate occasions including outraging his modesty using criminal force and 18 witnesses gave their testimonies including the accused. After going through all the facts and circumstances of the case along with the evidence, the High Court sentenced the accused to 14 years of imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane and also passed a gag order prohibiting the disclosure of the victim’s identity.
4) Kunasekaran s/o Kalimuthu Somasundara v Public Prosecutor  SGHC 09
The background of this case involved a 63-year-old male Singaporean using criminal force on a 14-year-old girl to molest her by touching her private parts with his fingers. The court, in this case, developed a framework for situations of outrage of modesty based on the degree of sexual exploitation, the circumstances of the case, and the level of harm caused to the victim. The framework is divided into three bands, with band 1 being the lowest and reserved for less serious offenses, with penalties ranging from a fine to up to five months in prison. Band 1 situations are those that do not often include any level of sexual exploitation and cause no or minimal harm to the victim. The High Court further stated that if the alleged offense occurs on public transportation, general deterrence would be a major factor in sentencing. That means the place of committing the offense would be an aggravating factor, in this case, being public transportation.