Offences Affecting Life under Penal Code

Offences Affecting Life under Penal Code

Introduction

Offences affecting life are provided for under chapter 16 of the Penal Code and include serious crimes like murder and culpable homicide. Apart from the two most common offences, this sub-chapter also includes other heinous crimes as well such as causing death by rash or negligent act, etc. This article aims to explain the various offences under offences affecting life other than crimes related to murder and culpable homicide.

Causing Death by Rash or Negligent Act

An accusation of causing death by a rash or negligent act is less serious than murder or culpable homicide that does not amount to murder. Because the degree of blameworthiness on the side of the perpetrator is reduced, it earns a significantly lesser penalty. This is because the offender’s understanding that his or her acts would result in the death of someone is significantly lower than it is for murder, where death is either planned or known to be a very probable outcome, or culpable homicide not amounting to murder when death is known to be a likely result.

The offence of causing death by a rash or negligent act is defined under section 304A of the Penal Code. An act is performed rashly under section 26E of the Penal Code if the accused knows there is a risk that a certain circumstance exists or will exist, making it unreasonable to accept the risk in the first place. The Court adopts a subjective test to decide whether the offender’s action was rash. This implies that the Court will try to envision what the offender was thinking when he or she committed the act that resulted in death. If found guilty of causing death by a rash act, the perpetrator faces up to 5 years in prison, a fine, or both.

Doing an act negligently, on the other hand, is defined in section 26F of the Penal Code as either failing to do something that a reasonable person would do or doing something that a reasonable person would not do. An objective test is used to determine this. This implies that the Court will compare the offender’s behaviour to that of a hypothetical “reasonable person” in a similar scenario. If proven guilty of causing death by a negligent act, the offender faces up to 2 years in prison, a fine, or both.

Causing Death of Child Below 14 Years of Age, Domestic Worker or Vulnerable Person by Sustained Abuse

The offence of causing the death of a child under the age of 14, a domestic worker, or a vulnerable person by sustained abuse is defined under section 304B of the Penal Code.

Sustained abuse is defined as a person voluntarily causing hurt and/or knowingly neglecting the victim on two or more occasions, as defined by section 304B of the Penal Code. If the abuse has been going on for a long period, it is also conceivable for prolonged abuse to occur on a single occasion. A vulnerable person, according to section 74A(5) of the Penal Code, is someone who, due to mental or physical infirmity, impairment, or incompetence, is unable to defend himself or herself from abuse, neglect, or self-neglect.

The person who has custody, charge or care of the child/vulnerable person is liable for this offence if the victim is a child or a vulnerable person. If the victim is a domestic worker, then people liable for this offence would be the employers, members of the employer’s household or employment agents. The punishment for causing the death of a child below 14 years of age, a domestic worker, or a vulnerable person by sustained abuse is up to 20 years in prison, as well as a fine or caning.

Causing Death in Furtherance of Group’s Object

Any person who is or acts as a member of a group is guilty of an offence if he or she:

• knows that the group’s common objective is to commit an offence under the Penal Code or any written law.
• knows that death or grievous injury is likely to be caused in furtherance of the group’s common object or a deadly weapon, or anything which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death, is to be used in any manner against another person in the furtherance of that common object.
• and the death of a person was caused in furtherance of the group’s common object.
Section 308A(2) states that a person who is guilty of this offence shall be punished with imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term which may extend to 20 years, and shall also be liable to caning.

Concealment, Desecration or Disposal of Corpse that Impedes Discovery, Identification, Criminal Investigations or Prosecutions

A person who intentionally or knowingly conceals, desecrates, or disposes of a human corpse and impedes or prevents —

• the discovery or identification of a human corpse; or
• the detection, investigation, or prosecution of an offence under the Penal Code or any other written law

is guilty of an offence under section 308B. In this section, “desecrate” refers to any act performed after the death of a living person, such as dismemberment, disfigurement, mutilation, or burning, as well as any act that causes the human corpse to be devoured, scattered, or dissipated in whole or in part.

A person who commits this offence faces a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison.

Infanticide

When a woman causes the death of her child under the age of 12 months by any intentional act or omission, but the balance of her mind was disturbed at the time of the act or omission because of her not having fully recovered from the effect of giving birth to the child or because of the effect of lactation after the birth of the child, regardless of whether the circumstances were such that the act would have amounted to murder if not for this clause, such a person is guilty of infanticide. This offence is mentioned under section 310 of the Penal Code.

Section 311 provides for the punishment for infanticide. Whoever commits infanticide must be punished at the discretion of the court with life imprisonment or imprisonment for a term of up to 10 years, and shall also be subject to a fine if she is not sentenced to life imprisonment.

Cases concerning Offences Affecting Life

1) Guay Seng Tiong Nickson v Public Prosecutor [2016] 3 SLR 1079; [2016] SGHC 94

The appellant was driving a vehicle when he turned right at the intersection of Ayer Rajah Avenue and North Buona Vista Road. The appellant had just recently received his driver’s licence and had only driven his automobile for around five or six days before the collision. Another car, travelling in the other way on the same route, was carrying a two-month-old infant. The victim’s father was driving. The light was in his favour as the father neared the crossroads. As the appellant turned right, his vehicle crossed into the path of the father’s vehicle as it passed through the crossroads. The infant died in the hospital during a surgery to remove a blood clot on the left side of his brain. He passed away as a result of his injuries. The head injury was determined to be the cause of death. The appellant made the turn and drove into the crossroads without stopping, according to video evidence. Throughout the event, it was undisputed that the father had the right of way. The appellant was charged with causing death by a negligent act under Penal Code section 304A(b) for this. He had failed to maintain appropriate vision while making a right turn at a traffic-light controlled intersection. The appellant pled guilty and was sentenced to four weeks in jail and a five-year disqualification order by the district judge. On appeal, he argued that the jail sentence was clearly disproportionate and that he should instead be fined. He did not appeal the order of disqualification. The appeal was dismissed by the court after hearing the arguments of both parties.

2) Public Prosecutor v Hue An Li [2014] 4 SLR 661; [2014] SGHC 171

Hue An Li, the respondent, had been awake for more than 24 hours when her automobile struck the rear of the lorry. Nine foreign labourers who were being transferred in the lorry’s back compartment were thrown out. Eight people were hurt, and one died at the site. Both the truck driver and his front passenger were hurt. The defendant pled guilty to one charge of causing death by a negligent act, an offence under Penal Code section 304A(b), and agreed to two other offences of causing hurt by a negligent act and inflicting grievous harm by a negligent act being considered for sentencing. The respondent was fined $10,000 plus five weeks in prison and barred from driving for five years. The Public Prosecutor filed an appeal on the grounds that the respondent should have received a prison sentence. In terms of the punishment to be meted out in a section 304A(b) traffic fatality case, the default starting point is a short jail sentence of up to four weeks’ imprisonment. This is subject to adjustment based on the degree of negligence involved as well as the presence of aggravating and/or mitigating factors. The existence of any of the aggravating factors examined in these grounds of decision namely speeding, drink-driving, and sleepy driving would result in a starting point of between two and four months imprisonment. For sentencing reasons, the amount of injury caused would also have to be considered. The appeal was allowed, the respondent was sentenced to four weeks in jail, and the five-year disqualification order was upheld.