Sentencing in Cases of Domestic Worker Abuse

Sentencing in Cases of Domestic Worker Abuse


In the Republic of Singapore, the protection of vulnerable domestic workers is of paramount public interest. Many of these workers come from foreign lands, hoping to earn a decent living. Unfortunately, some face physical and psychological abuse in their employers’ homes. It is crucial that these workers are treated with dignity and respect, and any abuse must be met with firm legal consequences to serve as a deterrent.

Paramount Sentencing Considerations: Deterrence and Retribution

The courts have long recognized the special vulnerability of foreign domestic workers. This recognition is enshrined in the law, particularly through extended powers of punishment under Section 73 of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed). As highlighted by Chief Justice in Janardana Jayasankarr v Public Prosecutor [2016] 4 SLR 1288, domestic workers often lack a support network, are in a position of subordination, and experience abuse in the privacy of their employers’ homes. This creates a critical need for the law to protect them and impose stiff sentences on abusers.

Sentencing Framework for Section 323 r/w Section 73 Penal Code Offences

The sentencing framework for offences under Section 323 read with Section 73 of the Penal Code was established in Tay Wee Kiat v Public Prosecutor [2018] 4 SLR 1315. This framework was adjusted to account for the increased punishment multiplier from one and a half times to two times the standard penalty for such offences. The framework involves a three-step process:

  1. Determine the Harm: Assess whether the harm caused to the victim was predominantly physical or both physical and psychological.
  2. Identify Degree of Harm: Establish the degree of harm and apply the relevant sentencing range.
  3. Adjust for Aggravating and Mitigating Factors: Consider additional factors that may aggravate or mitigate the offence.

Sentencing Guidelines for Different Types of Hurt

The sentencing guidelines for various types of hurt under Section 323 of the Penal Code are as follows:

Type of Harm Description Indicative Sentencing Range
Low Harm No visible injury or minor hurt such as bruises, scratches, minor lacerations. Fines or short custodial term up to 4 weeks
Moderate Harm Hurt resulting in short hospitalization, simple fractures, temporary loss of function. 4 weeks to 6 months’ imprisonment
Serious Harm Serious injuries that are permanent or require significant surgery. 6 to 24 months’ imprisonment

Case Study: Sentencing in Domestic Worker Abuse

In a notable case of domestic worker abuse, the prosecution sought a global sentence of 12.5 months and 6 weeks to 16 months and 8 weeks’ imprisonment and a compensation order of S$4,000. This recommendation was based on the serious and repeated nature of the offences, which included physical assaults causing injuries, use of implements to inflict harm, and attempts to deceive the police.

First Charge

The first charge involved the accused poking the victim’s forehead repeatedly, causing a scratch. This act was deemed predominantly physical harm, warranting a sentence of six to eight weeks’ imprisonment.

Second Charge

The second charge involved the accused hitting the victim’s thighs with a wooden hanger, causing bruises. This offence was categorized as both physical and psychological harm, justifying a sentence of 5.5 to 7 months’ imprisonment.

Third Charge

The third charge was the most severe, involving multiple assaults with different implements, resulting in bruises and swelling on the victim’s face and body. The recommended sentence for this charge was 7 to 9 months’ imprisonment due to the extensive harm caused.

Consecutive Sentences

The prosecution argued for consecutive sentences for each charge to reflect the distinct nature of each offence and the cumulative impact of the repeated abuse. This approach aligns with the principles outlined in PP v Raveen Balakrishnan [2018] 5 SLR 799, ensuring that the aggregate sentence is proportionate to the overall criminality of the offender.

Compensation Orders

In addition to imprisonment, the court was urged to impose a compensation order. This aligns with the general principles of criminal compensation under Section 359 of the Criminal Procedure Code 2010, ensuring that victims receive some form of reparation for their suffering.


Cases of domestic worker abuse highlight the necessity for stringent sentencing to protect vulnerable workers. By imposing severe penalties and compensation orders, the courts send a clear message that such abuse will not be tolerated. This approach not only serves justice for the victims but also acts as a deterrent to potential offenders, reinforcing the protection of vulnerable individuals in our society.


  • Janardana Jayasankarr v Public Prosecutor [2016] 4 SLR 1288.
  • Tay Wee Kiat v Public Prosecutor [2018] 4 SLR 1315.
  • PP v Raveen Balakrishnan [2018] 5 SLR 799.
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