21 Dec 2005

Kill domestic worker: fine S$250, 3 months jail or both

From the Think Centre.

Ngu Mei Mei who is charged with endangering human life - "killing" her domestic worker, faces three months in jail, a S$250 (US$150) or both. A domestic workers' life is cheap in Singapore. Do we respect human life?

A Singapore woman has been charged with negligence for ordering her Indonesian maid out of a window from where she fell to her death, a court document and a press report said Friday, Dec 16 (2005).

Ngu Mei Mei, 37, is charged with ordering the maid, Yanti, to climb with laundry from a study room window to hang out the laundry, a court document said.

It said the roof "was not designed for such ordinary human access". The incident allegedly happened on December 20, 2003.

The Straits Times reported that Yanti fell to her death but the charge sheet says only that Ngu "did an act so negligently as to endanger human life."

She faces three months in jail, a S$250 (US$150) or both.

New York-based Human Rights Watch in a report last week said maids in Singapore suffered serious abuses including sexual violence, food deprivation and home lock-ups.

The government called the report "a gross exaggeration" and defended existing legislation protecting foreign domestic workers.

At least 147 maids have died from workplace accidents or suicides since 1999, mostly by jumping or falling from high-rise residential apartments, Human Rights Watch said.

Singapore's Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen told BBC Radio that there were about 18 cases of maids falling to their deaths this year. According to a government transcript of the interview, Ng said the government is trying to tackle the issue and the number of deaths has dropped.

Half the deaths are suicides, he said.

About 150,000 women work as maids in Singapore, most of them from impoverished villages in the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.


Gilbert Koh said...

This is the same charge (and punishment) that you would get if you drove rashly, sped on the road and killed a pedestrian (Singaporean or otherwise). In light of this, you can probably see that this comment:

"A domestic workers' life is cheap in Singapore ..."

is rather mischevious and misleading.

Actually the same max punishment ($250 or 3 months jail) would still apply if you flew a passenger plane rashly and caused it to crash and thereby killed 200 passengers. Singaporean or otherwise.

The focus is more on the intention of the offender than on the loss.

Jean said...

The comment above is stupid and baseless. People who cause the death of others should be charged for manslaughter. Gilbert, your analogies are so stupid you represent what is completely wrong with Singaporeans, even those with intellectual and artistic aspirations

Gilbert Koh said...

I'm not commenting. I'm stating a fact. The maximum punishment under section 336 of the Penal Code is $250, 3 months imprisonment or both.

At best, you can proceed under section 304A where the maximum punishment is 2 years imprisonment and fine. The elements of the offence here would work well if you drove rashly and killed someone; however, you may not actually succeed in the maid scenario (that is, the charge may simply fail). There is one further break in the legal chain of causation - the employer did not push the maid down.

Manslaughter, or more correctly, culpable homicide not amounting to murder, is simply not possible. The employer does not intend to kill the maid - therefore the charge fails. A manslaughter charge is not possible. Unless, of course, you would like the employer to walk away scot-free.

lee hsien tau said...

You're kidding me. Koh Chong Huat accused me of one count of criminal intimidation and 8 counts of e-mail harassment. My bail amount was quoted by the judge at $50K. The count of criminal intimidation could potentially attract a jail sentence of 7 years plus a fine. I think the section was 106 & 107.

I was in there 5 months before the case was heard. During the trial, led by a rookie DPP, he could only repeatedly mutter that he felt very harassed. Under cross-examination by yours truly, his voice became a whisper. Protest to the judge was brushed aside. But as he had just struck out the charge of criminal intimidation, I had to let him off, because I was no legal eagle. Getting the major charge struck out was major achievement enough, with no preparation, no notes and, until the judge noticed, with my hands cuffed behind my back.

I was having a slight flu at the time, but I could smell a kangaroo a mile off. No point pressing my luck. But these people now know not to expect me to capitulate that easily.