High Court to consider higher sentences for maid abusers

Should maid abusers who cane their employees or even burn them get higher sentences?

This is the issue a High Court panel of three judges, that includes the Chief Justice, will consider as it looks into the appeal of a couple convicted of caning and slapping their maid, and subjecting her to other humiliating "punishments".

This comes a year after Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon signalled the need to review sentencing benchmarks "upwards" for maid abuse when an appropriate case came before the court.

The issue came to light yesterday.

Former regional IT manager Tay Wee Kiat and his wife Chia Yun Ling, sentenced to jail terms of 28 months and two months respectively for abusing their Indonesian maid, are appealing against the guilty verdict and their punishment.

The prosecution has asked the court to increase the sentences for Tay, 39, and Chia, 41.

Among other things, Tay was found guilty of forcing Ms Fitriyah to stand on one leg on a stool while holding another stool in her hand. She had to maintain the position for half an hour, with a small plastic bottle shoved into her mouth.

He had also hit the maid with three canes bundled together and had made her and another maid slap each other 10 times.

Chia was found guilty of slapping and punching Ms Fitriyah.

They were charged with causing simple hurt to the maid, which carries a maximum of three years' jail.

The couple are also on trial for abusing another maid, 28-year-old Myanmar national Moe Moe Than.

At the appeal hearing yesterday, the prosecution, represented by Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck, said that it was timely to review current sentences to deter the abuse of maids.

He said that even after penalties were increased by Parliament in 1998, there were 24 cases of maid abuse involving simple assault last year. This is the highest since numbers dipped to 15 in 2013.

Mr Kwek proposed three sentencing categories depending on the degree of harm and the level of culpability.

Jail terms will start from three months for "one-off" cases with minor or no injury, like a single slap.

It should be at least nine months in jail for offenders who use objects like a cane to cause visible injuries - the second category.

Abuse involving severe harm and culpability, including burning the victim, will fall under the most serious category with jail terms of at least 18 months.

Under this proposal, Tay should get 38 months in jail and Chia three months.

The court, which also includes Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Justice See Kee Oon, will give its decision at a later date.