SINGAPORE, July 23 — A High Court judge on Friday (July 23) dismissed a 39-year-old maid abuser’s appeal against her jail time, after she asked twice for a report to be called to assess her suitability for a community-based sentence.
Justice Tay Yong Kwang agreed with a lower court judge that the state of Ong Si Mien’s mental condition — postnatal depression — did not justify departing from the usual custodial sentence for such offences.
Ong had assaulted Yulia, who only goes by one name, at least half a dozen times within two months in 2016 with household items like a cordless phone and metal bowl.
The abuse began two weeks into the maid’s employment.
The Indonesian worker eventually escaped Ong’s Sengkang flat without any money save for some coins from her home country, before getting help from a member of the public at a bus stop.
Ong, a mother of two young children, was sentenced to six months’ jail in the State Courts earlier this year after pleading guilty to her offences.
She had since made restitution of S$5,200 to Yulia, now aged 33.
At the time, District Judge Eddy Tham rejected her lawyer Amarjit Singh Sidhu’s argument for a mandatory treatment order suitability report to be called.
This is a community sentencing option offered to offenders suffering from mental conditions that contributed to the offence. Those found suitable must attend sessions with a court-appointed psychiatrist.
The district judge found that while her postnatal depression made her more easily irritable, stressed and angered by Yulia’s failure to meet expectations, it did not cause her to be violent as she could still control herself.
In the High Court on Friday, Singh urged Justice Tay once more to call for the report.
The defence counsel noted that an Institute of Mental Health (IMH) psychiatrist had found that she suffered from postnatal depression at the time, which she developed after giving birth to her second son. This, however, only partially contributed to her offences.
She also suffered from borderline obsessive compulsive personality traits, though this did not amount to a formal mental disorder.
Singh argued that a mandatory treatment order suitability report would give a fuller picture of Ong’s mental condition in deciding whether she could be given the community-based sentence.
Nevertheless, he conceded that the district judge had given her some sentencing discount for her mental illness. She is still going for treatment at IMH.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Yang Ziliang argued for the jail sentence to be upheld. He noted that in one instance of abuse involving the cordless phone, Ong had grown upset with Yulia for taking a late shower but she did not hit the maid right away, instead taking a call on the phone first.
After this, Yulia requested once more for a transfer but Ong refused, saying that she would transfer her to India instead.
DPP Yang noted that this was a “different mental state than just reacting to perceived triggers”.
Sentence not ‘manifestly excessive’
In dismissing Ong’s appeal, Justice Tay said that District Judge Tham applied the correct sentencing principles in relation to maid abuse.
“It’s obvious that the district court took into consideration her psychiatric condition when assessing her culpability for offences in question,” added the High Court judge, noting that the individual sentences were already reduced in light of her mental condition.
The sentences for two of Ong’s three charges of voluntarily causing hurt to Yulia were cut by half.
District Judge Tham could also have chosen to run all three individual sentences consecutively, but chose to run two instead.
“On the facts here, I do not think such a sentence can be said to be wrong in principle or manifestly excessive,” Justice Tay said.
Ong briefly addressed the court, tearing up as she said: “I’m very remorseful for my actions and I’ve been suffering from depression since I was 16.”
The judge allowed her to begin serving her sentence on Aug 6, in order to make care arrangements for her sons.
The maximum penalty for causing hurt is up to two years’ jail and a fine of up to S$5,000.
Employers of foreign domestic workers, or those in their household, are liable to one-and-a-half times the punishment — resulting in up to three years’ jail and a fine of up to S$7,500. — TODAY