SINGAPORE: A couple convicted of abusing two domestic helpers will serve their sentences related to the second maid after completing their current sentences for the first, a court ruled on Friday (Sep 20).
This means their total jail sentences for abusing both maids will be six years and one month for former IT manager Tay Wee Kiat, and four years and one month for his wife Chia Yun Ling.
They will also have to serve sentences in default - six weeks' jail for Tay and five weeks and 10 days for Chia - as they have not paid the maids compensation orders of about S$18,000 in total.
His wife was given three years and 11 months' jail and a fine of S$4,000 for her part in the ill-treatment.
Ms Than was caned, had rice and sugar forced down her throat through a funnel and was asked to eat her own vomit, among other forms of physical abuse.
Her employment with the couple overlapped that of another maid, Indonesian national Ms Fitriyah, who was also abused by the pair.
Tay made the two maids slap each other and pray before a Buddhist altar 100 times, even though Ms Than was Christian and Ms Fitriyah Muslim.
NEW SENTENCING FRAMEWORK FOR MAID ABUSE AFTER THEIR CASE
The couple's case involving Ms Fitriyah saw the court setting a new sentencing framework for maid abuse cases that acknowledges psychological harm suffered by domestic workers in such situations.
For abusing Ms Fitriyah, Tay had been given 43 months' jail, an increase from 28 months upon appeal, while his wife was given two months' jail.
The issue of how they would serve the sentences for the two maids were set aside until after both trials had been dealt with.
On Friday, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Justice See Kee Oon ruled that the couple would serve the sentences for abusing Ms Fitriyah after finishing their current sentences for ill-treating Ms Than.
They had started serving their sentences for the latter on Mar 27 this year.
The judges found that this was not crushing, noting that not doing so would enable the pair to evade punishment for the other set of offences.
The prosecution on Friday urged the court not to run the sentences for both maids concurrently, as the effect of the enhanced sentences would then be lost.
NO BULK DISCOUNT: PROSECUTOR
Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Wen Hsien stressed that these were different acts of abuse against two different victims, with different triggers.
"They should not receive any bulk discount simply because they were convicted in two separate proceedings," she said.
She explained that the couple should have been tried in one trial for both sets of offences against both their maids, but explained that circumstances in the early stages of the first trial resulted in the decision to continue with two separate trials.
This was because proceeding with one trial might have been prejudicial to the accused pair, because of "possible collusion", the prosecutor said.
Chief Justice Menon said there were only two options - for the sentences to run concurrently from Friday or for the sentences for Ms Fitriyah to run after the couple had finished their terms for Ms Than.
The prosecutor agreed, adding that should the couple have their sentences run concurrently from Friday, Chia would be "given a free ride".
When the Chief Justice asked the unrepresented couple if they had anything to say, Tay said he would respect the judges' decision. Chia remained seated and shook her head when prompted by the judge if she had anything to say.
THE ISSUE OF COMPENSATION
The other issue tackled was that of the compensation orders. Tay said he and his wife wished to serve default terms in lieu of paying the orders.
Their former defence counsel had previously told the court that they had exhausted all their resources in the years of court proceedings.
The prosecution had urged the court to give the couple a deadline to pay the compensation sums. If this was not met, they suggested for the two of them to declare their assets to the court.
The court can then order their property to be seized and sold, with proceeds used in paying the sums, to appoint someone to take possession of their property to the same end or to direct anyone owing the couple money to pay off the compensation sums.
However the judges rejected this proposal, saying there might be undue protraction of court proceedings, and a strain on judicial and investigative resources.
"It may be argued that offenders might be incentivised to serve the default terms as opposed to paying the court-ordered compensation sum where the amount involved is large," said Justice See, who delivered the judgment.
"But often, compensation amounts are fairly modest as they are quantified on a rough-and-ready basis. In most cases, offenders with sufficient means are likely to pay and do pay the compensation amount to avoid serving the default term."
He added that those who choose not to pay the compensation or remain adamant on not paying in any event, are a minority.
The judges allowed Chia's request to speak to her religious teacher for some time after the hearing.