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Penalties for Voluntarily Causing Hurt in Singapore

8 min read

The 2022 Oscars saw a variety of actors receive awards in recognition of their contributions to the film industry – but nothing caught the attention of the whole world more than Will Smith slapping Chris Rock’s face. With the Internet quick to give their opinions on whether Smith’s actions were justified – one question remained; was it even legal? In this article, we seek to clarify whether a mere pinching of your friend’s shoulder is enough to warrant a harsher imprisonment sentence (if any at all) than a slap to the face, in Singapore.

Voluntarily causing hurt

Section 321. Whoever does any act with the intention of thereby causing hurt to any person, or with the knowledge that he is likely thereby to cause hurt to any person, and does thereby cause hurt to any person, is said “voluntarily to cause hurt”.

In answering whether a slap to an individual’s face amounted to causing hurt, we look to the case of Chung Wan v Public Prosecutor [2019] 5 SLR 858. In this case, the accused slapped the appellant’s face whilst intoxicated, and was sentenced to 4 weeks imprisonment! Probably something to keep in mind before your next big night out at Clarke Quay.

What if they made me angry and I couldn’t help it?

Prior to being slapped by Will Smith, Chris Rock cracked a joke regarding Will Smith’s wife, Jada Smith’s, a rare autoimmune condition called alopecia areata, which lead to her hair loss. Rock implied Pinkett Smith could be in G.I. Jane 2 – referring to the 1997 movie G.I. Jane, where Demi Moore shaves her head bald.

This evidently angered Will Smith and was the basis of his slapping Chris Rock. This is known as grave and sudden provocation – a possible defence that can be raised, depending on the facts of the case!

Raising the Defence of Grave and Sudden Provocation

There are two distinct requirements which must be satisfied before the defence of provocation can be successfully raised:

  1. The subjective requirement that the accused was deprived of his self-control by the provocation.
  2. The objective requirement that the provocation must have been ‘grave and sudden’ which involved the application of the ‘reasonable man’ test.
    a. Whether an ordinary person of the same sex and age as the accused who,
    b. Shared such of his characteristics as would affect the gravity of the provocation and,
    c. When placed in the same situation, would have been so provoked as to lose his self-control.

Punishment for Voluntarily causing hurt on provocation

Whoever voluntarily causes hurt on grave and sudden provocation, if he neither intends nor knows himself to be likely to cause hurt to any person other than the person who gave the provocation, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 6 months, or with fine which may extend to $2,500, or with both.

However, there are instances in which courts understand that hurt caused as a result of grave and sudden provocation can be justified. In the case of Public Prosecutor v Goh Yang Chye [2003] SGMC 28, the accused was able to make out the defence of grave and sudden provocation, and that his slap was de minimis under section 95 of the Penal Code.

This is of course a fact-specific inquiry, and much of it is attributed to the details of each specific case.

Playful Banter

Be it at the workplace or at home – it’s always fun to pick on friends and family. Whether it’s a cheeky pinch of their arm or flicking their ears, the question remains; do these acts amount to offences of causing hurt? Section 95 of the Penal Code 1871 (2020 Rev. Ed.) says otherwise.

Under Section 95 of the Penal Code 1871 (2020 Rev. Ed.), nothing is an offence by reason that it causes, or that it is intended to cause, or that it is known to be likely to cause, any harm, if that harm is so slight that no person of ordinary sense and temper would complain of such harm.

If you were thinking of filing that lawsuit against your friend for that one time he high-fived you too hard, perhaps you can reconsider.

What if I accidentally hurt the individual?

It is not uncommon for accidents to happen. However, the law draws the line at acts of negligence. This is defined under Section 26F of the Penal Code as any act which a reasonable person would not do.

If you have acted negligently and endangered human life or the personal safety of others as a result, you may face imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 months, or with fine which may extend to $1,500, or with both.

What if I hurt the individual in the heat of the moment?

Acting rashly in the course of endangering human life or the personal safety of others is an offence under Section 336 of the Penal Code 1871 (2020 Rev. Ed.), and offenders may face imprisonment for a term which may extend to 6 months, or with fine which may extend to $2,500, or with both.

What if the hurt caused was severe?

If hurt caused to the individual is very severe, it may be canvassed as causing grievous hurt. Under Section 322 of the Penal Code 1871 (2020 Rev. Ed.), whoever voluntarily causes hurt, if the hurt which he intends to cause or knows himself to be likely to cause is grievous hurt, and if the hurt which he causes is grievous hurt, is said: “voluntarily to cause grievous hurt”.

Definition of Grievous Hurt

Grievous hurt is defined under Section 320 of the Penal Code 1871 (2020 Rev. Ed.) as any of the following offences:

  • (a) Emasculation (castration);
  • (aa) death;
  • (b) permanent privation of the sight of either eye;
  • (c) permanent privation of the hearing of either ear;
  • (d) privation of any member or joint;
  • (e) destruction or permanent impairing of the powers of any member or joint;
  • (f) permanent disfiguration of the head or face;
  • (g) fracture or dislocation of a bone;
  • (h) any hurt which endangers life, or which causes the sufferer to be, during the space of 20 days, in severe bodily pain, or unable to follow his ordinary pursuits;
  • (i) penetration of the vagina or anus, as the case may be, of a person without that person’s consent, which causes severe bodily pain.

Offences involving the causing of grievous hurt voluntarily carry greater penalties than that of mere hurt.

Penalties for Offences where hurt (or grievous hurt) is caused

Prescribed Sentence if _______________ is caused
How hurt / grievous hurt was caused Hurt Grievous Hurt
Voluntarily Imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years, or with fine which may extend to $5000, or both. Imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, or with fine, or with caning, or with any combination of such punishments.
Voluntarily, by dangerous weapons or means Imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7 years, or with fine, or with caning, or with any combination of such punishments. Imprisonment for life, or for a term which may extend to 15 years, and shall also be liable to caning or if he is not sentenced to imprisonment for life, liable to fine.
Voluntarily, to extort property or to constrain an illegal act Imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine or to caning. Imprisonment for life, or for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine or to caning.
By means of poison, with intent to commit an offence Imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine or to caning.
Voluntarily, to extort confession or to compel restoration of property Imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7 years, and shall also be liable to fine or to caning. Imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine or to caning.
Voluntarily, to deter public servant from his duty Imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7 years, and shall also be liable to fine or to caning, provided that in exceptional circumstances imprisonment need not be imposed. Imprisonment for a term which may extend to 15 years, and shall also be liable to fine or to caning.
Voluntarily, on provocation Imprisonment for a term which may extend to 6 months, or with fine which may extend to $2,500, or with both. Imprisonment for a term which may extend to 6 years, or with fine which may extend to $10,000, or with both.
By an act which endangers life or the personal property of others In the case of a rash act – imprisonment for a term which may extend to 1 year, or with fine which may extend to $5,000, or with both.In the case of a negligent act – imprisonment for a term which may extend to 6 months, or with fine which may extend to $2,500, or with both. In the case of a rash act – imprisonment for a term which may extend to 4 years, or with fine which may extend to $5,000, or with both.In the case of a negligent act – imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years, or with fine which may extend to $5000, or with both.

What if I think I am in trouble?

If you are unsure which category you might qualify under, or whether you may be guilty of an offence at all, consult a lawyer immediately. Our experience criminal defense lawyers at Gloria James-Civetta & Co can assist in both pre-court and court stages. Even if you have the slightest suspicion that you may run afoul of the law, contact us immediately so we can start preparing for your case/defence ahead of any other authorities.

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges and would like more information on criminal motions, kindly contact Gloria James-Civetta & Co on 6337 0469 or email us at consult@gjclaw.com.sg

What can we do for you?

Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact our criminal representation lawyers at 6337 0469 or email us at consult@gjclaw.com.sg

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