Lawrence Lim Hwang Ngin: jail term doubled for this maid abuser

It's been more than one year since this post of mine, "3 entries to Hall of Shame of those who abuse their maid...Presenting: Lawrence Lim Hwang Ngin, Tay Wan Leng, Maselly Abdul Aziz & family". I'm somewhat surprised to read the name Lawrence Lim Hwang Ngin appears again in the news.

His jail term had been doubled to two years! No, it's got nothing to do with those seven charges of sexual abuse, including one count of rape, which Lawrence Lim Hwang Ngin was acquited.

What I really don't understand, though, is why it takes more than one year to double his punishment.

A police staff sergeant who assaulted his Indonesian maid over a period of four months had his jail term doubled to two years on Tuesday.

In the first maid-abuse case to go before the three-judge Court of Appeal, the jail term handed down to Lawrence Lim Hwang Ngin, 37, underscored the Singapore courts' firm stance against those who abuse their domestic maids.

Justice V. K. Rajah, in a 114-page written judgment peppered with denouncements of Lim's conduct, wrote:

'This is a sentence that appropriately encapsulates my profound aversion and disquiet with Lim's deplorable conduct without having the effect of being crushing.'

The case landed in Singapore's highest court because Lim, from the Criminal Investigation Department's Intellectual Property Rights Branch, was first tried in the High Court.

Typical maid-abuse cases are tried in the Subordinate Courts, with appeals - if any - heard in the High Court.

From Straits Times, "Abuser's jail term doubled".

Should the court follow sentencing norms based on the severity of an assault, or can judges consider, in a maid abuse case, the position of authority held by the employer and the vulnerability of the maid as an aggravating factor?

This poser has split the Court of Appeal in a case involving an Indonesian maid who was abused repeatedly by her employer.

The 37-year-old accused, Lawrence Lim Hwang Ngin, is a police officer who was found guilty of kicking the maid, hitting her on the head and rapping her forehead with his knuckles on five occasions between January and May 2006. The maid was 23 at the time.

Now, the appellate court - the highest court in the Singapore justice system - in a 2-1 judgment has opted to not only let his conviction stand, it has doubled his jail term to 24 months.

While the signal from Justices Andrew Phang, V K Rajah and Woo Bih Li is clear - that maid abuse cannot be tolerated - the three Court of Appeal judges were split in their individual conclusions.

Justice Woo, the dissenting judge, felt that the positions of maid and employer ought not to be viewed as an aggravating factor.

He also argued that "there is a current sentencing norm of one to six weeks imprisonment in cases where there is no serious physical injury".

But in the 114-page written judgment, Justice Rajah opined: "Surely, it cannot be said that an abusive employer who persistently mistreats and humiliates a maid and then later physically injures her should be sentenced similarly with one who ordinarily treats a maid well but then on a solitary occasion loses control of himself and then inflicts a similar injury?"

"Does that mean that anything short of a grievous or permanent injury is not a serious injury?" he wrote.

Justice Phang, who agreed with this conclusion, added that "the sentencing process is not - and ought not to be - a mechanistic one".

This case was unique, as the accused had admitted that he wanted to wage "psychological warfare" on his victim, added the judge.

Justice Kan Ting Chiu, who presided over the trial last year, had also noted a pattern of assault, which took place at regular intervals.

Lim had initially faced 13 charges for sexual and physical assault on the maid, who cannot be named, but was acquitted on all allegations of sexual offence, including rape, because of reasonable doubt.

He then appealed against the sentences for his five convictions and the verdict for three of those, while the prosecution had appealed against the length of the jail terms for all five charges.

Justice Phang noted: "When the severe physical injuries inflicted on the victim are coupled with the mental abuse which she was subjected to (all in a systematic and patterned fashion), it can be seen immediately that the sentence meted out by the Judge in the court below is, with the deepest respect, manifestly inadequate."

From Today, "Split judgment in maid abuse case".

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