Voluntarily Causing Hurt

23.04.2024
Jeremy Cheong
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Jeremy Cheong

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+65 8800 8074

Voluntarily causing hurt is a criminal offence in Singapore under Section 321 of the Penal Code 1871. It carries a punishment of imprisonment for up to 3 years, a fine of up to S$5,000, or both.

The Penal Code also provides for the offence of voluntarily causing grievous hurt, which is considered to be more serious. A person found guilty of this offence will be subject to a term of imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine or caning.

These offences differ from assault in the sense that they require some form of force, whereas assault does not. Certain elements need to be established to prove the offences of voluntarily causing hurt, and the punishment imposed will depend upon the seriousness of any injury, and the existence of any aggravating factors.

Definition of hurt

The term “hurt” can encompass a wide range of feelings, but the Penal Code has defined hurt and grievous hurt for the purpose of these offences under Sections 319 and 320, respectively:

Term Definition
Hurt
  • Bodily pain
  • Disease
  • Infirmity (including psychological hurt)
Grievous hurt
  • Emasculation
  • Death
  • Permanent loss of sight in either eye
  • Permanent loss of hearing in either ear
  • Loss of any member or joint
  • Destruction or permanent impairment of any member or joint
  • Permanent disfiguration of the head or face
  • Fracture or dislocated bone
  • Any hurt that endangers life, or causes the victim to be in severe bodily pain for 20 days, or which means the victim cannot follow his ordinary pursuits
  • Penetration of the vagina or anus without the victim’s consent, which causes severe bodily pain

Voluntarily causing hurt – elements

There are two key elements to establishing the offence of voluntarily causing hurt, namely:

There must be an act that causes hurt to a person

This act could be anything from slapping someone to punching them repeatedly. As long as there is a forceful act that causes hurt, as defined within the Penal Code, this element will be satisfied.

There must be an intention to cause hurt or knowledge that the act is likely to cause hurt

This can be a trickier element to establish, as the court will be required to understand the perpetrators’ intention or knowledge at the time of doing the act. The court will undertake a subjective assessment of this, which means they will investigate what the offender’s mindset was when committing the offence.

In situations where an attack has been pre-planned or where the offender has exerted force repeatedly (e.g. by hitting the victim multiple times), it will be easier to show that there was an intention to hurt.

The element of knowledge may come into play if, for example, the perpetrator playfully causes the victim to trip over, which results in an injury. The perpetrator may not have intended to cause hurt but would know the act is likely to cause some form of harm.

For the offence of voluntarily causing grievous harm, the requirement is the same, except the perpetrator must have intended to cause grievous hurt, or known the act was likely to cause grievous hurt (within the definition in the Penal Code).

Sentencing

Once the offence has been proven, the court must consider the appropriate sentence to pass. The court will first look at the seriousness of the hurt caused, before assessing any aggravating factors.

The seriousness of the hurt

The court has produced guidelines in respect of the punishments to be handed out to offenders depending on the degree of harm caused to the victim:

  • Low harm is classified as no visible injuries or only minor injuries such as bruises and scratches. The guidance for this is a fine or a short prison sentence of up to 6 weeks.
  • Moderate harm is hurt which results in hospitalisation or a significant period of medical leave, as well as small fractures. The guidance for this is between 6 weeks to 9 months’ imprisonment.
  • Serious harm relates to any permanent serious injuries or those which require significant surgical procedures. The guidance for this is between 9 to 36 months’ imprisonment.

Where grievous hurt has been caused, these guidelines can be extended to account for the maximum sentences available for that offence.

Aggravating factors

An offender is likely to be subject to a higher level of punishment from the above categories if certain aggravating factors arise which add to the seriousness of the offence. Some examples of such factors are:

  1. Whether the perpetrator is a repeat offender;
  2. The vulnerability of the victim, e.g. if they are elderly or disabled;
  3. Whether there has been any pre-planning of the attack;
  4. The manner of the attack;
  5. The duration of the attack; and
  6. The use of any weapons.

The Penal Code also specifically provides for increased sentences for specific situations, for example, where dangerous weapons or poison are involved, where the hurt is done to extort property or force somebody to do an illegal act, or where the hurt is caused to deter a public servant from their duty. These will be examined briefly below.

Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means

Under Section 324 of the Penal Code, an offender will be subject to imprisonment for up to 7 years, a fine, caning, or any combination of the three, if they commit this offence.

The offender must have caused hurt by using an instrument ordinarily used for shooting, stabbing, or cutting, or they must have used a weapon likely to cause death. Alternatively, any use of fire, poison, explosives, or harmful substances, if inhaled, will satisfy this offence.

Where the hurt caused by a dangerous weapon is grievous, Section 326 states that the punishment will be life imprisonment, or up to 15 years in prison and caning, or a fine if they are not sentenced to life imprisonment.

Voluntarily causing hurt to extort property or to constrain an illegal act

Where an offender voluntarily causes hurt to force the victim (or any person interested in them) to hand over property, they may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of up to 10 years and be liable to a fine or caning.

This offence also includes hurt that is caused to force the victim to carry out an illegal act or do anything that may assist with the commission of an offence.

Where grievous hurt is concerned, the maximum sentence increases to life imprisonment, or imprisonment for up to 10 years and a fine or caning.

Causing hurt by means of poison

An offender who administers or causes a person to take any poison, intoxicating substance, or substance that is harmful to consume, may be punished with a term of imprisonment of up to 10 years and will be subject to a fine or caning.

Section 328 of the Penal Code, makes clear the offender’s intention or knowledge must be established, as referred to above. It will also be sufficient for the offender to have intended to commit or facilitate the commission of an offence.

Voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty

A person who voluntarily causes hurt to a public servant while they are carrying out their duty will be subject to a prison sentence of up to 7 years and be liable to a fine or caning under Section 332. Where the hurt caused is grievous, the maximum sentence increases to 15 years, and the offender will also be subject to a fine or caning under Section 333.

Provocation

Whilst a provoked attack will not be a complete defence to any of the above offences, the law recognises situations where there should be a lesser sentence to reflect this.

Section 334 reduces the maximum prison sentence to 6 months and the maximum fine to S$2,500 where a person has caused hurt on “grave and sudden provocation” and where they neither intended nor knew they would be likely to cause hurt to any person other than the one who provoked them.

A non-arrestable offence

The police must obtain an arrest warrant from the court before they can arrest a suspect for voluntarily causing hurt, making it a non-arrestable offence (Exceptions include where the victim was an on-duty public service, or a dangerous weapon is involved). The victim can obtain a warrant by filing a Magistrate’s Complaint with the court.

If the court is satisfied with the contents of the complaint, it can order the parties to attend criminal mediation, ask for the offender’s response to the complaint, or ask the police to investigate further.

Conclusion

Although the offence of voluntarily causing hurt is non-arrestable, it is still considered a serious criminal matter that can result in severe punishment. A person charged with any of the above offences should seek the immediate advice of a specialist criminal lawyer to understand their options.

Jeremy Cheong
Author

Jeremy Cheong

WhatsApp

+65 8800 8074

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