Wednesday, 3 March 2010

What warrants an arrest?

While it is good to know that the police are investigating the matter despite defining the matter as a non-seizable offence, it is disturbing to note that the man-in-the-street would not be accorded this privilege in the normal course of events.

1 comment:

Guanyu 道 said...

What warrants an arrest?

Conrad Raj, TODAY
01 March 2010

The recent case of ambulance driver Sivachandran Muragasu, who was assaulted by two men in a car park, brings to the fore the definition of a “seizable offence” in Singapore.

While it is good to know that the police are investigating the matter despite defining the matter as a non-seizable offence, it is disturbing to note that the man-in-the-street would not be accorded this privilege in the normal course of events.

According to the guides, a seizable offence is one where the police may arrest a suspect immediately without a warrant.

A statement issued by DSP Paul Tay, assistant director of media relations at the Singapore Police Force, said that Mr. Sivachandran’s case is being investigated “even though the case is classified as one of voluntarily causing hurt under Section 323 of the Penal Code, which is a nonseizable offence”.

The reason they gave for the investigations is “because of the aggravating circumstances and in this case, which is an assault against a person doing his work in a public service role as an ambulance driver”.

So what happens if the assault happens against a person who is not doing work in a public service role?

Some years ago, a young doctor was assaulted at a food stall at Lorong 9, Geylang by a group of six to eight men who had accused him of staring at them. As a result of their beating, he suffered multiple facial fractures and damage to a facial nerve. He had to undergo a three-hour operation, which included having two metal plates inserted around one of his eyes.

The initial reaction of the police? To “advise” him that the blatant attack was a civil case and it was for a magistrate to decide if any action was to be taken.

This was despite the doctor having taken down the number plates of two of the motorcycles ridden by members of the gang and calling on the police to chase the assailants immediately. It was only after friends intervened and an appeal was made, that the matter was reclassified under Section 325. By then 10 days had passed, by which time witnesses would have dispersed and memories faded, said his sister Ms Liew Sok Kuan in a letter to the press.

I can understand the matter being a non-seizable offence in the majority of domestic quarrels when the police are called to intervene.

But when a person is assaulted in public, especially by strangers, how can that be a non-seizable offence?

It is interesting to note that under Section 503 of the Penal Code, a threat to injure a person’s body, reputation or property or the body, reputation or property of a person in whom another person is interested, with the intention of alarming that person to do or omit anything which he or she is not legally bound to do or omit, is a seizable offence.

But an actual assault where there is no threat but bodily harm is caused - as in the cases of the doctor and Mr. Sivachandran - is non seizable. It’s difficult to fathom this legal logic.

And under Section 383 of the Penal Code, extortion, or putting a person in fear of harm to the body, mind, reputation or property of the person himself or another person, and thereby inducing the person to deliver any property or valuable security, is a seizable offence (and rightly so). But not an assault on a person’s body.

(The exception seems to be in the case of the young or the elderly, or where there is “clear harm to public interest”, in which case the police say they will “not hesitate to take action against the perpetrator”.)

Bringing a civil suit involves not only time and effort, it also imposes a financial burden on a person who has already suffered physical hurt.

Surely common sense should come to play and if a person is clearly harmed or has suffered grievous hurt, the police should investigate, even if the person is not a civil servant. As tax payers (directly or indirectly) all, we deserve equal protection under the law.