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The Straits Times
July 12, 2022
The Court of Appeal on Tuesday (July 12) overturned the sentences handed down to a couple who were originally given 27 years' jail each for repeatedly splashing hot water on their five-year-son until he died from his injuries.
Azlin Arujunah, 30, now faces the death sentence or life imprisonment after the apex court found her guilty of murder, overturning her original conviction for four counts of causing grievous hurt by dangerous means.
Her husband, Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman, 30, had his jail term for causing grievous hurt by dangerous means increased to the maximum of life imprisonment.
The case was adjourned to a later date for further submissions on what sentence should be handed down to Azlin and whether Ridzuan's original caning sentence of 24 strokes should remain.
The decision by the five-judge apex court - which expanded the interpretation of the law on common intention - came after an appeal by the prosecution.
The couple had splashed hot water on the boy on four occasions between Oct 15 and Oct 22, 2016, at their one-room flat in Toa Payoh, and they only took him to hospital about seven hours after he collapsed following the last incident.
Azlin splashed water on the boy in the first three incidents, while Ridzuan splashed water on the boy in the second and fourth incidents.
In the fourth incident, Azlin told Ridzuan to deal with the boy.
When the man splashed hot water at him, she continued to shout at the boy.
Tests of the family’s water dispenser showed that the water was between 70 deg C and 90.5 deg C.
In what prosecutors described as “one of the worst cases of child abuse”, the boy died from horrific scald injuries on Oct 23.
The scald injuries covered about 75 per cent of his body.
The pair also committed other acts of abuse against the child, including confining him to a pet cage, pinching him with a pair of pliers, hitting him with a broom and burning his palm with a heated spoon.
The pair, who have other children, originally faced a charge of murder with common intention to inflict fatal scald injuries on the boy.
The boy and his siblings cannot be identified due to a gag order.
In April 2020, a High Court judge found that common intention to inflict a fatal injury had not been sufficiently proved and asked the prosecution to file alternative charges for the acts of scalding.
The prosecution then sought the conviction of Azlin alone on an alternative murder charge but this was rejected by the judge.
This charge invoked the law of common intention to attribute liability to Azlin for Ridzuan’s acts, as part of her entire criminal act.
The couple were also convicted of the other acts of abuse.
Ridzuan was given 27 years’ jail and 24 strokes of the cane, while Azlin was sentenced to 27 years’ jail, with an additional one-year term in lieu of caning.
The prosecution appealed, asking for Azlin to be convicted of murder and seeking life imprisonment for the couple.
In a 131-page judgment on Tuesday, the apex court, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, said the current case presented a novel third type of situation where common intention might potentially be applicable.
The first two situations, known as the “dual crime” and “single crime” scenarios, are well established in case law.
The court ruled that the law of common intention could be used to attribute liability for another person’s acts to the offender so as to aggregate those acts with other acts personally committed by the offender, to form a “larger” criminal act.
The aggregation of Azlin’s intention to commit the first and third incidents with her intention to commit the second and fourth incidents with Ridzuan amounted to an intention to cause the cumulative scald injuries, said the court.
As for Ridzuan’s sentence, the court said the nature of the crime was “so cruel and inhumane” that it came within the worst type of such cases, which justified the maximum sentence of life imprisonment.