SINGAPORE — A man who drove against traffic on an expressway successfully appealed to have his four-week jail term replaced with a two-year Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO) before a High Court judge on Friday (26 April).
Brandon Ng Hai Chong’s five-year disqualification from driving, however, was upheld by Justice Aedit Abdullah, and commenced on Friday.
After a night of drinking, Ng, 32, was driving along Clementi Ave 6 when he missed a left turn and entered a slip road in the direction of AYE (Tuas).
As Ng’s home was located in the opposite direction, he decided to make a U-turn on the expressway to go against the flow of traffic. He drove for 2km at 50kmh in the wee hours of 5 January 2017, forcing seven motorists to avoid him in order to prevent a head-on collision.
In his grounds of decision, Justice Aedit found that the district judge had erred in not giving enough weight to Ng’s MTO suitability report when his case first came before the State Courts. Ng, who was a civil engineer, had major depressive disorder at the time of the offence.
An MTO, which lasts up to 36 months, is a community-based sentencing option given to those deemed to be suffering from psychiatric disorders so that they can undergo psychiatric treatment instead of serving jail time.
Upon the successful completion of the MTO, offenders will not have a criminal record for the particular offence.
Justice Aedit emphasised that Ng’s case was exceptional as no injury or damage was caused. Had it been the scenario, deterrence and retribution would have been the more pressing sentencing principles than rehabilitation, and an MTO would have been inappropriate, he added.
District Judge Terence Tay had sentenced Ng on 8 March last year to four weeks’ jail on one count of dangerous driving after ruling that Ng’s psychiatric condition had not affected his impulsive actions on the road. He ruled that deterrence was the dominant sentencing principle in Ng’s case.
In their appeal against the jail term, Ng’s lawyers, Senior Counsel N Sreenivasan, S Balamurugan and Partheban Pandiyan, argued that the district judge had not placed enough weight on Ng’s psychiatric reports.
The lawyers pointed out that an Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist had recommended Ng for an MTO.
Ng had been receiving psychiatric treatment and counselling for depression, anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder, among other illnesses, since 2004, when he was 17 years old. According to the defence, Ng had been stressed from work and family matters.
Ng lost a son to an illness in 2009. Another daughter, born after the death of his son, was diagnosed with leukaemia when she was a toddler.
Ng’s daughter has completed her chemotherapy but remains at risk of a relapse. She has to be rushed to the hospital each time she has a high fever. Another son has severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
On the day of his offence, Ng had been worrying about his daughter, the psychiatrist stated in Ng’s report. The report also noted that Ng’s wife said her husband was often “muddled in his thoughts” and confused at times.
The many stresses that Ng faced led to him committing the offence, his lawyers argued.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Gabriel Choong, however, maintained that the district judge had not erred as Ng’s mental conditions had little or no mitigating value and argued for the jail term to be upheld.
“(Ng) was cognisant of his dangerous manner of driving and could have resisted the impulse to do so. He chose not to exercise self-control, instead making a U-turn to travel against flow of traffic to travel home,” said DPP Choong.
Ng had not been rushing for a medical emergency, as he had gone out drinking despite knowing his daughter had a fever that day.
Justice Aedit, however, said that the conclusions drawn by the prosecution and the district judge were wrong. Given Ng’s medical history, he was already an at-risk individual who was prone to stress, noted the judge.
That Ng was not rushing to a medical emergency should not be a factor, as the sense of distress over his daughter’s leukaemia and its effect on his state of mind were more relevant, he pointed out.
The judge said that the various stressful situations in Ng’s life and his medical history had to be considered for his sentencing.
“Against this backdrop, the recommendations for treatment would also address his stress-coping skills and vulnerable personality as a whole; it is to be hoped that this treatment would help prevent future incidents,” he added.