Courts now tougher on negligence

SINGAPORE - Many have asked if cement truck driver Munir Mohd Naim has escaped with a light sentence in what was a horrific accident that claimed two young lives.

But his lawyer Sunil Sudheesan said the focus should be on his client's culpability rather than the harm that resulted from the accident.

Munir's actions were determined by the prosecution to be a negligent act rather than a rash one, and that made the difference, Mr Sudheesan told The New Paper on Monday.

"Recklessness is doing something that is taking an obvious risk, like driving against traffic, for example," he said.

"That was not what happened in this case."

Lawyer Gloria James-Civetta said: "A rash act comprises a driver knowing of the risk of injury created by his or her driving and carrying on with it.

"Whereas a negligent act is like a failure of the duty-of-care principle when driving on the road."

Penalties

The penalties for a negligent act and a rash act are also different.

The maximum penalty for causing death by a rash act not amounting to homicide is five years' jail, or a fine, or both.

The penalty for a negligent act is lower, with the jail term capped at two years.

But Ms James-Civetta said the courts seemed to have toughened their stance against negligence last year.

"The practice had been to impose a heavy fine for the negligent act. But the recent trend has been to impose a minimum of two weeks in jail," she said.

In court, District Judge Tan Boon Heng highlighted three factors in the case that led to his decision:

Munir was driving a heavy vehicle, and should have exercised extra caution and paid attention to the road.

The accident occurred in a school zone, where the driver should have been more careful.

It occurred on a pedestrian crossing and the "green man" was on.

Ms James-Civetta said the court would also have considered other factors, such as the speed and manner of Munir's driving.

The ages of the victims matter, too, as their youth may mean that they were unable to exercise proper care on the road, she said.


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