Chiu Lam-lei



Deputy District Judge Casewell


13 November 2009 at 9.40 am


Mr Andrew Raffell, Counsel on fiat, for HKSAR
Mr Richard Donald, instructed by Wat & Co., for the Defendant


Arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered (罔顧生命是否會受到危害而縱火)


Reasons for Sentence


1. The defendant has been convicted after trial of arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered, contrary to the Crimes Ordinance, and the finding of the court was of course was that the defendant started the fire and at the time had the necessary intent.

2. Considerable damage was caused by the fire but there was no injury to anybody.

3. The trial entirely turned upon her mental state at the time of the offence and the question was whether she had the intent to committhe offence or whether she was in fact suffering from insanity.

4. At the end of the day I rejected those defences and convicted her, but the medical evidence particularly I heard must conditionhow I approach sentence of the defendant, and I think the best way in which it could be put is that although the defendant’s illnessdid not excuse her as a matter of law from these offences, it did show that the intent that she did form was as a result of a delusionalstate that she was in which was a consequence of her suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time.

5. The medical reports are quite clear about that; the medical evidence that the court heard was quite clear about that. There wasno dispute about these facts, and although it did not, in my view, provide a defence, it does very much affect how the court wouldapproach her culpability for these offences at this point in time.

6. What the medical evidence showed in respect of the defendant was that she had been well up to about a year before the incident thenshe started to suffer from auditory hallucinations, she had delusions of reference and delusions of persecution. She was distressedand developed a suicidal ideation and set her flat on fire by burning her own clothes.

7. She was detained in Kwai Chung Hospital from 2 January 2009 to 3 March and diagnosed as suffering at the time from paranoid schizophrenia.Her treatment has been successful and she has been discharged.

8. The conclusion of the reports that I heard are that this lady, the defendant, had been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia andit was likely that she was under the influence of that mental illness at the material time.

9. This is a serious offence, but of course, the defendant’s culpability arises out of her delusional state. As far as I can seefrom the medical evidence I now have, she is at least temporarily cured of that state, so this puts her in a very different categoryfrom other offenders.

10. It appeared to me that the process of sentencing should engage on prevention of any further relapse of mental illness and what isrequired for the defendant is supervision to ensure that she complies with the medical requirements of her cure.

11. If there had been a finding of insanity, there are specific ways in which that can be addressed, but without that finding, it appearedto me that the Probation Services were the only people who could supervise the defendant and ensure that she continues her treatment.

12. To that end, I obtained a Probation Officer’s report on the defendant. The contents of that are very helpful to her. The conclusionis the defendant was brought up and raised in Tianjin in China. She married a Hong Kong man and came to Hong Kong, she divorced in2006, she could support herself until 2008, when her psychiatric illness onset. It says that now having received appropriate andregular psychiatric treatment, her condition is now under control. She lives with her younger sister, who renders her care and support.It says that in view of the accused’s remorseful attitude, her willingness to receive continuous psychiatric treatment and hersister’s strong support, probation supervision for 18 months is recommended, with of course the additional requirement she receivepsychiatric treatment.

13. The most recent medical report, which is dated 30 October 2009, from Dr Watt supports that conclusion, and that report sets outthe history of the defendant’s illness, which is similar to earlier reports.

14. Paragraph 4 says that

“She was last seen in the centre”,

that is the psychiatric centre,

“…on 14 October. Her speech is relevant and coherent and she denies hearing voices. She received a prescription of various drugsand is scheduled to be back for further consultation on 27 January next year.”

15. Dr Watt’s conclusion is that,

“Madam Chiu has been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. It is likely she was under the influence of that mental illness duringthe material time. Her mental illness was in remission when she was seen on 14 October. No in-patient treatment was needed. Sheshould continue to attend this centre in the coming years to receive psychiatric care to prevent relapse and schizophrenic illness.”

16. So it would appear that the provision of a Probation Order together with the requirement for psychiatric treatment would satisfyany requirement that the defendant continue to receive the treatment which would ensure that her paranoid schizophrenia remains inrelapse.

17. That I consider to be the most important business of this court in sentencing this defendant for this offence and that is why, subjectto the defendant’s consent, which is required, I will impose a Probation Order for 18 months together with the requirement thatpsychiatric treatment be received as directed.

18. The defendant needs that to be explained to her and I will do that now.

19. I propose that you should be placed on probation for 18 months. The requirement of the order are that you keep the peace and beof good behaviour, tell your Probation Officer of any change of address or employment, you keep any appointments they make for youto see your Probation Officer. You will be subject to the additional condition that you receive psychiatric treatment as and whendirected by your Probation Officer. If you breach any of those conditions or you commit any further offence while this order is inforce, you will be brought back to this court and sentenced again for the offence of which you were originally convicted. Do youunderstand that and do you consent to be placed on probation on those terms?

DEFENDANT: Understand and consent.

(T Casewell)
Deputy District Judge