Case Summaries

Sim Yeow Kee v Public Prosecutor and another appeal

 

SUPREME COURT OF SINGAPORE

29 September 2016

Media Summary

High Court Magistrate’s Appeals Nos 9135 and 9140 of 2015

Sim Yeow Kee v Public Prosecutor and another appeal [2016] SGHC 209

Introduction

1 Two appeals against sentence were heard together. These appeals bring into focus the interplay between the regimes of corrective training ("CT") and regular imprisonment. The central legal question before the court was whether an offender who satisfies the technical requirements for CT should be sentenced to CT or to regular imprisonment instead. This issue had to be determined in the light of changes that have been made over time to the regular imprisonment regime.

Factual background

2 In Magistrate’s Appeal No 9135 of 2015, the offender, Sim Yeow Kee ("Sim") appealed against his sentence of seven years’ CT. Sim, a 56 year old male, had pleaded guilty to two counts of theft-in-dwelling, and one count of consuming a specified drug. He had a string of antecedents over the years and these antecedents comprised similar offences of theft-in-dwelling and drug consumption. He had previously been sentenced to five years’ CT in 2004.

3 In Magistrate’s Appeal No 9140 of 2015, the offender, Loi Wenda ("Loi"), appealed against his sentence of five years’ CT and 12 strokes of the cane. Loi, a 28 year old male, had pleaded guilty to a total of seven charges. These consisted of one count of abetting harassment and three counts of harassment on behalf of an unlicensed moneylender, two counts of failing to report for a urine test, and one count of enhanced consumption of a specified drug. 12 other charges were taken into account for the purpose of sentencing.

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Loi had 173 antecedents involving offences such as theft, assisting an unlicensed moneylender and drug consumption accumulated over the course of a little over a decade.

Judgment

4 CT was originally devised as a special scheme of punishment targeted at repeat offenders, offering special rehabilitative programmes that were qualitatively different from those offered to regular prison inmates. Over the years, the Singapore Prison Service has raised the standard of rehabilitative programmes offered to all prisoners such that CT no longer enjoys a qualitative advantage in terms of the rehabilitation programmes and training that it offers. This much became evident from what was put before the court in these appeals. However, there remains a quantitative difference between CT and regular imprisonment in that the minimum duration of CT may be appreciably longer than the term of regular imprisonment that would otherwise be imposed on the offender in question.

5 In July 2014, the Conditional Remission Scheme ("the CRS") and the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme ("the MAS") were legislatively incorporated as part of the regular imprisonment regime. Under the CRS, offenders who are released from prison on remission are subject to the condition that they do not commit an offence while the remission order is in effect. An offender who breaches this condition will be liable to an imprisonment term not exceeding the remaining duration of his remission order. Under the MAS, mandatory aftercare conditions such as counselling and therapy are imposed on ex-inmates who have been released on remission for the purpose of facilitating their rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The CRS applies to all regular prison inmates released on remission whereas the MAS applies only to a selected group of regular prison inmates released on remission.

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6 In view of the changes to the operating environment of the CT regime, the Court devised a sentencing framework which, in broad terms, entails the following:

(a) Where an offender satisfies the statutorily-prescribed technical requirements for CT, CT should be considered as a sentencing option where a longer term of incarceration is called for than the term which would likely be imposed if the offender were sentenced to regular imprisonment.

(b) However, sentencing courts should balance the need for the imposition of CT against two considerations: (a) whether the term of CT would be unduly disproportionate to the likely aggregate term of regular imprisonment that would otherwise be imposed on the offender; and (b) the rehabilitative benefits of the MAS which would be available if the potential CT inmates were sentenced to regular imprisonment.

(c) The abovementioned factors would bear less weight where a longer term CT is called for. In those cases, sentencing courts should accordingly consider the option of sentencing the offender to preventive detention ("PD") since the emphasis would likely be on crime prevention and deterrence to a greater degree.

7 The Court recognised that this sentencing framework would likely reduce the scope for imposing CT sentences. In many cases, the enhancement of sentences of regular imprisonment would suffice; and in many other cases, if the offender is above the age of 30, he might well be found suitable for PD. Nonetheless, the Court took the view that this outcome would be consistent with the present operating environment of the CT regime.

8 It was undisputed that both Sim and Loi satisfied the technical requirements for CT to be imposed. In the case of Sim, the Court considered

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that a sentence of regular imprisonment coupled with the MAS would adequately fulfil the dual aims of specifically deterring and rehabilitating Sim. Therefore, the Court allowed Sim’s appeal and substituted the sentence of seven years’ CT with 42 months’ regular imprisonment that was backdated to the date on which he was first remanded.

9 Where Loi was concerned, the Court would have been prepared to find that at least six years’ CT should have been imposed on him because of the extent of his criminal record and the need for him to be specifically deterred. However, the Court did not enhance his sentence for the following reasons. First, the Prosecution did not appeal against the District Judge’s decision in this respect. Secondly, this was the first time that Loi had been sentenced to caning and that might have a salutary effect on him in terms of specific deterrence. Thirdly, as the Court declined to backdate Loi’s sentence, the sentence imposed on Loi was not manifestly inadequate in view of the time he had spent in remand coupled with the term of five years’ CT that he had been sentenced to. Loi’s appeal was accordingly dismissed.

10 Lastly, the Court observed that the commencement date of a CT sentence could in appropriate cases be backdated to take account of time spent in remand given that there is no longer any qualitative difference between CT and regular imprisonment. This would ensure that the aggregate CT sentence reflects the time required to specifically deter and reform the offender.

This summary is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s judgment. It is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Court.

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