Apex court clears the air on reformative training

The Court of Appeal has clarified that reformative training is not a sentencing option for a probationer who has crossed the age of 21 when he is hauled back to court for breaching probation.

The ruling resolved conflicting court decisions on the applicable age to consider in determining whether such an offender is eligible for reformative training, a structured regime aimed at rehabilitating young offenders that can last between 18 months and three years.

In a written judgment released yesterday, the highest court in the land said it should be the offender's age on the day he was dealt with for breaching his probation.

Under the law, the court can order reformative training if the convicted person is aged 16 and above, but below 21 "on the day of his conviction".

The issue was raised to the apex court in May by a lawyer assigned to defend Muhammad Nur Abdullah, who was 19 when he was given three years' probation in 2013 for drug trafficking.

Muhammad Nur breached his probation order twice by committing a spate of new offences. By the time he was facing punishment for the second breach, he had turned 23. A district judge sentenced him to undergo reformative training. The prosecution appealed to the High Court, arguing that reformative training was not a sentencing option as Muhammad Nur was over 21 when he was sentenced for breaching his probation order.

The High Court agreed with the prosecution and sentenced him as an adult, imposing five years' jail and five strokes of the cane.

Muhammad Nur's lawyer, Mr Tan Hee Joek, then took the case to the Court of Appeal by way of a criminal reference, a rare procedure that can be invoked for cases that hinge on questions of law of public interest. Mr Tan argued that the relevant age was the age at the date of conviction and, therefore, his client was eligible for reformative training.

Although the prosecution had, in the past, sought sentences of reformative training in such circumstances, it changed its position after reviewing the relevant legislation. It eventually argued that reformative training could not be imposed in such circumstances.

In September, the apex court agreed with the prosecution's updated views.

Since the apex court's decision in September, the prosecution has taken remedial steps by applying to the High Court to revise the sentences of Noorsuriati Rasali and Muhammad Syukuri Hamdan, who were sentenced to reformative training on Dec 21 last year and Feb 13 this year respectively. Their sentences were quashed and substituted with jail terms for their respective offences after the prosecution conceded it had adopted a wrong position in law in their cases.

As the jail terms were backdated to their date of remand, they were expected to be released on the same day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2017, with the headline 'Apex court clears the air on reformative training'. Print Edition | Subscribe