Attorney-General calls for more community-based sentencing options for less serious crimes

The Singapore Supreme Court building.
The Singapore Supreme Court building.PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - While it is in the public's interest to come down hard on serious crimes, the Attorney-General will consider all possible options, such as community sentences, for less serious crimes.

Serious crimes include drug trafficking, corruption and threats to social, racial and religious harmony as well as violent crime.

"It is in the public's interest for us to vigorously prosecute these crimes and we will push for robust sentences," said Attorney-General V K Rajah at the opening of the legal year on Monday (Jan 11) morning.

"This policy is non-negotiable because the peace and order of Singapore is non-negotiable," said Mr Rajah, who is also the Public Prosecutor.

 
 
 
 

But, for less serious crimes, active consideration will be given to all possible sentencing options, added Mr Rajah, who covered two key points in his speech - prosecutorial policy and the role of prosecutors.

He said: "How my prosecutors and I do our jobs has a big impact on offenders, on victims of crime, on families of both offenders and victims, on law and order as well as public confidence in the administration of criminal justice in Singapore.

"Criminal law must not be enforced for its own sake, but for the greater good of society."

For less serious crimes, he added, the broader view would include the consequences of prosecution.

He said: "Not every offender is a hardened criminal and there can be extenuating circumstances. We have a framework for assessing such matters. So, sometimes, after taking into consideration the factual matrix, we are prepared to consider issuing advisories or proceeding on reduced charges. But there are only so many second chances we can give."

He explained that punishment is not always the main or the only consideration when a prosecution is pursued.

He noted that while Parliament had led the way in creating a framework for community sentences - in which an offender can make amends for his crime as an alternative to punishment - this option has so far been under-used.

Prosecutors will therefore ask the court to consider giving community sentences in appropriate cases.

He added: "We should, however, tread carefully. As we gain more experience with such sentences, perhaps Parliament can consider extending this option to other less serious crimes.

"It is also worthwhile to consider introducing the concept of suspended sentences, which will incentivise offenders to turn over a new leaf."

Stressing that prosecution and punishment cannot be the only response to crime, he said: "As a society, we must strive to create a moral climate and socio-economic conditions in which individuals have no inclination and no need to turn to crime."

Among other things, prosecutors take into account cases of mental illness and the treatment required in dealing with the offender. A protocol has been worked out recently with other agencies for cases in which an offender-breadwinner is facing a long jail term, to assess the impact on his family and dependants.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) now has schemes to provide financial help to the family and dependents of offenders in appropriate cases and relevant information is shared earlier to support the MSF.

The Attorney-General said: "Where an offender has a real prospect for rehabilitation and general deterrence is not the main sentencing consideration, prosecutors will ask for a sentence with a rehabilitative element."

Separately, the government is taking a fresh look at youth justice issues and Second Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck is taking part in an inter-ministry study which includes the ministries of Law and Home Affairs, and the State Courts.

Mr Rajah made clear that decisions to prosecute are exercised independantly and that the Attorney-General's Chambers is constitutionally responsible for how prosecutions are brought and carried out.

"So if anyone has any criticism or praise on how prosecutions are done in this country, please direct them to my chambers."