Opening of legal year

Community sentence for less serious crimes: A-G

Getting ready to take their seats for the group photo at the Opening of the Legal Year 2016 yesterday are (from left) Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Justice Steven Chong.
Getting ready to take their seats for the group photo at the Opening of the Legal Year 2016 yesterday are (from left) Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Justice Steven Chong.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

He also suggests suspended sentences to motivate offenders to change behaviour

While it is in the public interest to come down hard on serious crimes, the Attorney-General will take a broader view on all possible options - including community sentences - for less serious crimes.

Attorney-General V. K. Rajah suggested that more community sentences could be used to enable offenders to make amends for their crimes as an alternative to punishment.

He was speaking at the Opening of the Legal Year 2016 at the Supreme Court auditorium yesterday, where he explained the role of prosecutors and prosecutorial policy.

Community sentences include community service and work orders, mandatory treatment orders and day reporting orders.

Noting that this option has been under-used, he suggested that as more experience is gained, Parliament could consider extending it to other less serious offences.

Mr Rajah also called for suspended sentences to be considered to incentivise offenders to change.

A suspended sentence, as practised abroad, such as in Britain, means the punishment imposed is held in abeyance for a period prescribed by the court and dismissed if the offender behaves himself.

For now, prosecutors will ask the court for community sentences in appropriate cases, he said.

But he made clear that for serious crimes such as drug trafficking, corruption and threats to social, racial and religious harmony, prosecutors will push for robust sentences.

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

He added: "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."

Acknowledging that not every offender is a hardened criminal, he said a framework that looks at circumstances is used to determine if the prosecution will issue advisories or proceed with reduced charges. Among other things, prosecutors take into account mental illness and the treatment required in dealing with the offender.

A protocol has also been recently worked out with other agencies to assess the impact on family and dependants in cases where an offender is the breadwinner facing a long jail term.

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

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

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

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

Lawyers lauded Mr Rajah's move to break from tradition and focus on the Attorney-General's role as Public Prosecutor instead of speaking about the Attorney-General's Chambers' plans for the year.

"The gist of the A-G's speech is that he has planted a flag for justice on the high ground," said Law Society president Thio Shen Yi.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'Community sentence for less serious crimes: A-G'. Print Edition | Subscribe