Conditional discharge for some offenders in minor crimes

CJ unveils move for pre-sentencing help for those with alcohol and other addictions

Offenders with alcohol and other addictions who are caught for less serious crimes and plead guilty may get a chance from judges to seek help and get a conditional discharge.

Yesterday, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon announced a new pre-sentencing system to deal with such offenders who commit crimes such as petty theft, public order offences and minor offences involving petty violence and threats.

Instead of being sentenced immediately, they may be asked to go for counselling, take medication or undergo programmes with voluntary welfare organisations.

The Community Court will monitor their progress for up to six months before sentencing them. A conditional discharge could be granted, on terms that an offender stays crime-free for a year and continues with his rehabilitation.

Said CJ Menon: "A fair proportion of petty thefts, public order offences and minor offences involving petty violence and threats frequently arise from alcohol and other addictions.

"Where the underlying addictions or behavioural issues are not specifically addressed, they tend to persist and result in further offending despite repeated prosecution, court convictions and even imprisonment terms."

The new pre-sentencing approach is expected to be implemented by the middle of the year.

The Singapore After-Care Association will help the courts to, among other things, provide counselling services, monitor an offender's compliance with court directions such as a curfew, and liaise with his employer and family.

Other relevant volunteer organisations may also be engaged by the courts at a later date.

Speaking at the State Courts Workplan 2016, CJ Menon also said the State Courts is expected to raise its civil jurisdictional limit, which is currently at $250,000.

This is expected to take place early next year, and the limit will be raised for personal injury and property damage claims first.

The new limits have not been determined yet. The limit was last raised 18 years ago. But in recent years, more claims involving higher amounts have been heard in the State Courts, either upon transfer from the High Court or on agreement by all parties involved.

Many of these cases are personal injury claims. Last year, 65 such cases were transferred from the High Court to the State Courts, compared with just 29 in 2012.

In the area of mediation, the State Courts Centre for Dispute Resolution has seen more complex cases involving "deep relational disputes", CJ Menon said.

They are "the culmination of years of hurt, resentment and severely strained relations between persons who live or work in close proximity to one another".

To better mediate these cases, the centre will have a trained counsellor or psychologist sit in some sessions, to aid parties in "identifying and addressing the entrenched emotional conflicts", he said.

And to better help unrepresented litigants in harassment, community dispute and small claims cases, the courts will launch a scheme to get law students to guide them through court processes.

The students will be trained and supervised by the courts. Their exposure to "a wide range of cases that affect the common citizen" will result in "a more holistic legal education", the Chief Justice said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2016, with the headline 'Conditional discharge for some offenders in minor crimes'. Print Edition | Subscribe