Judge dismisses appeals for 'defiant' doctor who sold codeine-laced cough mixture

Tan Gek Young, 61, sold more than 2,300 litres of cough mixture at his Bedok clinic between January 2014 and June 2015.
Tan Gek Young, 61, sold more than 2,300 litres of cough mixture at his Bedok clinic between January 2014 and June 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The High Court has dismissed appeals by the prosecution and also by a "defiant" doctor, who sold codeine-laced cough syrup even while he was being investigated for doing so, against his sentence.

Tan Gek Young's sentence remained at two years' jail and $130,000 fine, although Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin varied the individual sentences for some of the charges in his decision on Thursday (Aug 17).

Tan, a 61-year-old permanent resident, sold more than 2,300 litres of cough mixture at his Bedok clinic between January 2014 and June 2015.

This was one of the highest quantities of such illegal cases. It is also the first case of its kind to reach the High Court on appeal.

Both Tan and the prosecutor had appealed against the sentence, with prosecutors also urging the court to lay down a sentencing framework.

But Judge Chao said there were insufficient precedents at the moment, making it difficult for the court to formulate any sentencing guidelines.

He cited how six previous similar cases had been prosecuted under different criminal provisions in the Poisons Act and Medicines Act.

In dismissing both appeals on Thursday, Judge Chao said that he agreed with the lower court that deterrence should be the primary sentencing consideration.

Citing figures by the authorities, he noted that the illicit sale of codeine cough syrup has become a "prevalent problem".

However, he raised several issues with the sentencing guidelines that were proposed by the district judge, which pegged an offender's punishment to the quantity of cough mixture involved.

He also took issue with the prosecution's suggestion that a stiffer sentence should be imposed, if the quantity sold indicates that it is for the purpose of resale.

"Whether a transaction was for resale would depend both on the quantity involved and the way the transaction was carried out," he said, in his written judgment issued on Thursday.

For instance, the prosecution said the sale of 3.8 litres of cough mixture in a canister must be for the purpose of resale, while a 900ml bottle must not be.

"It is not clear why this must be so," said Judge Chao, adding that it would not be "wise" to lay down sentencing bands tied to the quantity of cough mixture supplied.

The judge allowed Tan's request to defer his sentence to Sept 4.