Chief Justice: Emphasis on rehabilitation does not necessarily mean a 'lighter' sentence

Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon (right), Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (centre) and Sir Geoffrey Vos, Chancellor of the High Court of England and Wales at the Sentencing Conference 2017 on Oct 26, 2017.
Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon (right), Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (centre) and Sir Geoffrey Vos, Chancellor of the High Court of England and Wales at the Sentencing Conference 2017 on Oct 26, 2017. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon speaking with Sir Geoffrey Vos at the conference.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon speaking with Sir Geoffrey Vos at the conference. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Placing weight on rehabilitation as a sentencing principle does not necessarily result in a light sentence, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said on Thursday (Oct 26), at a conference to discuss issues related to the sentencing of offenders.

Delivering the keynote address at the Sentencing Conference 2017, Chief Justice Menon said the ultimate goal of all sentencing objectives is the protection of the public through the prevention of crime.

"Deterrence achieves this by disincentivising criminal behaviour; rehabilitation by treating criminal tendencies through medicine and education; and incapacitation by separating dangerous and persistent offenders from the community."

The Chief Justice said it is an "oft-held but erroneous belief" that sentences pursuing one objective may be "lighter" than those supporting another.

"For instance, an emphasis on rehabilitation is often seen as a prelude to the imposition of a less onerous sentence. But this is not necessarily the case."

Chief Justice Menon cited the case of a man suffering from depression who was convicted in 2007 of attempted culpable homicide by pushing his former girlfriend into the path of an oncoming MRT train.

The Court of Appeal had raised the man's sentence from one to three years' jail, holding that while rehabilitation was a relevant consideration, there was no suggestion that he could not be rehabilitated in prison.

In Chief Justice Menon's hour-long speech on the first day of the conference, he gave an overview of how rehabilitative justice has developed, from the post-war era to the shift in legislative policy towards rehabilitation, resulting in a range of community sentencing options.

He, however, noted that in perspective, rehabilitation is one of several sentencing considerations and "not a goal to be pursued at all costs".

The two-day conference at the Supreme Court auditorium, jointly organised by the State Courts and the Singapore Academy of Law, brings together more than 300 judges, prosecutors, lawyers, academics, enforcement officers and others to share views on topics centred on rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders.

Participants will also review how the courts have made use of benchmarks, graphs and tables to achieve consistency in sentencing.

It is the second conference in a series aimed at sparking discussion on sentencing issues. The first was held in 2014.

Said the organisers in a media release: "Despite the common perception that sentencing is the end-point in the criminal justice process where the offender is punished for his offence, a fair and effective justice system must consider the rehabilitation and reintegration of an offender where there is hope for a future where he will not reoffend."