Apex court dismisses prosecution's appeal, upholds reformative training for teen rapist with low IQ

SINGAPORE - A five-judge Court of Appeal on Wednesday (Sept 19) upheld the sentence of reformative training handed down to a teenage rapist in a "difficult" case that raised the issue of sentencing options for young offenders with intellectual disabilities.

Presented with two "sub-optimal" options, the apex court said it chose the "least bad" option of reformative training for the teen who has an IQ of 61 and is now 18.

Prosecutors, who lodged the appeal, sought a jail term of between 15 and 18 years and at least 15 strokes of the cane for the teen who, when he was 14, followed the 16-year-old victim to her block, raped her and violated her with an object.

The defence asked for reformative training, a regime aimed at rehabilitating young offenders that can last between 18 months and three years.

The prosecution countered that reformative training would not be effective in addressing the teenager's risk of re-offending as he lacked the capacity to understand the cognitive aspects of its programmes.

In March, High Court Judge Woo Bih Li sentenced the teenager to reformative training, saying that it still offered a better prospect of rehabilitation when compared to imprisonment.

Justice Woo also flagged the larger issue with regard to the current sentencing regime, saying that it did not provide adequate options to deal with young offenders with intellectual disabilities.

During the appeal, Deputy Public Prosecutor Kow Keng Siong acknowledged that the teen needed help but said that society also needed help to prevent him from attacking others.

The teen, who has been assessed as having a high risk of offending again, was represented by a team of assigned lawyers led by Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan.

In written submissions, the defence argued that requiring offenders with intellectual disabilities to suffer harsher punishment would be unconstitutional .

The appeal court, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, said it could not accept the prosecution's submission that a long jail term and caning was warranted.

The court agreed with the defence that there would be "injustice" if the benefits of reformative training were denied to intellectually disabled offenders.

Remanded since November 2014, the teen has been in the Singapore Boys Home for three years and 10 months. Reformative training sentences cannot be backdated.