Apex court resolves legal poser over reformative training as sentencing option

A file photo of youths in Changi Reformative Centre.
A file photo of youths in Changi Reformative Centre.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Court of Appeal has clarified that reformative training is not a sentencing option for a probationer who has crossed the age of 21 when he is hauled back to court for breaching probation.

The ruling resolved conflicting court decisions on the applicable age to consider in determining whether such an offender is eligible for reformative training, a structured regime aimed at rehabilitating young offenders that can last between 18 months and three years.

Under the law, the court can order reformative training if the convicted person is aged 16 and above, but below 21 "on the day of his conviction".

However, there have been two schools of thought on what the day of conviction is.

One considered it to be the day the offender was originally convicted, while the other contended it should be the day he faces the court for breaching his probation.

In a written judgment released on Wednesday (Nov 29), the highest court in the land gave the definitive decision - it should be the offender's age on the day he was dealt with for breaching his probation.

The issue was raised to the apex court in May by a lawyer assigned to defend Muhammad Nur Abdullah, who was 19 when he was given three years' probation in 2013 for drug trafficking.

Muhammad Nur breached his probation order twice by committing a spate of new offences. By the time he was facing punishment for the second breach, he had turned 23.

A district judge sentenced him to undergo reformative training.

The prosecution appealed to the High Court, arguing that reformative training was not a sentencing option as Muhammad Nur was over 21 when he was sentenced for breaching his probation order.

The High Court agreed with the prosecution and sentenced him as an adult, imposing five years' jail and five strokes of the cane.

Muhammad Nur's lawyer, Mr Tan Hee Joek, then took the case to the Court of Appeal by way of a criminal reference, a rare procedure that can be invoked for cases that hinge on questions of law of public interest.

Mr Tan argued that the relevant age was the age at the date of conviction, and therefore, his client was eligible for reformative training.

Although the prosecution had, in the past, sought sentences of reformative training in such circumstances, it changed its position after reviewing the relevant legislation. It eventually argued that reformative training could not be imposed in such circumstances.

In September, the apex court agreed with the prosecution's updated views.

Since the apex court's decison in September, the prosecution has taken remedial steps by applying to the High Court to revise the sentences of two offenders who were given reformative training in similar circumstances.

On Wednesday, the reformative training sentences of Noorsuriati Rasali, given on Dec 21 last year, and Muhammad Syukuri Hamdan, on Feb 13 this year, were quashed and substituted with jail terms for their respective offences after the prosecution conceded it had adopted a wrong position in law in their cases.

As the jail terms were backdated to their date of remand, they were expected to be released on the same day.