Placing weight on rehabilitation as a sentencing principle does not necessarily result in a light sentence, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said yesterday.
Giving the keynote address at the Sentencing Conference 2017, CJ 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."
He 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 year in prison 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 his hour-long speech, CJ Menon gave an overview of how rehabilitative justice has developed, with the shift in legislative policy towards rehabilitation resulting in a range of community sentencing options.
However, he 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, law enforcement officers and others.
International speakers include the Chancellor of the High Court of England and Wales, Sir Geoffrey Vos, who gave a special lecture on an open justice system.
At one session, District Judge Eddy Tham said 1,530 community-based sentences have been handed down between 2011 and September this year. They include mandatory treatment orders for offenders whose psychiatric condition contributed to their offences, and community service orders.
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."