Court orders probation instead of jail for insurance cheat who was 17 years old when crime was committed

A youth jailed for four months for cheating a motor insurance company was sentenced on appeal to 24 months' probation instead, when the High Court held he should be treated as a youthful offender.

A. Karthik was 17 at the time of his offence but 22 when sentenced.

The court said that in dealing with an offender who is 21 or below at the time of the offence but above that age at the time of sentencing, the court should consider all the facts of the case and decide if he is to be treated as a youthful offender.

"Rehabilitation is presumptively the dominant consideration when sentencing youthful offenders (but) its primacy may be diminished by the circumstances of the case or even eclipsed by considerations such as deterrence or retribution," said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in judgment grounds issued on Thursday.

Karthik, now a 23-year-old national serviceman, had pleaded guilty to one charge of cheating and consented to an additional abetment charge for sentencing purposes last year.

A district judge had underlined deterrence as a key concern when dealing with motor insurance fraud that involved staged accidents.

Karthik also reoffended soon after completing a previous probation stint for robbery, which showed that his family support was ineffective, said the judge.

But Karthik's lawyers, Ms Sadhana Rai and Ms Khadijah Yasin, appealed to the High Court, arguing that a report on the suitability of probation should have been called for before sentencing.

The Chief Justice noted that the basic criteria for probation as an option were met in this case and called for a probation report. He accepted investigating probation officer Ho Li Ling's findings that Karthik was suitable for probation with conditions of supervision.

Ms Ho reported that Karthik's relapse risk was very low and he had remained crime-free since 2012, when the offence occurred. There was also positive feedback on his overall NS performance.

Based on the report, the prosecution agreed that probation was suitable, and rehabilitation rather than deterrence was justified "despite the surrounding context of insurance fraud".

Chief Justice Menon said it made sense for the courts to give careful consideration to the reports prepared by probation officers, unless there was no proper basis or the relevant facts were incorrect or had changed.

He also ordered that Karthik undertake 200 hours of community service and his mother be bonded for $5,000 to ensure his good behaviour during the 24-month term.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2018, with the headline 'Court orders probation instead of jail for insurance cheat'. Print Edition | Subscribe