MHA reviewing penalties for irresponsible driving

Chief Justice highlights anomaly in sentencing of repeat offenders

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is reviewing penalties under the Road Traffic Act for irresponsible driving, including driving under the influence of alcohol.

As part of the review, MHA will study Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon's judgment on Wednesday highlighting an anomaly in how repeat offenders of drinking-related traffic offences are sentenced.

Currently, a person convicted of "being behind the driver's wheel while drunk" may escape jail time if he is caught drink driving later.

However, a person with a previous conviction for drink driving faces a mandatory jail term if he is caught "being behind the driver's wheel while drunk", or drink driving for the second time.

The offence of "being behind the driver's wheel while drunk" typically applies to drivers who are found "in charge" of a vehicle but not driving it, with more than the legal blood or breath-alcohol level. For instance, the person could be sleeping behind the wheel.

The offence of drink driving applies when he is driving the vehicle.

Chief Justice Menon said "the anomaly is likely to have been the result of legislative oversight", which Parliament may have to fix.

He made the comments in reducing a motorist's one-week jail term to a $5,000 fine. Pua Hung Jaan Jeffrey Nguyen, 34, failed a breathalyser test at a police road block on Oct 29 last year.

After pleading guilty in January to drink driving, Pua was given one week's jail and disqualified from driving for 30 months.

The district judge had taken into consideration that in 2012, Pua was convicted for "being in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol"; he had been fined $1,000.

Pua's lawyer Anand Nalachandran appealed for a fine for his latest sentence. Chief Justice Menon did not alter the duration of the driving ban.

The Chief Justice made clear that while the facts and circumstances of Pua's case did not support a jail term, it must not be construed that a prison sentence would not be meted out in all similar cases.

Contacted yesterday, an MHA spokesman said it will study the judgment as part of its review.

Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore president Sunil Sudheesan said Chief Justice Menon's remarks were timely in underlining the legal anomaly.

• Additional reporting by Lin Yangchen.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2017, with the headline 'MHA reviewing penalties for irresponsible driving'. Print Edition | Subscribe