In a rare case, the High Court has allowed the appeal of a convicted serial thief sentenced to five years' corrective training and resentenced him to the 30 months-plus he had already served since being convicted.
Ong Say Kiat had been remanded in prison before being sentenced to corrective training in December 2014 in a district court where he admitted to stealing $220 worth of clothes from a store, together with his wife.
Corrective training is a prison regime for repeat offenders without the usual one-third remission for good behaviour.
The maximum period is 14 years.
The district court had found him suitable for corrective training then, based on a suitability report and taking into account his "notable criminal history", having committed five counts of theft since 1998.
Ong also had other antecedents related to drugs and unlicensed moneylending, among other things.
On appeal in July, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon made clear the district court was not at fault as the corrective training sentence was imposed some 21 months before a three-judge panel set new guidelines on when corrective training should apply, after hearing an appeal in 2016 involving serial offender Sim Yeow Kee.
"It simply could not be said that there was any serious injustice, or that there was something palpably wrong in the sentence imposed that struck at its basis as an exercise of judicial power by the district judge, at the time the sentence was meted out," he added in judgment grounds issued on Tuesday.
The sentencing framework the court had devised in Sim's case meant an offender may be eligible for a regular prison term if the corrective training sentence was considered disproportionate, even if the offender satisfies the technical requirements for corrective training.
A regular prison term may also be appropriate if the potential inmate is eligible for the rehabilitative benefits of the mandatory aftercare scheme if he was sentenced to regular imprisonment.
CJ Menon found Ong would not have been sentenced to five years' corrective training "under the framework laid down in Sim Yeow Kee".
He noted the relevant rehabilitative schemes were introduced six months before Ong was sentenced in December 2014. CJ Menon stressed that not all offenders sentenced to corrective training would "automatically be entitled to be resentenced".
K. C. Vijayan