Town councils to engage offenders before starting criminal proceedings: State Courts

The State Courts said all the town councils they engaged have indicated that they are agreeable in principle to the initiative.
The State Courts said all the town councils they engaged have indicated that they are agreeable in principle to the initiative.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The State Courts on Friday (March 9) announced new initiatives including two pre-action protocols that allow town councils to engage with a person who breaches their by-laws, before initiating criminal proceedings as a last resort.

Justice See Kee Oon, presiding judge of the State Courts, said in his speech that the two protocols are slated for implementation next month.

These protocols will prescribe steps that a town council must take before initiating criminal prosecution for certain regulatory offences under the Town Councils Act.

Low-level offences, which are punishable with fines only, account for over 95 per cent of all the town council cases filed in the State Courts last year.

However, nearly 86 per cent of these cases were resolved by composition or settlement. The charges were then withdrawn, but a "considerable amount of time and public resources" were expended by that time.

Most of the town council prosecutions concerned unpaid service and conservancy charges, said Justice See.

The State Courts said all the town councils they engaged have indicated that they are agreeable in principle to the initiative.

Another notable initiative that Justice See spoke at length about was the Friends Engaging and Supporting (Frens) scheme.

The scheme, with aims to link offenders with volunteer befrienders who will walk them in their rehabilitation journey after completion of their prison terms, will be implemented in the second quarter of this year.

It will be implemented by the State Courts, in collaboration with the Singapore Prisons Service, as well as the Community Justice Centre and its stakeholders.

Under the scheme, a befriender will be assigned to an offender in a case deemed suitable at the pre-sentence or post-sentence stage.

The befriender's role is to give the offender emotional support and practical assistance to seek employment, persevere in rehabilitation and facilitate re-entry into society.

The initiatives announced by Justice See at the State Courts' annual Workplan Seminar at the State Courts Auditorium were underpinned by three broad themes: Staying responsive in an evolving landscape, refining court processes and enhancing user experience.