Judge on why he didn't order rioter caned

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 10, 2014

A senior district judge has explained why he chose not to impose caning on a Little India rioter who had instigated others to throw stones, saying it had not been justified in his case.

It came as the public prosecutor lodged an appeal against the 25-month jail term that Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun handed down to Indian national Samiyappan Sellathurai, 42, last month.

The public prosecutor is asking the High Court for three strokes of the cane, in the first appeal to emerge from the 18 convictions over last December's Little India riot.

In judgment grounds released last week, Senior District Judge Ong wrote: "Each case must be decided on its own facts, and the sentence meted out must fit the punishment for the crime."

The prosecution had argued that three out of five cases it cited for rioting in Little India had been awarded three strokes of the cane, in addition to jail terms.

Assistant Public Prosecutor Dillon Kok argued that Samiyappan's culpability was higher than that in the other two cases in which caning was not imposed, that of Moorthy Kabildev, 25, and Mongan Anbalagan, 41.

But Samiyappan's lawyer, Mr Rajan Supramaniam, argued that he did not show the same "brutal violence" as some of the other offenders who flipped over police vehicles. He added that caning would be "unduly harsh" as his role was not even as "culpable" as that of the other two men.

Samiyappan had worked in Singapore for 16 years and had a clean record before the incident. He also showed genuine remorse, the judge noted. He said those who received caning committed acts that were "far more heinous and egregious", such as causing severe damage to public vehicles.

The judge added that they displayed more "insidious conduct" than Samiyappan, and the fact that he instigated those around him to throw projectiles at police vehicles per se was not sufficient grounds to have him caned. He noted that Samiyappan had left the scene before the flipping or torching of vehicles occurred.

The judge said that in comparing sentences between different offenders, the courts would take a "global view" of the circumstances of the offence rather than focus on the offender's particular acts.

He cited the remarks of then High Court judge V. K. Rajah when dealing with a 2005 case which stressed that no two cases will be "completely symmetrical or identical".

At the time, Justice Rajah, who is now the Attorney-General, had called for "individualised justice" that required the use of "sound discretion". He had added: "General benchmarks, while highly significant, should not, by their very definition, be viewed as binding or fossilised judicial rules, inducing a mechanical application."

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