Parliament says no to backdating reformative training sentence

But cases of offenders likely to get sentence to be sped up to prevent those in custody from being disadvantaged

Cases involving offenders below the age of 21 who are likely to be sentenced to reformative training, will be hastened to minimise time spent in remand.

This will prevent an offender in custody from being disadvantaged, as Parliament yesterday approved changes to remove the possibility of backdating reformative training sentences.

Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong told the House that other measures to avoid remand include offering reduced bail amounts or letting offenders be released on bail with electronic tagging.

He was replying to Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) and Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who asked what steps will be taken to avoid or minimise remand for young offenders when reformative training is a possible sentence.

Reformative training is a strict regimen to rehabilitate offenders below the age of 21 who commit relatively serious crimes.

Up till last year, it had been the practice for sentencing courts not to backdate reformative training sentences, which could last between 18 months and three years.

Last October, as part of wider reforms to the Criminal Procedure Code, the minimum detention period was reduced from 18 months to six or 12 months.

 

Provisions were also made for sentences to be backdated if the offender had spent time in remand before being sentenced.

Last month, a rollback of the backdating provision was among the tweaks introduced in the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill to fine-tune the 2018 reforms.

Yesterday, Mr Tong said that while the reduced period of detention allowed offenders to return to the community earlier, it also meant they have a very limited time to complete the intensive rehabilitative programmes.

"If an RT (reformative training) sentence is shortened any further by backdating, it would deprive the offender of the chance to complete the necessary programmes."

LIMITED TIME

If an RT (reformative training) sentence is shortened any further by backdating, it would deprive the offender of the chance to complete the necessary programmes.

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR LAW EDWIN TONG, explaining why the provision for sentences to be backdated was rolled back as part of tweaks introduced in the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill last month.

Mr Tong said the Government was aware this would mean an offender remanded for a substantial period of time before being sentenced to reformative training will effectively spend a longer time behind bars than one who was not remanded. To address this, he said, the relevant agencies will work to identify such cases at an early stage, even before the offenders are charged.

The prosecution and investigators will then take steps to expedite the cases and reach the sentencing stage as quickly as possible.

In appropriate cases, remand can be avoided by offering reduced bail amounts. Release on bail with electronic tagging can also be an alternative to higher bail amounts, he said.

Another key change that was passed related to investigative processes on the misuse of video-recorded interviews of suspects, which was introduced in the 2018 reforms.

 

This means agencies, like the Central Narcotics Bureau, can investigate any misuse of the video statements they take, instead of relying on the police to do so.

Ms Lim said that when she broached the idea of video-recorded statements in 2008 in Parliament, it was met with a "negative response" by the Ministry of Law.

Mr Tong said the position then was that the Home Affairs Ministry would take ownership of the issue.

Its position at the time, he added, was that the issue of video recording should be looked into so that there is a fair system which seeks to ensure crimes are solved as well as protects the rights of the accused.

"Not quite so dismissive as Ms Lim had suggested," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2019, with the headline 'Parliament says no to backdating reformative training sentence'. Print Edition | Subscribe