Sep 28, 2006The new Chief Justice is out to make his mark, and his kind of mark looks very different from his predecessor Yong Pung How. I like what I'm seeing. I would have loved to be part of the process, but it comes a bit late for me. If this had happened seven years ago, I think I would have stayed on in the Legal Service to do my part, despite the many other warts in the system. But back then I had enough of a lousy system and among other things, I wanted to get out before they made me get someone hanged.
Courts to review sentencing guidelines
CJ wants to strike new balance between punishing and rehabilitating offenders
By Tanya Fong
THE courts are reviewing sentencing guidelines for major offences carrying jail terms in order to strike a new balance between punishing and rehabilitating offenders.
Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong yesterday said a criminal justice system has to go beyond meting out punishment for crime: It should hand down appropriate penalties, reform the criminal and reintegrate him into society.
A 'holistic approach' would be needed for all this to come together, he added - and this will involve not only players within the prison walls, but also social workers, the offender's family and society.
First off, he said, the courts have to make the sentence fit not only the offence, but also the offender, and consider his potential for correction.
Opening a conference on the rehabilitation of ex-offenders, he noted that judges were pulled two ways when weighing punishment against potential for rehabilitation.
He said the law ' must provide a rational and principled basis to reconcile these competing tensions'.
Those in legal circles have called this a shift in thinking from current legal practice.
For Association of Criminal Lawyers president Subhas Anandan, it is 'a giant step forward'.
He said: 'I don't think it means that the courts are getting soft on crime. It means there will be more sentencing alternatives and room for compassion. The solution used to be just jail, jail, jail.'
The CJ himself is chairing the panel drawing up the new sentencing guidelines, which will pave the way for jail terms proportionate to the harm the offenders have done the community, and yet also conform with the community's cultural and moral values.
This is the latest of many initiatives he has introduced since becoming CJ in April.
In June, he instituted the Community Court, where judges have been handing down alternative, non-custodial penalties for young offenders and the mentally ill.
Pressing the need for the review, CJ Chan said those who are rehabilitated are likely to stay on the straight and narrow, which makes for better public safety.
He said that each time a judge decides to punish an offender, he must also ask himself: 'Why punish?', so that he will remember that the punishment 'should achieve a societal purpose and cannot be an end in itself'.
Traditionally, criminal punishment in our system comes in only three main forms - imprisonment, caning and/or fine. This is rather feeble, considering that criminals come in such a dazzling range of varieties - from the violent gangster to the old grandmother who rented a room to an illegal immigrant; from the mentally-ill flasher to the high-IQ rogue trader; from the teenager making love to his underaged teenage girlfriend, to the robbers of 4-D outlets; from the helpless drug addict, to the cool, calculating drug trafficker.
Human beings are pretty complex. You ... CAN'T ... just either lock them up, fine them, cane them or hang them. There must be more alternatives.
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