28 September 2006

A Major Change in Philosophy

Sep 28, 2006
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'.
The 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.

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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24 comments:

Indi said...

Good writing!

"For me, the punishment must not fit the crime, the punishment must fit the criminal and the punishment must fit the needs of society."

That's what David Saul Marshall said to Dharmendra Yadav in a 1994 interview.

Who is Marshall? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Saul_Marshall
(born March 12, 1908, Singapore – died December 12, 1995, Singapore) Marshall was the leader of the Singapore Labour Front who became the first Chief Minister of Singapore in 1955.
Who is Yadav?
http://thinkhappiness.blogspot.com/2006/08/meeting-david-marshall-in-1994.html

Tammy said...

Is this the same guy who came out with the convoluted logic, as detailed in his quoted missive that effectively said that "while it is illegal to be within 200 metres of a polling station unless you are voting, IT IS NOT ILLEGAL IF YOU ARE INSIDE." No explanation was given how anyone can be inside the polling station without being within 200 metres of the polling station in the first place.

veii said...

More alternatives? Running cost-competitive call centres behind bars comes to mind. That one can be positioned as a positve, 'rehabilititative' sanction, while at the same time it fulfils the strategic objective of remaining in the cut-throat international outsourcing business.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang you are always so quick to praise when some PAP person/ judicial person in the kangaroo courts make some statements that sound good to the ears.

Once again I say, judge by what the DO, not what they SAY. Time will vindicate me in my prediction that what they do and say never tallies.

Have zero trust and zero faith in them and their words. You'll be less disappointed.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous who posted on Thursday, September 28, 2006 12:25:19 PM.

Actions speak louder than words. Do not celebrate until corresponding action is taken. Just look at the Yellow Ribbon project, PAPpies-lead govt continues to urge the private sector to give these ex-offenders a 2nd chance, but do u see the same corresponding attitudes in public sector's hiring policies? Saying is one thing, doing is another.

Anonymous said...

Revolution!

Take to the streets Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia style. Bring down this undemocratic regime!

Wait, we are Singaporeans. Too scared to even walk in more than group of four.

Anonymous said...

tammy: CJ CSK said "while it is illegal to be within 200 metres of a polling station unless you are voting, IT IS NOT ILLEGAL IF YOU ARE INSIDE."

Wonder if anyone took photo/video of the Houdini act! Next time some1 exclaims alternative politicians are liars, criminals, etc... can flash out the pic/video to show it's a case of pot calling kettle black, mah!

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Mr. Wang,
Another aspect that lawyers can look at is the "mandatory" whatever whenever someone gets convicted. Eg. mandatory capital punishment if heroin trafficked is more than ... gms (? 30g izzit).
Every case is different and shouldn't the judge be allowed to take into account mitigating sentences before prescribing death by the state? Let us have a more humane justice system.
BTW, good article.
Also: is there a technical hitch with your blog-- when I access thru commentarysingapore.blogspot.com the article does not display fully ( or took infinity.. didn't bother to wait more than 3 mins). Just don't want others to miss a great read.
Dr.H

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Wang,
typo: "sentences" should read "circumstances" but you know that already

Dr.H

John Riemann Soong said...

Why should reform be carried out by the chief justice? This is a good trend, but the movement has to be carried out in the legislature, not the judiciary. Reform should not take place through activist judges; impartiality should be the key characteristic.

The judiciary should be doing things like ruling against the policemen who harassed CSJ and others when they handed out pamphlets, because that was not a crime and it was morally wrong for the police to act in such a way.

However, it's a good thing Yong (who seems amazingly unqualified for the position) is no longer CJ.

ted said...

This is disturbing:

http://www.theepochtimes.com/news/6-9-28/46432.html

"Singapore authorities have forced the city-state's leading human rights attorney, Madasamy Ravi, into a psychiatric institution, The Epoch Times has learned."

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mr Wang. It is a step forward. Even if it may be only rhetoric at the moment, it's at least a baby step in the right direction. We'll have to see how this plays out in real life but wasn't there a Chinese saying that the journey of a million miles begins with one step?

I think some of us are just cynical for the sake of being cynical.

I say, give this guy a chance. I like what he says and I think he deserves to be cut some slack.

Anonymous said...

Cut him some slack? This guy did not rise to become CJ by being impartial. In a judiciary that is beholden to the executive and the Lees, that is just wishful thinking and simply naive. He must know which side his bread is buttered.

Baby steps i hear. How many more baby steps can we afford before we fall further behind international standards and practices. The Singapore judiciary may actually be quite competent or efficient in non-political areas like commercial justice etc. But its pathetic behaviour and record in political cases will ultimatly do more harm than all the good combined.

Anonymous said...

In principle, I support the idea.

But it is also a double-edged sword because discretion is left to the presiding judge. That may become contentious.

The cynic in me says that in the end, this will only benefit the insiders. Yes, those on the inside track with the right connections.

Anyway, I will try to keep an open mind and see what happens. But I do sincerely hope that the implementation will be true to the essence of those words.

Hermes said...

100% agree with this post.

Eh, Dr H. don't be so bad.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the point made by John Riemann Soong.

A review initatied by the current CJ of sentencing and punishment is a positive step. Let's give credit where it's due.

But then laws are made by the legislature. Specific case here is the MANDATORY death sentence for drug offences. Would the CJ actually review this and if found necessary and appropriate, propose changes to current draconian laws made by the legislature?

We are not structured like the US, where the Supreme Court, as one of the 3 arms of governments, also has the responsibility of approving legislation (I may be completely wrong here. John, as you're US-based, you may want to comment on this point).

Anonymous said...

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New Video
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_DRoUOcupo

Anonymous said...

That is true, with the change of the law, there could be a huge potential that "insiders" and the previledged could be let off easily on many excuses.

One recent case would be the high profile case of certain notatables caught for cocaine consumption.

They actually seperated out the impurities from the cocaine to reduce its weight until the accused was not legible to be hung. And one of them was given allowed to leave the country for "medical treatment" of course he didnt come back.....

If the accused were normal people, they would have been hung. But these are all people with powerful friends and one of them, his father is a Judge.

lee hsien tau said...

Now that'll be the real joke of the year!

John Riemann Soong said...

Hmm, thanks for the accordance. I should clarify it would be nice if the Singapore judicial branch had the power of judicial review, however judicial review is to be used for legal consistency, as opposed to legislation.

In the US there is a perception that some judges are "legislating from the bench".

Ideally, judges overturn laws not because they feel it would be better for the country if they were repealed, but because the laws conflict with a higher supreme law (e.g. the Constitution).

What I feel is that CJ Keong takes too much upon himself. As CJ, he should emphasise how judges like him should rule impartially, while accommodating all the other factors, mercy when needed, and whatnot.

However - perhaps it's just the article's way of reporting, but I fear not - it seems that the CJ is trying to be a policy-maker, setting goals for the justice system like a CEO telling his company they have to be more "holistic, world-class, and to go beyond".

The judiciary is supposed to interpret the law, not make law. I am slightly perturbed by the idea that the CJ is heading the panel - it should be the legislature reviewing those guidelines. The ideal role IMO, would have been CJ being a viable expert witness for the panel.

Anonymous said...

It looks like there is another satirical website besides talkingcock. It looks really funny, because when talking about changes in legal paradigms, it says that the sex ban will change from oral to traditional!

http://singaporedonkey.wordpress.com

Mr Wang Says So said...

Actually the guidelines were originally created by Yong Pung How. There is no question of overstepping the judicial role here, because the guidelines are all within the scope the legislation.

Eg for rape, the offender can be punished with up to 20 years imprisonment + caning + fine. That's what legislation says.

That scope is still very wide, so it's up to judges to work out in what kind of rape cases you would give 5 years, 10 years, 15 years or 20 years. This is where the sentencing guidelines come in.

----

Re Anon Friday, September 29, 2006 3:07:12 PM's comments:

that's probably all nonsense, because DSS -always- goes by the weight of the pure drug. That's why Parliament thinks it's ok to award death for 15g of heroin - because that's net weight, not gross weight. Depending on the season and grade, to get 16 g of pure heroin, you're looking at to 2 fully filled plastic bags each the size of a large bag of potato chips.

Ken said...

John RS said: "The judiciary is supposed to interpret the law, not make law. I am slightly perturbed by the idea that the CJ is heading the panel - it should be the legislature reviewing those guidelines"

Agree that it's right procedure to have legislature do the reviewing.

But our legislature have not been doing their jobs as far as the criminal justice system is concerned. They took the easy way out by passing laws with very wide berths that give too much power to the police and PP, and at the same time, prescibe draconian penalties for even petty wrongs.

As a citizen, I hate our justice system. I find our legislature woefully inept.

lee hsien tau said...

Ever heard of 'Old fish wrapped in The New Paper'. That's LHL.

Why else do you think General Sonthi Boonyaratglin sent in the tanks? Removing the current deputy prime ministers would not suffice. We need regime change. Not even someone else at the helm is acceptable.

What kind of major change in philosophy when your future is either wash car, wash hair, wash toilet, wash plate or wash backside, and the populace force-fed the Yellow Ribbon fantasy? And the real criminals walk free because they have deep pockets and right connections.



"That is true, with the change of the law, there could be a huge potential that "insiders" and the previledged could be let off easily on many excuses.

One recent case would be the high profile case of certain notatables caught for cocaine consumption.

They actually seperated out the impurities from the cocaine to reduce its weight until the accused was not legible to be hung. And one of them was given allowed to leave the country for "medical treatment" of course he didnt come back.....

If the accused were normal people, they would have been hung. But these are all people with powerful friends and one of them, his father is a Judge."

What I understand is, it is standard procedure to wash out the impurities to determine whether the accused should hang. The question is how diligently carried out the washing? And what motivated the washer, and the weighing machine reader. (Why else would Dr Chee be campaigning on the issues of corruption and independence.)

More interesting would be whether Cheryl Fox was ever made to perform the strip search at the police station. Next time you watch CNA and you (generally) don't like what you hear, imagine you are looking at Cheryl Fox undressing, removing her bra and g-string, doing the squat, before being asked for her urine.

PS. I don't like Cheryl Fox's eyebrows, or Diana Sir's mouth. But the one I dislike most is the one dumped by the molester Indian presenter.