The Court of Appeal of Singapore, upheld the High Court’s decision in March to sentence a teen rapist to reformative training after the prosecution appealed for jail time and caning for the intellectually disabled boy.
On September 19, 2018, the five-judge panel, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, acknowledged that this was a difficult case because it highlighted the lack of options for criminal offences committed by young offenders with intellectual disabilities within the Singapore Judicial System.
On March 12, 2018, Justice Woo Bih Li sentenced a teenager, now 18, to reformative training after he pleaded guilty to aggravated rape and two charges of sexual assault committed in 2014.
The teen was 14 when he committed the crime and has an IQ of 61. He noticed his victim at a traffic light junction while he was distributing fliers in Bukit Panjang on November 21, 2014. He followed her home to the HDB block where she lived because he “felt horny.” When the lift doors opened, he sexually assaulted her and left her at the lift lobby. When she arrived home distraught, her family filed a police report immediately. His victim was 16 at the time and also intellectually disabled.
In his ruling, Justice Woo recognised that there were ‘severely limited’ options available for young offenders with intellectual disabilities but felt that reformative training was a better option than imprisonment.
Justice Woo viewed his sentencing as “a practical longer-term solution to the issues that would inevitably confront the accused and implicate the broader society.”
A long jail sentence with caning might only produce a bigger and stronger person who still lacks the insight into the consequences of his actions and behaviours.
During the appeal, the prosecution led by Deputy Public Prosecutor Kow Keng Siong again pushed for a jail term of between 15 and 18 years and at least 15 strokes of the cane.
DPP Kow argued that while he acknowledged that the teen needed help, he would benefit very little from the reformative training centre because of his low cognitive abilities.
Chief Justice Menon and his team acknowledged that while there was a high chance of the teen re-offending again, it would be unjust to make him suffer harsher punishments and deny him the opportunity of reformative training because of his intellectual disabilities.
See below for the news article as it appears on the Straits Times website.
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A five-judge Court of Appeal on Wednesday (Sept 19) upheld the sentence of reformative training handed down to a teenage rapist in a “difficult” case that has raised the issue of sentencing options for young offenders with intellectual disabilities.
Presented with two “sub-optimal” options, the apex court said it chose the “least bad” option of reformative training for the teen, who has an IQ of 61 and is now 18.
Prosecutors, who lodged the appeal, sought a jail term of between 15 and 18 years and at least 15 strokes of the cane for the teen who, when he was 14, followed the 16-year-old victim to her block, raped her and violated her with an object.
The defence asked for reformative training, a regime aimed at rehabilitating young offenders that can last between 18 months and three years.
The prosecution countered that reformative training would not be effective in addressing the teenager’s risk of re-offending, as he lacked the capacity to understand the cognitive aspects of its programmes.
In March, High Court Judge Woo Bih Li sentenced the teenager to reformative training, saying that it still offered a better prospect of rehabilitation when compared to imprisonment.
Justice Woo also flagged the larger issue with regard to the current sentencing regime, saying that it did not provide adequate options to deal with young offenders with intellectual disabilities.
During the appeal, Deputy Public Prosecutor Kow Keng Siong acknowledged that the teen needed help but said that society also needed help to prevent him from attacking others.
The teen, who has been assessed as having a high risk of offending again, was represented by a team of assigned lawyers led by Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan.
In written submissions, the defence argued that requiring offenders with intellectual disabilities to suffer harsher punishment would be unconstitutional.
The appeal court, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, said it could not accept the prosecution’s submission that a long jail term and caning were warranted.
The court agreed with the defence that there would be “injustice” if the benefits of reformative training were denied to intellectually disabled offenders.
Remanded since November 2014, the teen has been in the Singapore Boys’ Home for three years and 10 months.
Reformative training sentences cannot be backdated.