This recent Court of Appeal judgment had our forensic psychiatrist Dr. John Bosco Lee as the expert witness for the Defence. This was a criminal case funded by the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme.

It happened in November 2014. A then 14-year-old boy, with a barely functional IQ measured at 61, followed a classmate, a 16-year-old girl, whom he had run into on the streets. When she made it back to her building, he began to threaten, abuse, and then rape her. After that, he said, “Bye, bye,” and simply left.

What happened?

When this crime was committed, the boy was already on bail for unrelated charges. It took the police two days to determine who the perpetrator was, and to arrest him. The boy was then remanded into the custody of the Singapore Boys’ Home, pending resolution of the case. For further details on the history of the case and Adelphi’s role in it, please click here.

There the boy waited until 2017, when he was 16, to learn his fate. Dr. John Bosco Lee from Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic, formerly a senior consultant with the Singapore Prison Services and currently a Singapore psychiatrist in private practice, helped to provide expert testimony on the boy and his case. The argument was not whether he was guilty or not, but what the right consequences were for this action, to rehabilitate him or not.

The prosecution argued for a strict sentence. They asked for a sentence of 15-18 years of imprisonment, with a minimum 15 lashes of the cane. The boy’s legal aid team asked for rehabilitation, arguing some very important points that swayed the Judge’s opinion.

What swayed the Judge?

The legal aid for the boy brought several experts to present facts that the Prosecution missed, or to refute their experts. Dr. John Bosco Lee and others present three clear issues that demonstrated that he was in need of help, rather than imprisonment and that the IMH could provide that.

First, there was his intelligence. Taking a variety of IQ tests, the forensic team came up with what is known as an FSIQ, or Full-Scale IQ. This is the aggregate of several IQ tests. Using this, the team came up with the fact that he had an overall IQ of 61, which is borderline functional. That means he would struggle to live on his own.

Second, there was the idea of what his intellectual age really was. There is a concept that a person has a chronological age, how old they are, and maturational age, how old they act. Having a very low IQ would generally lead one to believe that the teen would be immature as well.

The prosecution’s experts would argue that this is an outdated concept and that current thinking is that maturational age is not an accurate way to describe someone’s behaviour. However, it was the defence’s experts that provided the best understanding of how his maturational age as a parallel to chronological age, is not an exact match.

Dr. John Bosco Lee presented his research and belief that maturational age is important to take into consideration when judging someone’s behaviour. He assessed the boy’s maturational age to be around 8, even though chronologically he was around 16. This was in conjunction with other expert testimonies.

In interviews done by Dr. John Bosco Lee, the boy responded with some very black and white thoughts that greatly lacked any maturity in understanding and reasoning skills. For example, when asked why he said, “I love you baby,” he replied that he, “watched video movie” and that was what happened in those movies. Other similar lines of questioning like that supported Dr. John Bosco Lee’s belief that he was very immature for his age.

The last piece of the picture that is this teen’s mental health, is his impulse control. This ties in with his IQ, as intelligence and impulse control are linked. The teen being so disabled, did not have much ability to understand cause and effect, see things from another’s perspective, or redirect his impulses when they arise.

When asked about why he had done this, he replied that he “was horny.” He simply did not have the ability to stop himself at times.

With all of this, the Judge took into account Dr. John Bosco Lee’s testimony, as well as other witnesses, feeling that the boy was disabled.  In the end, the Judge agreed with Dr. John Bosco Lee’s and the legal defence team and remanded the boy into rehabilitation in the care of the Institute for Mental Health.


The Judge agreed with the legal aid team that this boy should receive reformative training and care, rather than punishment. This was based on the strength of the boy’s case, as well as the evidence the Judge requested. The Judge asked for information on who has been served in reformative care, how comparable those cases were to this one, and outcomes for people like this boy in reformative care.

Dr. John Bosco Lee was able to give expert witness to the psychological trauma of prison life, and the stress it would put on the boy. In his opinion, prison would do nothing to change him, but instead make him a better criminal, and more traumatised than he already was.

The judge agreed, seeing the possibility of the influence from other hardened criminals modelling how to act, and teaching him how to get better at breaking the law. He would be “bigger, stronger” and much more of a threat after prison.


The prosecution then brought this case before the Court of Appeals, arguing still for the need for imprisonment as his justice. In March 2019, the Court offered its judgment on this matter, finally agreeing with experts like Dr. John Bosco Lee and the boy’s legal aid team, that he and society would be best served by him serving his time in the care of the IMH and seeking reformative care. While the Court was clear to say that this was an “imperfect solution” to this case, they felt this would be the best options available to them.

The Appeals Court disagreed with the Prosecution’s belief that rehabilitation would be unhelpful to him due to his disability, and that it left no alternative to consequences than to punish. The either rehabilitation or punishment thought of the Prosecution was not in society’s, or the boy’s, best interest, agreeing with what Dr. John Bosco Lee presented throughout his testimony in this long case.

The Court felt strongly that it was an imperfect situation because the choices in sentencing were lacking. This was not imperfect solely because of experts disagreeing. This was imperfect because the Court felt there is need for more help for the boy, and more potential for consequences for those convicted of a crime who are in similar situations. In the end they chose to not exact a “disproportionate sentence” on him because there were no other options. In their own words:

“We agreed with these observations, and, in particular, with the view expressed in the last sentence of the passage above that limitations in the sentencing regime are no justification for disproportionate sentencing. In this case, the Prosecution’s position appeared to be that if the court did not have the tools to rehabilitate the respondent, then it should punish him. We could not accept this. It is for either the Executive or Legislature to create the appropriate tools, and to the extent that they have not, that omission is not a principled basis for exacting disproportionate punishment on an offender.”

This is also a perfect example of using what is known and having the best research available to help guide the Court’s decisions. Although no one wanted this boy to get away with a crime, the Court asked what would be served by this boy being in prison. They saw nothing helpful to him or society there.

Here is the Straits Times article that reported on this case:

Top-court-upholds-reformative-training for-low-IQ-teen-rapist

Here is the High Court Judgement:


Here is the Court of Appeal Judgement: