Oral Answer by Assoc Prof Ho Peng Kee on the Community Court's Sentencing Powers, 27 August 2007
27 Aug 2007 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
Mr Christopher De Souza asked the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Law (a) whether steps will be taken to review the Criminal Procedure Code and Probation of Offenders Act such that the newly established Community Court can better achieve its task of rehabilitating young offenders; and (b) whether the Ministry will consider widening the Community Court’s sentencing powers to allow for more suitable sentences for young offenders and those suffering from mental disorders.
Assoc Prof Ho Peng Kee: The Community Court was set up in June last year. Up till December last year, it had dealt with about 650 accused persons, with slightly more than half being youthful offenders between 16 and 18 years old. Offenders with varying degrees of mental disabilities formed the next group numbering about 150.
The Community Court has been widely hailed as an initiative of the Judiciary that has enriched our criminal justice process, whereby punishments take into account the particular circumstances of the offence and offender, in what some have described as ‘creative sentencing’.
Government recognises the need to continually review our sentencing options so as to better support the work of the Community Court. Towards this end, the Inter-Ministry Committee on Community-Based Sentences, which I chair, reconvened earlier this year to explore how to strengthen and add to currently available sentencing options so as to better facilitate the rehabilitation and re-integration of offenders into society.
Some initiatives we are studying are firstly, introducing Mandatory Treatment Orders and setting up a Mental Facility. The Mandatory Treatment Order is an option to empower the Courts to require suitable offenders to undergo a stipulated course of treatment. It will be the most appropriate for offenders who are not sentenced to imprisonment but will benefit from undergoing medical, psychological or psychiatric treatment, or treatment for problems such as alcoholism or uncontrollable anger. In addition, the Prisons Department is exploring the possibility of setting up a small facility, either within Changi Prison itself or outside it, to house a limited number of prisoners with mental disabilities who are sentenced to imprisonment but are considered unsuitable for the rigours of an imprisonment regime.
Secondly, we are looking at strengthening our conditional discharge regime by injecting greater flexibility in the nature of the conditions that may be imposed when an offender is given a conditional discharge, for example, requiring him to perform community service or to pursue a course of study or vocational training. Thirdly, we are exploring the possibility of introducing Short-Term Detention to deal with offenders deemed suitable for probation but who, in the Court’s view, would benefit from an initial short period of detention. This sentencing option can also apply to probationers who breach their probation orders, who can then be sent for a short period of detention to reflect on their wrongdoing and to receive counselling and other rehabilitative treatment.
Besides the above key initiatives which will principally benefit young offenders and offenders with mental disabilities, the Committee is also exploring the possibility of expanding the scope of Community Service Orders or CSOs. Currently, Community Service Orders are imposed as part of probation, mainly on youthful offenders. The Committee is considering an expanded use of CSOs for adults as a standalone option, for example, those who commit traffic offences can be required to perform CSOs as school traffic wardens. Those who commit offences involving cruelty to animals can be required to work at the SPCA.
I should add that these are proposals that we need to study further and examine with other parties, not only with the Police, Prisons and the AG’s Chambers but with medical experts, psychologists, social workers and counsellors as well as the wider community. This is because, for them to succeed, we need to muster adequate community support and professional resources.
Also, if they are adopted, their implementation will take time as additional resources and expertise will have to be built up, as well as amendments made to relevant legislation such as the Criminal Procedure Code and the Probation of Offenders Act.
Last updated on 25 Nov 2012