Unwise to base sentencing on ‘ground sensitivity’: AGC


Kow Keng Siong, Chief Prosecutor, Attorney-General's Chambers

Published: 4:00 AM, March 20, 2017

In his letter “AGC should ensure that firm — but fair — justice is meted” (March 17), Mr Sunny Goh said that the AGC (Attorney-General’s Chambers) in the Joshua Robinson case should have “exercised more ground sensitivity, it could have pushed for a full trial”, and that an “open trial” would allow “a stiffer sentence ... [to] be sought” and can be for “public education”. This misunderstands the trial process and AGC’s role.

In deciding to prefer charges, the AGC assesses what offences may have been committed and whether the available evidence is sufficient to prove those offences beyond a reasonable doubt.

When charges are preferred, our laws do not permit the AGC to force an accused to either claim trial or plead guilty. It is for the accused to decide what course to take.

If the accused claims trial, the purpose of that trial is to resolve the factual and legal disputes raised. Trials are not conducted for the purpose of “public education”.

Mr Goh suggested that AGC had played “judge and jury” in the Joshua Robinson case, and that AGC should “leave it to the judge to show compassion”. It is unclear what he means.

In our criminal justice system, as in many others, it is not uncommon for an accused to plead guilty to some charges in order to reduce his sentence. This has a number of important advantages, including the certainty of securing a conviction, saving time and judicial resources and, particularly in cases involving children or victims of sexual crimes, sparing them the stress of giving evidence. That is why accused persons who plead guilty generally receive a lighter sentence compared to those convicted after a trial.

It is for the Court to decide on the appropriate sentence after assessing all relevant considerations. These include: (i) the facts that are legally relevant to sentencing (ii) the relevant sentencing precedents (iii) mitigating and aggravating factors and (iv) the prosecution and defence counsels’ submissions.

When AGC makes submissions on sentencing to the court, we are always mindful that the suggestions are fair and appropriate. It is important that the sentence must befit the crime and the offender, which will depend on the facts and the circumstances of each case. It is unwise to punish the offender on the basis of “ground sensitivity”.