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Offenders should have consecutive jail terms for separate crimes: Chief Justice

SINGAPORE — The High Court has ruled that a convicted person who has multiple separate offences should generally be given sentences that run consecutively instead of concurrently, subject to the "totality principle".

Offenders should have consecutive jail terms for separate crimes: Chief Justice

The High Court has ruled that a convicted person who have multiple separate offences should generally be given sentences that run consecutively instead of concurrently.

SINGAPORE — The High Court has ruled that a convicted person who has multiple separate offences should generally be given sentences that run consecutively instead of concurrently, subject to the "totality principle".

The ruling was made after Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon ordered two jail sentences for a man who committed unrelated crimes to run one after the other instead of at the same time. On Tuesday (June 26), he issued a detailed written grounds of his decision.

In October 2016, Raveen Balakrishnan slashed the cheek of a 20-year-old man with a knife outside the St James Power Station nightclub.

While out on bail after being charged in court, he led a group of people to attack another man in an unrelated incident in April last year. Raveen was then 23 and a first-year polytechnic student.

Six months later, he was sentenced to 3.5 years' jail and six strokes of the cane for voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means, and two years' jail and three strokes for rioting. A District Court judge ordered both terms to run concurrently, which is an aggregate of 3.5 years' jail.

The judge was convinced that Raveen was not "beyond any hope for reform and rehabilitation" and there was a "decrease in (his) rate of offending".

However, the prosecution appealed against the jail terms, saying the judge "failed to appreciate" key factors, such as the different nature of Raveen's offences, and that he had committed the rioting offence while out on bail for the first.

Running the sentences concurrently means that Raveen, "to a substantial degree, avoided being punished for the unrelated second offence", the prosecution argued. The aggregate sentence imposed did not reflect his "culpability and recalcitrance".

Raveen's defence lawyer countered that there was no requirement in law for the two sentences to run consecutively, and that the district judge had adhered to the totality principle, which requires looking at the overall criminality, and whether punishment meted out is excessive.

Following the appeal, Chief Justice Menon raised the total jail sentence from 3.5 years to 4.5 years in March this year. The nine strokes of the cane handed to Raveen remain unchanged.

In the written grounds of his decision, the Chief Justice noted that each of Raveen's offences carried a "multitude of aggravating factors", and he has past records, so the lower court's decision was "wrong in principle" and the judge's reasons for running the sentences concurrently "simply did not stand up to scrutiny".

Court documents showed that Raveen has had past brushes with the law, including violence and property-related offences, and he was ordered to undergo probation and reformative training. Then, four months after his reformative training stint, he assaulted someone with a knife.

There was no strong evidence that Raveen had shown genuine remorse, and though the district judge said that he might have committed the assault offence in the spur of the moment, his rioting offence involved premeditation and was committed while he was on bail, Chief Justice Menon said.

On the district judge's observation that there was a decrease in Raveen's rate of offending, Chief Justice Menon said that this was "simply wrong in law".

"Re-offending must, in principle and as a matter of policy, be considered aggravating, whatever the number of charges brought," he added.

He pointed out that concurrent sentences for unrelated offences "would not adequately serve, and in fact may undermine the sentencing considerations that underlie the individual sentences comprising the aggregate term".

To ensure that the totality principle is applied, the courts have to "run a final check", to ensure the aggregate sentence reflects overall criminality and is not "crushing", taking into account the offender's past record and future prospects.

"A mere arithmetic addition of individual sentences might, in many situations and despite the fact that the offences are unrelated, lead to aggregate sentences that are disproportionate to the overall criminality presented," he said.

"If an aggregate sentence is considered excessive, the sentencing judge may opt for a different combination of sentences to run consecutively or adjust the individual sentences."

Explaining why he gave a 4.5-year jail term instead of a 5.5-year one that Raveen would have received if his individual sentences were to run consecutively, the chief justice said that he was taking into account the totality principle, and that the heavier punishment would have a crushing impact on Raveen's future prospects. This also takes into account the offender's youth, and "the hope that he remained amenable to reform and rehabilitation".

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