Sentence of at least 1 1/2 years of reformative training too long: CJ
By Khushwant Singh
THE High Court has overturned an earlier decision that ordered a young man to spend at least 1 1/2 years in a centre for youthful offenders for running a gaming den.
Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong yesterday ordered Johnny Ong, 21, to be released today after nearly two months in detention.
He said the original sentence was too long because had Ong, aged 20 at the time of his arrest, been just a couple of months older, he would have faced a fine or several months in jail.
But his age made him eligible for reformative training, which is meant to rehabilitate young offenders.
Ong was arrested in May at an illegal casino in Lorong 17, Geylang. He had been paid $70 a day as a cashier at the gaming den.
He pleaded guilty in a district court and was to be considered for probation, but he missed an interview with an official.
Ong was then found suitable for the Reformative Training Centre (RTC).
There, offenders aged 16 to 21 live in a boot camp-like environment and undergo foot drills, counselling and education. Prisoners serve a minimum sentence of 11/2 years, which can be extended up to three years.
Ong appeared in the High Court yesterday, without a lawyer, looking to overturn the decision and serve a short jail sentence instead.
Through a Mandarin interpreter, he said his sentence was excessive and requested more time to post bail and seek legal aid for a lawyer to argue his appeal.
CJ Chan then heard Deputy Public Prosecutor Francis Ng argue that Ong had ample time to do this before the hearing.
Ong, who had only primary school education, was at risk of returning to crime, and courses at the RTC would equip him with skills that would serve him well later in life, DPP Ng said.
But CJ Chan decided that Ong had been punished enough. He also questioned what training Ong would get behind bars, and called on prosecutors to provide details at future hearings.
'It's called reformative training...but the court does not know what it will teach him.'
The Chief Justice also pointed out that this was Ong's first brush with the law. Ong had also told police that he needed to work to support his sickly mother.
Ong's mother, who was in court, told reporters that she was very happy to have her son come home. Her husband died five years ago.
She said Ong felt ashamed for breaking the law and for not being able to take care of her.
[Common sense triumphs. It was his first brush with the law and he was a cashier at an illegal gambling den. What he did was no different from what hundreds of others would be doing when the casinos open. The only difference being those casinos would be legal ones. In terms of criminal activity, his crime is a statutory one. He should not have been sentenced to reformative training in the first place as it was his first charge. Good thing he faced a clear-minded CJ.]