Policies guiding judges' decisions in sentencing
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Why are different sentences given to people who've commited similar offences?
How do judges decide whether someone goes to jail or not?
These questions concerning sentencing are tackled in a new book titled "Sentencing Principles in Singapore".
Written by former District Judge Kow Keng Siong, the book is a culmination of 10 years worth of research.
JoinClaire Huangas she finds out from the Deputy Senior State Counsel on the need for such a book.
A: Ok. This book is about fundamental principles underlying sentencing decisions. It tells you why judges sentence in a particular way, what do they take into account, under what sort of situations would judges depart from earlier precedence. (It) tells you what (is) the rationalization behind sentencing decisions. It also looks at sentencing approaches in other countries, it also contains information published in the media and newspapers, which I think to date has not been comprehensively compiled into something that is user-friendly, which is actually quite sad because there is a lot of information that is picked up in the press, which do not actually find its way into a written judgement. There is so much information that is out there and this book merely compiles everything so that it's easy for a practitioner to understand and to use.
Q: A previous book was published also on sentencing, so how different is this from previous publications then?
A: I was involved in the other book. That book looks at sentencing from the perspective of sentencing precedents. Let's say you've a theft offence. What are the cases that have decided on theft offence previously? So the purpose of that book is to let practitioners, judges and prosecutors have a rough sense as to how have earlier cases decided. That earlier book does not go into the issue of "why did they decide it that way?". And at first brush, sometimes one may pick up apparent discrepancies in that earlier book. So what this book does is, instead of approaching the issue of sentencing from an offence-centric perspective, it looks at the underlying premises for sentencing decisions and then see how in the course, it has been translated into actual decisions imposed by the courts.
Q: Why did you choose to come up with this book?
A: It was for my own use. It started out as a collection of materials for my use as a (former) District Judge. I had no intention to actually come up with a book on the outset. With the passage of time and the growth of materials I had collated, it occurred to me that it makes sense for me to disseminate, to organise those materials and disseminate it to the rest of the legal fraternity. So, the idea of the book didn't come up at the outset but (came) along the way.
Q: So how long did it take for you to actually complete this book? What have you gained from it?
A: I started out in November 1999, finished in third quarter last year. All in all, almost ten years. What did I gain? (A) better understanding as to how the sentencing process actually works. Bearing in mind that why did I start out in the first place? (It's) to address my concerns and insecurities as a new District Judge at that time. So it has served it's purpose. Personally for me, my understanding has been enriched, and now I hope that it will serve a greater purpose to enrich sentencing jurisprudence, its development, and the knowledge of other colleagues who also practice criminal law and have to deal with sentencing.
Q: How do you think this book will actually help in terms of public opinion? There was this whole issue on sentencing, on the rich and the poor and things like that, so how do you think this will actually help in clarifying the (courts') stance?
A: For the book itself, it hopes to actually make clear how sentences are arrived at. It's deliberately written in a very user-friendly format so that you do not need to be a practitioner, you do not need to know the law, but if you're seriously interested, you can find it. Whether there's a discrimination in terms of prosecutorial sentencing approach between the rich and poor, the book makes it clear, there's none. There are cases to support this position and hopefully it'll dispel not just this, but other misconception that the public may have about how sentencing, or sentences, are arrived at. It's supposed to be informative and you're free to disagree with the views, which is actually one of the reasons why it's written in the first place - to set out what is already there in terms of the law, and through some questions, some provocative questions, invite you to think further and perhaps, make a contribution in how the direction that sentencing jurisprudence should go.