TODAY 20070428: The warm arm of the law

This is a wee bit old, but I can’t let it pass. It’s all warm-fuzziness for human crimes and offenders, but still, what a G-A-P on animal abusers. It’s worryingly indeed that David Hooi, repeat animal abuse offender, jailed for 1 year last September (maximum sentence in Singpaore law AND history), is already out again.

Warm arm of the law? I think it leaves many cold, as cold as ever. When it was announced last May, there was hope in some quarters that animal abusers will finally be dealt with fairly: The moral indignation of the community against cruelty to animals is strong.

What is evident so far is that strong moral indignation has not been enough to push through the sea-change in dealing with animal abusers.

To provide further perspective on how representative it is of Singapore’s apathy for the seriousness of animal abuse, here’s a chronology of news articles and letters about or related to the David Hooi case(s).

How many more times must we read about David Hooi and his sentences before something really concrete is done to prevent him from bashing cats and kittens alive? How much will it take before the Singapore Government and the Judiciary SYSTEM stops David Hooi’s multi-decade cat murder spree?

(emphasis mine)

This story was printed from TODAYonline

The warm arm of the law

Weekend � April 28, 2007

Leong Wee Keat

The Community Court, almost a year old, was meant to give the legal system a more flexible, humane dimension. Has it succeeded? What more could be done?

HE HAD been jailed and fined thrice before for stealing.When Lau Yong Chye was again caught walking out of a supermarket without paying for a 55-cent bottle of mineral water, the 28-year-old might not, in any other courtroom, have been able to expect much sympathy.

What made the difference this time: His case file landed up in the Community Court.

At about 11am one day last September, lawyer Amolat Singh got a call from the court officer. With Lau unable to afford a counsel, Mr Singh was asked, under a special arrangement between the Community Court and the Association of the Criminal Lawyers of Singapore (ACLS), to represent him for free.

Within half an hour, Mr Singh was at the court, studying Lau’s case file and background. What became clear quickly was that Lau was not in the “normal mould” of criminals. He had an IQ of 72, below the average of 90 to 110. He also had around $9 in his pockets when he committed the theft.

That same afternoon, the hearing took place, and Lau walked free. District Judge Bala Reddy had backdated his sentence of 22 days’ imprisonment to the date of his arrest — exactly 22 days before.

It has been nearly a year since Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, then new to the post, announced, last May, plans for a Community Court that would change the way cases were handled.

The new court would take on a “problem-solving approach that combines criminal justice and community resources”. Instead of handing down standard sentences, it had at its disposal a wider, softer variety of alternatives — including probation, counselling or suspended sentences — to see if the offenders could be reformed.

On Friday, in reviewing the Community Court’s achievements, CJ Chan judged it had “not only enriched our criminal justice process, but has also been well received by the public at large”.

Many whom Today spoke to, including lawyers and community partners, largely agreed.

The Community Court, they say, has added another, more flexible and humane dimension to the process of justice, moving away from strictly focusing on the crime, to considering the offender, too.

Lau’s case was one example. Prior to that brush with the law, he had had three prior convictions for theft, for which he was fined $400, jailed for one month and put in prison for 21 days, respectively.

“In the past, when he was charged, the issue of his low IQ may not have surfaced,” said Mr Singh. “He stands there, gets sentenced and is marched off to jail. But no one became the wiser for it.”

In the second half of last year, 664 cases passed through the Community Court’s doors. Half involved offenders between the ages of 16 and 18, with nearly two-thirds of these youth given probation.

A third of all cases, or 179 cases in all, involved persons with mental disabilities. Of these, 105 were given custodial sentences and 16 probation.

While the Community Court has used a range of alternative sentences, some lawyers hope judges can be given even more leeway, especially when it comes to offenders with mental disabilities.

Mr Subhas Anandan, ACLS president, said: “There must be legislation to enhance or give judges the power to vary certain sentences, power they don’t have right now.”

Legislation should also be put in place to allow judges “to compel a person to go for counselling or psychiatric treatment after they serve their sentences”, the veteran lawyer added.

In Lau’s case, the district judge had issued two follow-up orders, for the lawyer to contact his mother, who did not turn up for the hearing, and to have Lau placed in a welfare home that could help him find employment.

Lau’s mother, housewife Madam Tan Ann Hui, told Today he “ran away from the home after experiencing difficulties”. She said she had little time to supervise her son as she was helping to look after her grandchild.

Recently, Lau got into trouble again — he was found tearing pages out of books at a bookstore.

Then, there is the issue of whether custodial sentences will work for all offenders.

Animal-lover Goh Boon Choo wanted to know if any medical help is given to convicted serial animal abusers, such as David Hooi Yin Weng, when they are jailed.

Last September, the 42-year-old was given the maximum jail term of a year, for one of the worst cases of animal abuse ever reported here. He has since been released.

Prior to that that, Hooi had been sentenced to three months in jail, again, he was let out before serving the full term, for abusing a kitten to the point that it had to be put down. Then, he had told the judge he had made a “mistake” and would not do it again. An Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist had recommended that Hooi be kept in a “secure environment” for as long as possible as he was likely to commit the offences again.

Lawyer Sunil Sudheesan suggested that residential programmes in mental facilities, rather than jail sentences, would be more ideal for an accused person suffering from a psychiatric condition.

This would better serve the aim of rehabilitation, he said.

Such measures might soon be more likely. On Friday, CJ Chan announced that various organisations had come forward to offer their time and resources in providing post-sentence therapeutic, psychiatric and rehabilitative programmes.

The 11 organisations, including the Association of Muslim Professionals, Centre for Fathering, Institute of Mental Health and Teen Challenge, will form the Resource Panel of the Community Court.

But lawyers hope the courts can do more.

Lawyer T U Naidu, who has been in practice for 27 years, said more resources should be put at the disposal of the Community Court. More funds could be set aside to hire more probation officers for youthful offenders, and more facilities could be set up to help mentally disabled offenders.

Mr Sunil hopes the Community Court can be empowered to review its sentences periodically, where appropriate.

“Sentencing should not be a static process,” he said, adding that the courts could take into consideration “the post-conviction attitude of the accused persons”.

Mr Singh suggested the Community Court set up a dedicated unit to link offenders or their families with welfare organisations. This way, help can be rendered immediately to the families after an offender has been discharged or released.

The unit, he added, could also monitor certain cases for a period at intervals of three or six months, and use these as case studies for future reference.

“It is very important to how these people can be taken care of after they have been dealt with by the Community Court,” Mr Singh said. “The Court can close its files … but this poor chap’s life is not closed. He has a life to live.”

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.

One response to “TODAY 20070428: The warm arm of the law

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