How does the AGC decide whether to prosecute a case, and also how does it decide whether to appeal a sentence?
In the past week or so, 3 cases which were reported in the news have raised these questions. Two of the cases have drawn sympathetic reactions from some members of the public, while the third has enraged them because they felt the sentence meted out was too lenient.
In the first case, 37-year old Indonesian domestic worker Kusrini Caslan Arja was found guilty by the court for ill-treating a 5-year old boy, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy. She had started working for the family last March, and was looking after the boy when she noticed that he had more phlegm than usual. The parents were at work at the time.
Ms Kusrini then used a suction machine to try to suck out the phlegm from the boy’s windpipe. The machine included a tube and an attached cap.
Instead of placing the cap outside the boy’s mouth, which she was taught to do by the boy’s mother who is a nurse, Ms Kusrini inserted it into his mouth. A minute later, she tried to remove the cap, which had become dislodged from the tube, from the boy’s mouth. But she could not do so, and so she further inserted her whole hand into his mouth, resulting in the boy bleeding profusely and his face turning purple.
Still, she was unsuccessful in removing the cap.
It was only when the parents returned home in the evening that they discovered the cap was still lodged in the boy’s mouth. The mother used a pair of tweezers to remove it and immediately called for an ambulance, and also the police. The boy had to stay in hospital for two days. Doctors said he could have choked to death on the cap.
At her trial, where Ms Kusrini was unrepresented by counsel, the prosecution asked for an 18-month jail term for Ms Kusrini.
District Judge Low Wee Ping disagreed with the call, and said that 18 months were “manifestly excessive”, compared to previous cases where harm was done to children intentionally and out of anger.
“I’m sure she didn’t intend to do all those things … I’m sure she was equally traumatised,” he added.
Judge Low said he could not “in good conscience” grant the prosecution’s submissions without first hearing from a defence counsel. He then asked in his courtroom if any lawyer would represent Ms Kusrini. Lawyer Mahmood Gaznavi offered to take up her case pro bono.
According to the law, ill-treatment of a young person is an offence:
In the second case, 64-year old Muhammad Resat Ahmad pleaded guilty on Tuesday to stealing earth cables from the Golden Landmark Shopping Centre between February and April 2004, and between July and September 2006.
Resat, who had been working at the shopping centre for 23 years, and a colleague had cut the cable wires in the ceiling with a saw.
“They then slit open the cables’ insulation covering, removed the copper wires, and sold them at a metal-scrap shop,”according to a TODAY report. They had pocketed a total of $6,000 from the sale.
The prosecution is asking for a 3 to 4 months jail sentence for Mr Resat.
Mr Resat’s lawyer, however, said a sentence of less than 3 weeks would be appropriate. This, he argued, was because of extenuating circumstances. He explained that in 2003, Mr Resat’s wife was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy, and he needed money for the treatment.
Resat was then drawing a monthly salary of S$1,210 and also had to provide for his two children who were still in school. Unable to get help from relatives and friends, he was also forced to default on his utility bills.
“While (Resat) knew what he was doing was contrary to the law, he could not let his wife’s condition deteriorate,” his lawyer said. He offered as mitigation that Resat had also pleaded guilty and had co-operated with the authorities during investigations.
Now, unlike Ms Kusrini and Mr Resat’s cases, that of Mr Joshua Robinson is at the other end of the spectrum.
The 39-year old American mixed martial arts instructor was sentenced on 2 March to a 4 years jail for sexually assaulting two 15-year old girls, and for showing an obscene video to a 6-year girl.
“He also possessed 321 films containing child pornography with children as young as two years old – believed to be the largest number of such films seized from a single person in Singapore,” the Straits Times reported.
With good behaviour, he may get some remission and be out of jail earlier than many would like, as can be seen from the reaction, especially online, when news of his sentence was reported.
The uproar continued for several days, until the Law Minister himself, K Shanmugam, took notice of it.
“I can understand that there is public disquiet on the sentence. People are naturally upset, parents in particular,” he said.
“AGC (the Attorney-General’s Chambers) makes the decisions based on precedents, and what kind of sentence is meted out depends on previous cases,” Mr Shanmugam said.
“Having said that, my understanding is that AGC is looking into this,” he added.
While the law minister is right in choosing not to comment on the merits of the case, as it may be sub judice, it is heartening to know that the AGC is looking into the case, and possibly filing an appeal for a heavier sentence for Mr Robinson who is seen by many as a sexual predator, and thus a dangerous person.
A petition calling for Robinson to be given a higher sentence has so far garnered more than 26,000 signatures.
“As a parent and an early childhood educator advocating for the voiceless in our country… I find this unacceptable and absolutely intolerable,” said the petition creator. “Unfortunately, the 6-year old in this traumatic case is a daughter of a close friend and it absolutely breaks my heart and those of all our friends and family.”
The father of the little girl had earlier posted on his Facebook page his disgust at the lenient sentence.
In the first two cases discussed above, the defendants have been found guilty, and so we shall not go into the merits of the judgement. Also, their cases are still before the courts, as they have yet to be sentenced.
Admittedly, ill-treating a child and committing theft are offences which should not be condoned. Nonetheless, given the circumstances of the two cases, one is moved to ask if they should have been brought before the courts at all. In other words, could the AGC not have found a better way to resolve the two cases? For example, could not Ms Kusrini be given a warning, as clearly she had not intended to harm the boy, as the judge observed?
Or, alternatively, could the AGC not have asked for a lighter sentence for the domestic worker? One would have to agree with the judge that an 18-month sentence, as the AGC is asking for, is excessive indeed.
And ditto in Mr Resat’s case. He had, as reported by the press thus far, only wanted to help his wife get medical treatment for her cancer. His was, as far as we can tell, an unfortunate case of a man driven to desperation.
Certainly, the prosecutorial discretion of the AGC is solely for the AGC to exercise. And we do not expect the AGC to have to explain each decision it makes in prosecution.
But we do hope the AGC could exercise his immense powers with mercy and compassion as well, when the cases merit it, as the above two cases arguably do.
As Judge Low said in Ms Kusrini’s case: “Let’s do justice, and dispense what we call mercy.”
At the same time, the public would also hope the AGC to be merciless with those who prey on others, such as children who cannot fend for themselves or youths who may be vulnerable to these predators.
For sexually assaulting a minor, the punishment is up to 10 years jail and a fine, for each charge. For the possession of obscene films, it is a jail term of up to six months or fined at least S$500 for each film, up to S$20,000.
We hope the AGC will seek the maximum sentence from the courts for Mr Robinson whose crimes were premeditated, with clear intentions of abusing those he knew he could exploit.
UPDATE: AGC statement on Joshua Robinson’s case, 8 March 1.30pm:
“The sentences imposed in this case were broadly in line with relevant sentencing precedents. In light of the sentencing position which the Prosecution had conveyed to Robinson and the fact that his subsequent plea of guilt had spared the victims from the ordeal of a trial, the Public Prosecutor will not be appealing against the sentence.
“The AGC would like to assure the public that in discharging our duties, we do not differentiate between Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans. The AGC will be discussing with the Ministry of Law whether the relevant legislation should be reviewed to enhance sentencing for some of the offences.”