SINGAPORE: A convicted drug pusher serving a 20-year sentence lost his appeal on Tuesday (May 9) for an additional 30-week jail term to be set aside.
The extra time in jail was imposed in lieu of the 15 strokes of the cane that could not be carried out as he was later found to be medically unfit for caning.
Amin Abdullah, 48, pleaded with the court not to let the enhanced sentence stand, saying “20 years is already heavy”.
Prosecutors, however, said caning is “a formidable and fearsome” tool, arguing that an additional jail term in lieu of caning “is necessary to preserve the deterrent effect of caning”.
Even though the High Court dismissed Amin’s appeal, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the case raises an important question of law: Whether the court should “assume” that once an offender is exempted from caning, his imprisonment term should be enhanced.
“We don’t think so”, the Chief Justice said.
In making their case, prosecutors had argued that the court’s “default position” should be to impose an additional jail term in lieu of caning, barring “special circumstances”.
The High Court - comprising the Chief Justice, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justice See Kee Onn - disagreed. While the court has the discretion and the power to impose additional punishment, “such discretion (and power) should only be exercised if there are grounds for it”, the Chief Justice said.
It ruled that the default position should be not to enhance an exempted offender’s punishment “unless there are reasons (to)”.
In Amin’s case, he was originally sentenced to 20 years’ jail and 15 strokes of the cane for trafficking 13.23g of diamorphine and for possessing 0.27g of the same drug. The additional 30-week jail term was imposed after he was certified medically unfit for caning.
“The sentence of 30 weeks … was correctly and carefully calibrated to substitute the 15 strokes of the cane avoided by (Amin)”, prosecutors argued. And an enhanced sentence in lieu of caning “serves to preserve the deterrent effect of caning through a longer imprisonment term”, prosecutors said, “although it is by no means a perfect correspondence”.
The High Court said it was satisfied that the sentence, even after the enhancement, was "not manifestly excessive".
"In fact, it was on the low side," the judges noted.
The High Court said it would elaborate on its decision not to automatically enhance the sentences in such cases “in due course”.