SINGAPORE: A National University of Singapore (NUS) student had his sentence of probation for molesting a woman overturned by the Chief Justice on Monday (Apr 27) after an appeal by the prosecution.
Terence Siow Kai Yuan, 24, will now have to serve two weeks' jail for molesting a 28-year-old woman on a train in September 2018.
Delivering his findings via video conference, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said that Siow did not display an extremely strong propensity for reform such that rehabilitation displaced deterrence as the main sentencing factor.
He said it was "critical that the respondent and other like-minded offenders understand that such conduct, which is offensive or demeaning to the victim - no matter how minor the intrusion - will always attract a sharp punitive response".
Siow, a Mathematics student, was suspended by NUS after the university convened a disciplinary board in October 2018 to look into his conduct. Disciplinary sanctions, including suspension of candidature and mandatory counselling, were imposed by the board. The sanctions form part of Siow's formal educational report, NUS said.
"The student concerned has been on leave of absence since January 2020," the university said in response to CNA's queries.
READ: NUS student molester case: Terence Siow’s offence is serious, says prosecution in fresh hearing
He was sentenced in September last year to 21 months' probation for the offences, but he did not serve the sentence after it was stayed, pending the appeal outcome.
The case sparked public debate after the sentence. A probation report tendered in the district court had assessed Siow as suitable for probation as his academic results showed he had the "potential to excel in life".
In order for probation to be imposed on an offender who is above 21 at the time of offending and sentencing, the person must either demonstrate an extremely strong propensity for reform or if there are exceptional circumstances.
CHIEF JUSTICE'S FINDINGS
Assessing if Siow demonstrated an "extremely strong" propensity for reform takes into account multiple factors, focusing more on the offender's traits than the aspects of the offence, said the Chief Justice.
To evaluate whether Siow demonstrated an extremely strong propensity for reform, Chief Justice Menon applied a three-limbed framework, with considerations including if an offender showed a positive desire to change and if there were conditions in the offender's life conducive for helping him turn over a new leaf.
In such an inquiry, a link between Siow's educational record and his rehabilitative capacity would have to be drawn, he said.
Even if an "extremely strong" propensity for reform is shown, deterrence remains the primary sentencing objective as Siow is an adult offender and rehabilitation is usually for offenders under 21, said the Chief Justice.
Chief Justice Menon agreed with the prosecution that the fact Siow had offended at the same time as when he was performing well in university showed that he could compartmentalise his deviance and wrongdoing from other parts of his life.
Referring to newly tendered reports, he found that Siow consulted with psychiatrists and counsellors about his anxiety over court proceedings and media scrutiny rather than any root condition that might have led to his offending.
He also said the root cause of Siow's behaviour was his continued preoccupation with pornography and that was deemed a risk factor by the probation officer.
"I cannot say with conviction that (Siow) on his own makes out a very strong case for replacing deterrence with rehabilitation as a predominant sentencing consideration," said Chief Justice Menon.
He added that he did not think Siow's parents "are in a position to play a significant part in (addressing) the root of his problem".
He said that District Judge Jasvender Kaur "correctly observed that the degree of sexual exploitation in the proceeded charge was low, as the touches were momentary and there was no skin-to-skin contact".
"Furthermore, while such an offence is naturally distressing to the victim, there was also no evidence that the harm caused in this case is severe and no victim impact statement was tendered in this regard," said Chief Justice Menon.
He took into account that the offences occurred on a public transport network, which he said was the key aggravating factor.
"I have no doubt that, even after the conclusion of these proceedings, the ordeal of his encounter with the criminal justice system will remain firmly etched in the respondent's mind," said Chief Justice Menon.
"It is my hope that he will realise that this is a consequence of his bad choices and that, while he has reason to remain optimistic about his future, he needs to make a real effort to overcome some deep-seated issues."
The prosecution said during the appeal hearing that Siow's case did not fulfil the criteria for probation and called for three weeks' jail.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Kristy Tan, Gail Wong and Benedict Chan said the lower court judge's approach "was wrong in principle" and "led to a wholly inappropriate sentence".
Granting probation would be "a miscarriage of justice given the seriousness of the offence and the aggravating circumstances", they had said.
They said Siow molested the victim twice during the train ride on the North East Line, touching her thigh with his hand twice.
He "persisted in following her onto an escalator" where he touched her buttocks over her shorts, said Ms Tan.
She said his conduct was not simply opportunistic or on the spur of the moment, and said he knew that what he did was wrong.
"Indeed, this was not the first time he had touched females in crowded buses or trains, but it was the first time he got caught," said Ms Tan.
Siow had admitted that he started touching women in crowded buses or trains since August 2016, revealing to his probation officer that he preferred Japanese porn that was about women being touched in the train.
On the issue of Siow's academic performance in school, the prosecutors had said that the link between good academic performance and staying crime-free is "tenuous, especially when the offending was sexually motivated".
"Good academic performance in school may translate into success in finding employment and being a gainful member of society, but this is a general proposition," they said.
"This characteristic is also not particularly exceptional or unique to (Siow), because all university students would have achieved a decent level of past academic performance in order to qualify for university."
They had urged the court to "reject the over-emphasis on the respondent's strong academic performance".
CLIENT CAN BE REHABILITATED: DEFENCE
Defence lawyer Raphael Louis had urged the court to uphold the sentence of probation, pointing to his client's motivation to get treatment and signs of wanting to change.
He said his client was working closely with his school counsellor, going for more sessions than he was required to, and initiating seeing a psychiatrist.
READ: Shanmugam ‘surprised’ at verdict in the case of NUS student molester; AGC to appeal against sentence
The case had gone viral and sparked discussions on sexual offences, particularly in universities.
Siow's case drew comments from Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, who said he was surprised at the district court verdict but added that people should "avoid casting aspersions" on the judge.
An online petition was also set up on Change.org titled "Say NO to Favorable Sentences for 'Educated' Sex Offenders". As of Monday morning, the petition had drawn almost 100,000 signatures.
For each count of molestation, Siow could have been jailed for up to two years, fined, caned, or given a combination of these punishments.
In a statement after the appeal verdict, NUS said it takes a serious view of any misconduct by its students.