Casenote: Public Prosecutor v Raveen Balakrishnan  SGHC 148
Magistrate’s Appeal No 9330 of 2017/01
Scenario: X faces 2 sentences of 2 years for theft and 3 years for criminal breach of trust. On conviction, the accused may spend either 3 years or 5 years in jail, depending on whether the Court decides that the sentences are rules to run consecutively or concurrently.
A consecutive sentence is when jail terms run one after the other. In the scenario above, X will serve a total of 5 years. He will serve the 2 years for theft and then after that serve the further 3 years for criminal breach of trust.
A concurrent sentence is when the sentences are allowed to overlap. In the scenario above, X will serve a total of 3 years as his 2-year imprisonment for theft will be served together with his 3-year sentence for criminal breach of trust.
The general principle is that when the conviction is for multiple, separate offences, the term of imprisonment will run consecutively.
Public Prosecutor v Raveen Balakrishnan  SGHC 148
This was confirmed by the Chief Justice at the High Court in the case of Raveen Balakrishnan. In this case, the accused slashed a man outside a nightclub in October 2016. He was charged with voluntarily causing hurt. The accused was then released on bail. While on bail, in April 2017, the accused then was part of a group who attacked another man.
There were therefore 2 sets of charges. The October 2016 charges were for voluntarily causing hurt using dangerous weapons or means. The April 2017 charge was for rioting.
In the State Courts, the accused was sentenced to a 3 ½-year custodial sentence and 6 strokes of the cane for the October 2016 charge. He was given a further 2-year custodial sentence and 3 strokes of the cane for the April 2017 charge.
Interestingly, the District Judge ordered that both terms run concurrently. This means that the accused would serve a total of 3 ½ years. If the District Judge had decided that the sentences were to run consecutively, the total sentence would be 5 ½ years.
The Public Prosecutor appealed the order that the jail terms were ordered to run concurrently. The main grounds of the appeal centred around the different nature of the offences. The Public Prosecutor also highlighted that the accused actually committed the April 2017 offences while out on bail for the October 2016 charges.
The argument forwarded by the prosecution was that if the accused were to serve the sentences concurrently, he would effectively escape being punished for the April 2017 offences.
The accused’s lawyer argued that the sentences were not required to run consecutively. Further, the defence also argued that the sentencing by the District Judge was in line with the totality principle. The totality principle requires the sentencing court to look at the overall criminality. It also requires the sentencing court to consider whether the punishment meted out to the accused was excessive.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon did not agree with the District Judge’s reasoning for running the sentences concurrently. The Honourable Chief Justice increased the custodial sentence from a total of 3 ½ years to 4 ½ years.
In his Grounds of Decision, the Chief Justice made note of the following which are instructive:
1. The Accused had past brushes with the law which involved violence and property-related offences.
2. The Accused had previously been sentenced to probation and reformative training.
3. In fact, just 4 months after the completion of his reformative training, the Accused assaulted someone with a knife.
4. The Chief Justice found that there were no grounds to indicate genuine remorse by the Accused.
On the reasoning above, and upon deciding that the sentences were not to run concurrently, it was open to the Chief Justice to order that the accused serve a total of 5 ½ years in custody. However, the Chief Justice took into account the totality principle and ordered a 4 ½-year custodial sentence, taking into consideration the totality principle. The Chief Justice also considered that a 5 1/2 -year imprisonment would be crushing. In sentencing, the Chief Justice also considered the Accused’s youth and prospects of reform and rehabilitation.
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