SINGAPORE - Three full-time national servicemen who went on a stealing spree at a police station have been spared reformative training after a judge found it would be unfair to give them "additional punishment".
Saiful Rizam Assim, Muhammad Erman Iman Tauhid, and Muhammad Yunus Aziz are already serving between seven months and 11/2 years in prison for theft.
But prosecutors appealed, saying the men should instead be sent for reformative training - a tough custodial regime that aims to rehabilitate young offenders.
This presented Justice Chao Hick Tin with a dilemma. If he agreed to the request, the trio would effectively have to start their sentences all over again as the time already spent behind bars would not count.
To complicate things further, the men are more than four months into their jail terms, with Saiful due to be freed on Saturday.
On Wednesday at the High Court, Justice Chao turned down the prosecution's appeal for reformative training.
He said he would not give "additional punishment", adding: "Saiful's case brings out the issue starkly because he is almost due for release."
The judge said the decision had not been an easy one.
Since the case came before him three weeks ago, he had been "troubled" and "pulled in two different directions".
On the one hand, the prosecution argued that sending them to jail because it meant less time in custody than reformative training was wrong.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Leong Wing Tuck added that the trio needed the tough rehabilitation regime to improve.
But defence counsel Amarick Gill, who is representing them free of charge, argued that reformative training would be "grossly unfair".
This view was supported by lawyer Tan Kai Liang, who was acting as an amicus curiae, or friend of the court. Giving an independent opinion, he said the move could have a "crushing" and "disproportionate" effect on the trio.
Yunus, 19, and Saiful and Erman, both 20, were posted at Ang Mo Kio Police Division when they went on the stealing spree last year, taking items seized in investigations.
Offenders on reformative training are detained for up to three years at a special centre.
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