Sentencing guidelines in Singapore

Sentencing guidelines in Singapore

During his opening address for the first Sentencing Conference in 2014, the Honorable Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon announced his intention to form the Sentencing Council in order to inject a “consistency and clarity in our sentencing practices”. In the years since, Singapore’s legal landscape has seen multiple new guidelines being issued dealing with a myriad of offences such as drug trafficking, national service evasion, rape and drink driving.

CJ Menon departed from common practice by deciding that cases in areas of law that require sentencing guidelines, as decided by the Sentencing Council, will go before a special panel of three judges as opposed to one. The premise behind this decision assumes that three legal minds helping to pen down the guidelines will ensure all sentencing alternatives have been “fully explored” and that the implications of these guidelines would have been thoroughly considered.

Since his appointment, CJ Menon has written six sentencing guidelines and sat on three special panels that also produced sentencing guidelines. Altogether, fifteen new sentencing guidelines have been passed. However, sentencing guidelines are not new in Singapore’s jurisdiction per se. There have been instances in which judges have made judgements that provide frameworks categorising culpability, helping shine clarity on the law.

One such instance was in 2006, when the High Court laid out four categories of rape. Each one carried a different benchmark sentence, although the judgement was subsequently refined earlier this year to address problems with the narrowness of some categories.

However, this has been the first time courts have made a concerted effort to issue judgements setting out such guidelines, under CJ Menon’s direction. Previously, courts could only rely on legislation and precedents in order to fix a benchmark. The court, according to the unique facts of the case being determined, would then adjust and mete out appropriate sentences that may be more or less severe than the precedents considered.

Some of the new guidelines issued over the past few years

Defaulting on National Service

In Public Prosecutor v Sakthikanesh s/o Chidambaram and other appeals and another matter SGHC 178, heard before Chief Justice Menon, Justice Chao Hick Tin and Justice See Kee Oon, the judges identified four bands of jailterm according to the period of default.

Default period Sentencing range
2 to 6 years 2 to 4 months imprisonment
7 to 10 years 5 to 8 months imprisonment
11 to 16 years 14 to 22 months imprisonment
12 to 23 years 2 to 3 years imprisonment


New guidelines for this offence were issued in Ng Kean Meng Terence v Public Prosecutor SGCA 37, heard before CJ Menon, Justice Chao Hick Tin and Justice Andrew Phang Boon Leong. The following are the three identified categories of rape:

Bands Sentencing range
Band 1: Rape with little or no offence-specific aggravating factors 10-13 years in jail with 6 strokes of the cane
Band 2: Rape featuring two or more offence-specific aggravating factors 13-17 years in jail and 12 strokes of the cane
Band 3: Rape of an extremely serious nature by reason of the number and intensity of offence-specific aggravating factors 17-20 years in jail and 18 strokes of the cane

Drug trafficking

Introduced in Suventher Shanmugam v Public Prosecutor SGCA 25, heard before CJ Menon, Justice Judith Prakash and Justice Tay Yong Kwang, were drug trafficking guidelines for cannabis, a class A controlled drug. The guidelines to sentencing are similar in approach to the judgement in Vasentha d/o Joseph v Public Prosecutor 5 SLR 122, a case involving the trafficking of another class A drug, diamorphine.

It provides an indicative benchmark sentence based on the amount of drugs being trafficked and encourages courts to make use of the full range of sentences spelled out in legislation. While the guidelines are meant for cannabis, the judges advised that they may be applied to offences involving other drugs with a similar punishment range. If mandatory caning cannot be carried out because of gender or age, then a further jail term of not more than one year should be added.

Quantity of cannabis (g) Sentencing guideline
330-380 20-22 years
381-430 23-25 years
431-500 26-29 years

Private corruption

In Public Prosecutor v Syed Mostofa Romel SGHC 117, heard before CJ Menon, three broad categories of private corruption were identified.

Category Sentencing guideline
When the briber derives a benefit for paying the offender Jail sentence may be meted out based on circumstance
When the party being bribed agrees to forbear performing a duty Custodial sentence likely
When the party is bribed so that he will not harm the paying party Jail sentence likely

First-time contraband cigarette smuggling

CJ Menon issued guidelines for this offence in Yap Ah Lai v Public Prosecutor 3 SLR 180, singling out that the offender’s role should be limited to importation in order for these guidelines to apply.

Quantity of tobacco (kg) Sentencing range
2-50 3 to 6 months
51-100 6 to 12 months
101-200 12 to 18 months
201-300 18 to 24 months
301-400 24 to 30 months
>400 30 to 36 months

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