Singapore

Judge dismisses appeals for doc who sold codeine cough mixture

High Court weighs in on 2 years' jail, $130k fine in codeine case

The High Court has dismissed appeals by the prosecution and by a "defiant" doctor against his sentence for selling codeine cough mixture.

Tan Gek Young will begin serving his sentence of two years' jail and $130,000 fine on Sept 4, after his request for a deferment was granted.

Although the total sentence remained, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin varied the individual jail terms for some of the charges yesterday.

Tan, 61, a permanent resident, sold more than 2,300 litres of cough mixture at his Bedok clinic between January 2014 and June 2015 - one of the largest quantities of such cases.

It was also the first of its kind to reach the High Court on appeal.

Both Tan and the prosecution appealed against the sentence, with prosecutors also urging the court to lay down a sentencing framework.

But Judge Chao said there were insufficient precedents at the moment, making it difficult for the court to formulate detailed guides.

He cited how six similar cases were prosecuted under different criminal provisions in the Poisons Act and Medicines Act.

However, Judge Chao agreed that the illicit sale of codeine cough mixture has become a "prevalent problem", citing figures by the Health Sciences Authority.

The number of cases investigated reached a high of 67 in 2015. There were 53 cases last year till November.

Deterrence should be the primary sentencing consideration, he said.

In his written judgment, he raised issues with the sentencing range proposed by the district judge, which would increase in proportion to the quantity of cough mixture involved.

The prosecution also suggested that a jail term and fine must be imposed for doctors who profited from such illicit sales. In addition, a stiffer sentence is required if the quantity sold indicates it is for resale.

For instance, the prosecution had said the sale of a 3.8 litre canister of cough mixture must be for resale, while a 900ml bottle would not suggest that.

Judge Chao said it was unclear why this must be so, adding it would not be "wise" to lay down sentencing bands tied to the quantity supplied.

He listed aggravating factors that may be relevant for sentencing, such as the offender's role, whether the offences took place during investigations, and the amount of profit made.

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