Teen with low IQ who committed rape gets reformative training

Judge notes lack of sentencing options for such offenders in opting for reformative training

The question of whether a mildly intellectually disabled young offender who committed a serious offence should be sentenced to a long jail term with caning, or a stint of reformative training instead, has put a High Court judge in a quandary.

After weighing his "limited" options, Justice Woo Bih Li decided on reformative training for a teenager who had committed rape when he was 14, even as he flagged the larger issues that went beyond the current case.

The prosecution had sought a jail term of between 15 and 18 years and caning of at least 15 strokes for the teenager, now 17.

While out on bail for other offences in 2014, he had raped and sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl, a stranger he had followed to a lift lobby three doors away from her flat.

His assigned lawyers had argued for reformative training, a structured regime for offenders below the age of 21, that can last between 18 months and three years.

However, the prosecutors said reformative training should not be considered, pointing to the gravity of the offence and the egregious circumstances in which it had been carried out.

Justice Woo disagreed and said reformative training was still an option, as the rehabilitation of the accused remained a predominant consideration to be balanced against deterrence of crime and protection of the public.

What troubled him was the accused's low IQ of 61.

"I would have had less hesitation in sending him to reformative training if he did not have any intellectual disability," said Justice Woo.

Prosecutors had argued that the accused was unlikely to benefit from reformative training as he lacked the requisite cognitive abilities to understand the programmes.

However, Justice Woo said it was "over-simplistic" to say that reformative training should not be ordered just because the accused might not benefit.

The alternative was a long jail term and caning, the judge noted. "Is that the answer? I do not think so," he said.

Justice Woo noted that the accused was himself a vulnerable person, in view of his young age and intellectual disability.

"It seems to this court that reformative training still offers the better prospect of rehabilitation when compared to imprisonment," said the judge.