Sunday 18 October 2015

Judge explains reduced jail term for cyclist

By K.C. Vijayan, Senior Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2015

While an errant cyclist convicted of rashly colliding with a pedestrian on a pavement deserved a deterrent sentence, his jail term should be on a par with other related cases.

Explaining why he cut Lim Choon Teck's term from eight weeks to three last month, High Court Judge Chan Seng Onn cited the case of motorist Nandprasad Shiwsaakar, who was jailed six weeks last year for an accident with a motorcyclist who later died. He was also disqualified from driving for eight years.

"When compared with... Shiwsaakar (where there were other aggravating factors), the eight weeks' imprisonment imposed on (Lim) is manifestly excessive and plainly lacks parity," said Justice Chan in judgment grounds released yesterday.

Lim, 35, had knocked down Madam Chng Kian, 69, and left her with upper arm and wrist fractures in Ang Mo Kio in May.

He was the first cyclist to be prosecuted in court for riding on a pavement meant for pedestrians and causing injury.

When Lim pleaded guilty in the State Court last month, District Judge Lee-Khoo Poh Choo jailed him for eight weeks, ruling there was a need to deter such behaviour and comparing it to rash acts of killer litter.

The sentence also reflected the "selfish, cowardly and irresponsible manner" in which Lim failed to stay with the elderly couple until the ambulance arrived, she added.

The prosecution, in an unprecedented move, appealed, saying the jail term was excessive and disproportionate to his culpability. Also, he had pleaded guilty at the first reasonable opportunity.

Justice Chan agreed and held that culpability should be measured against the prosecution's move to charge him with the least serious of the possible offences relating to criminal rashness.

Lim's reckless act endangered personal safety and not life, which would have drawn more grave consequences, he added.

The judge said it was wrong to apply sentencing norms in cases of killer litter to this, noting that rash cycling was different in many respects, "including its environmental, social and safety impact on society as a whole".

"The fact that offences relating to killer litter and rash cycling both have a strong policy rationale that call for deterrent sentences does not mean a court can indiscriminately apply the precedents developed in one sphere to the other," Justice Chan said.

The judge added that issues of insurance coverage for the victim and compensation were matters for a civil suit, not in this criminal case. He said a third-party insurance coverage framework for cyclists is a matter for Parliament to decide and its absence should not be an aggravating factor in sentencing Lim.

The judge lauded the Attorney-General, who is also the Public Prosecutor, for appealing the case, being the first time one was lodged on the grounds that the sentence was manifestly excessive.

Noting that Lim did not have a lawyer, Justice Chan said the Public Prosecutor in bringing this appeal, " as the guardian of the public interest, has advanced the public interest by helping to ensure that offenders are appropriately punished and the correct sentencing benchmarks are also set within the overall sentencing framework".

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