This Week In Court

– week of 6th March –

An elderly man with dementia appeared in court this week accompanied by his family. He required assistance to walk. He faced 4 charges, though it was not revealed during the hearing what those charges were. Court records showed that he had been remanded at IMH before for psychiatric observation.

The judge was also concerned whether he was fit to take a plea. In order to determine this, an order was made that the man be remanded for 3 weeks at the prison medical centre.

It is also unclear whether prison medical centre upholds welfare standards appropriate for those who are frail and infirm.

From what we understand, many beds at the prison medical center do not have mattresses and patients have to sleep on hard surfaces with their hands and feet held under restraints. This is especially for those who face cognitive or psychological difficulties. If he is fit to plead, it’s not clear what kind of measures will be in place to ensure his welfare is taken care of if he is eventually imprisoned. What kind of assisted care is available?

Prisoners with dementia are also vulnerable to abuse. Their erratic behaviour and inability to follow directions may annoy other prisoners and prison guards in an already tense and stressful environment. Would prison be a right environment for rehabilitating those with dementia?

A Malaysian bus driver was charged in court for agreeing to ferry a man who committed an offence across the causeway. The bus driver did so because he ‘pitied’ the man, who said he missed his family and needed to support them. The man was hidden in the engine compartment of the bus. The ICA prosecutor did not disclose how the offence came to light.

The bus driver was eventually sentenced to 6 months imprisonment. He pleaded for a lesser sentence because he did not receive any financial gains for transporting the man. He also said that his family has been adversely affected by the floods in Malaysia and they are currently staying in a shelter. His spouse also has a medical condition, though the judge did not mention what the condition was as the mitigation was submitted in writing.

In the end, the judge upheld the 6 month prison term as recommended by the prosecution because under the Immigration Act, a 6 month term is the ‘presumptive minimum’, which means that no matter how compelling an accused person’s mitigating factors are, the judge has no choice but to sentence them to minimum period prescribed by law.

Two accused persons in separate cases who appeared in court experiecned difficulty engaging a lawyer: the first case involved a woman from China who was charged for providing sex services under the guise of providing a massage. In the second case, the man had committed an offence which was immigration and customs related. In a previous hearing, they had told the duty judge that they wanted to engage a lawyer but was not able to get one by the time of the current hearing.

In the second case, the man said he wanted to apply for legal aid under the government’s public defender’s office (PDO) but we learnt that he was not eligible as the PDO excluded immigration and customs related offences. The woman would also face difficulty obtaining legal aid because it is likely that she was being charged under the Massage Establishments act and offences under this law are not covered by legal aid schemes here.

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