Koh Thian Huat v Public Prosecutor

JudgeYong Pung How CJ
Judgment Date30 May 2002
Neutral Citation[2002] SGHC 120
Citation[2002] SGHC 120
Date30 May 2002
Published date19 September 2003
Plaintiff CounselIrving Choh Thian Chee (CTLC Law Corp)
Docket NumberCriminal Revision No 8 of 2002 Magistrate's Appeal No 54 of 2002
Defendant CounselBala Reddy and Hwong Meng Jet (Deputy Public Prosecutors)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)



The petitioner, Koh Thian Huat, pleaded guilty in the district court to a charge of theft under s 380 of the Penal Code (Cap 224). Subsequently, he sought to retract his plea but this was disallowed by the trial judge. The petitioner then sought a criminal revision.

The background facts

2 The statement of facts ("SOF") revealed that on 8 January 2002, the petitioner was alone at Seiyu Department Store ("Seiyu") located in Parco Bugis Junction, Victoria Street. An in-house detective observed the appellant taking a necklace from a display shelf and placing it into the front pocket of his jeans. He was then seen moving to another display shelf where he took another necklace which he held in his left hand. Thereafter, the petitioner left Seiyu without paying. The petitioner was apprehended and the necklaces were recovered. They were subsequently identified as "Shiro" necklaces priced at $38.80 and $79.98.

3 On 1 February 2002, the petitioner appeared in person before a district judge ("the judge"). The charge under s 380 of the Penal Code was duly read and explained to him in Mandarin. The petitioner pleaded guilty and admitted to the entire SOF without qualification. He was accordingly convicted. Following his request, the court deferred sentencing until after the Chinese New Year holidays.

4 On 15 February 2002, the petitioner appeared again before the court and indicated that he wished to retract his guilty plea. He explained that at the time of the offence, he did not have an intention to steal and that he now wished to engage counsel. When queried by the judge that he seemed to have understood the nature and consequences of his plea perfectly, the petitioner simply reiterated that he had forgotten to pay and alleged that, at the first hearing, he was stopped from communicating this to the court by the interpreter.

5 After hearing his arguments, the judge refused to grant him leave to retract his plea. In the light of his antecedents, a pre-sentence report was called in order to determine the petitioners suitability for corrective training. Bail was extended.

6 On 8 March 2002, the petitioner appeared with counsel who informed the court that the petitioner was adamant about retracting his plea. Leave was again refused and the judge proceeded to sentencing. After considering his pre-sentence report and taking cognisance of his antecedents, the petitioner was sentenced to a term of seven years corrective training.

Decision of the judge


7 Giving his reasons in a written judgment, the judge noted that his discretion to allow the petitioner to withdraw a plea of guilt existed so long as the court was not functus officio : Ganesun s/o Kannan v PP [1996] 3 SLR 56. Nevertheless, this discretion had to be exercised judicially and for valid reasons, and an accused should not be permitted merely at whim to change his plea. In any case, pleas of guilt by unrepresented persons should not be more easily vitiated, even if they were ignorant of some possible defence (Packir Malim v PP [1997] 3 SLR 429).

8 The judge noted that, when the charge was first read to the petitioner, he appeared to understand the proceedings without any difficulty. The entire SOF was admitted without qualification. In the premises, the judge ruled that the petitioner should be bound by his earlier plea of guilt, which he held to be valid, unequivocal and entirely voluntary. He was of the view that to allow the petitioner to retract his plea in such circumstances would be to "sanction a flagrant abuse of the courts process".


9 The judge took cognisance of the petitioners string of previous convictions. He noted that as of the date of the current conviction, the petitioner had been convicted on six occasions for ten separate offences (not including the offence of robbery with hurt in 1988 when he was put on probation). Between 1992 and 1997, he had been sentenced to a total of six years and five months imprisonment. Further, he was sent for a further 18 months in a Reformative Training Centre ("RTC") in 1989. Assuming that he was granted remission for all his sentences and including the detention at the RTC, the petitioner would have been incarcerated for at least five and a half years in the last twelve years.

10 The judge noted that the only factor that was remotely in his favour was that he had managed to stay out of trouble with the law in the last two years. Noting that the pre-sentence report had also recommended that he was suitable for corrective training, the judge sentenced the petitioner to a term of seven years corrective training.

The criminal revision

11 It is trite law that the revisionary powers of the High Court must be exercised judiciously. In Ang Poh Chuan v PP [1996] 1 SLR 326, it was stated at 330:

Thus various phrases may be used to identify the circumstances which would attract the exercise of the revisionary jurisdiction, but they all share the common denominator that there must be some serious injustice. Of course there cannot be a precise definition of what would constitute such serious injustice for that would in any event unduly circumscribe what must be a wide discretion vested in the court, the exercise of which would depend largely on the particular facts. But generally it must be shown that there is something palpably wrong in the decision that strikes at its basis as an exercise of judicial power by the court below.

12 Before the court will be minded to invoke its revisionary jurisdiction, it must first be satisfied that some "serious injustice" has resulted or would result if it does not intervene. This has been the test consistently applied by the courts over the years.

13 Increasingly, however, convicted persons who have pleaded guilty at the lower courts allude to these powers to challenge the correctness of their convictions.

14 Section 244 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68) ("CPC") states:

When an accused person has pleaded guilty and been convicted by a District Court or Magistrates Court on that plea there shall be no appeal except as to the extent or legality of the sentence.

15 The legislatures intent to provide for the finality of the proceedings was encapsulated in that provision. In Teo Hee Heng v PP [2000] 3 SLR 168, 172, the court said:

It is certainly not the purpose of a criminal revision to become a convenient form of "backdoor appeal" against conviction for accused person who had pleaded guilty to their charges.

16 In my opinion, the finality of a conviction following a guilty plea has been put into doubt by these frequent applications for revision. The powers of revision are not meant to cater to the whims of convicted persons who decide at a later stage to change their plea. Ultimately, the High Courts revisionary powers are to facilitate its supervisory and superintending jurisdiction over criminal proceedings before a subordinate court so as to correct, if necessary, a miscarriage of justice arising from the correctness,...

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23 cases
  • Annis bin Abdullah v Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 5 March 2004
    ...of justice arising from the correctness, legality or propriety of any finding, sentence or order recorded or passed: Koh Thian Huat v PP [2002] 3 SLR 28 at 28 I was therefore of the view that the present circumstances clearly justified the exercise of the High Court’s revisionary powers and......
  • Shan Kai Weng v Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 6 November 2003
    ...laid down in Ganesun s/o Kannan v PP [1996] 3 SLR 560, and followed in Rajeevan Edakalavan v PP [1998] 1 SLR 815 and Koh Thian Huat v PP [2002] 3 SLR 28. As such, the following safeguards must be observed before a plea of guilt can be deemed valid and unequivocal. First, the court must ensu......
  • Chu Wai Kiu v Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 14 February 2005
    ...had occasioned a clear failure of justice. Needless to say, this is a high threshold to fulfil. 35 I also held in Koh Thian Huat v PP [2002] 3 SLR 28 at [16] that the High Court’s revisionary powers existed to facilitate its supervisory and superintending jurisdiction over criminal proceedi......
  • Sun Hongyu v Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 13 April 2005
    ...the petitioner could not now challenge her unqualified admission to the SOF and dispute the facts therein: Koh Thian Huat v PP [2002] 3 SLR 28 at [21], PP v Oh Hu Sung [2003] 4 SLR 541. Knowledge of ICA 17 The petitioner submitted that ICA knew that the names Sun Hongyu and Sun Qiaoman both......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2020, December 2020
    • 1 December 2020
    ...at [12]. 13 See, for example, Ganesun s/o Kannan v Public Prosecutor [1996] 3 SLR(R) 125 at [12]; Koh Thian Huat v Public Prosecutor [2002] 2 SLR(R) 113 at [7]; and Thong Sing Hock v Public Prosecutor [2009] 3 SLR(R) 47 at [24]. 14 Thong Sing Hock v Public Prosecutor [2009] 3 SLR(R) 47 at [......

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