Public Prosecutor v GFM (a minor)

JudgeAmy Tung
Judgment Date30 March 2023
Neutral Citation[2023] SGYC 4
CourtYouth Court (Singapore)
Docket NumberCase No. 900064 of 2022
Hearing Date21 February 2023,28 February 2023,18 January 2023
Citation[2023] SGYC 4
Plaintiff CounselDSP Zetty Sabrina Binte Ismail
Defendant CounselRanjit Singh (Francis Khoo & Lim),Thomas Toh (Yik Koh Teo LLC)
Subject MatterCriminal Procedure,Appropriate order(s) after the finding of guilt,Youthful offenders,Children and Young Persons Act
Published date06 April 2023
District Judge Amy Tung:

The youth before me, Ella (not her real name) is a female teenager aged 14 years old. She pleaded guilty to the following charges: one (1) charge of theft in dwelling (section 380 of the Penal Code); two (2) charges of cheating with common intention (section 420 read with section 34 of the Penal Code); and one (1) charge of being a member of an unlawful assembly with the common object to voluntarily cause hurt (section 143 of the Penal Code).

For the purposes of determining the outcome in this case, five (5) other charges for cheating with common intention (section 420 read with section 34 of the Penal Code) were to be taken into consideration with Ella’s consent.

After considering the investigating probation officer’s report i.e. the probation suitability report or “PSR”, and hearing the submissions of counsel for Ella and the Father1, I ordered for Ella to be sent to a juvenile rehabilitation centre, namely the Singapore Girls’ Home (“SGH”) for 21 months under section 49(1)(i) of the Children and Young Persons Act (“CYPA”) (the “JRC Order for 21 months”).

The Father has filed an appeal against the decision on behalf of Ella. I now give the reasons in full for my decision.

The salient facts of the offences

The charge of theft in dwelling: On 26 January 2022, Ella took one XLash Eyelash Serum (3 ml) and two XLash Pro Eyelash Serum (6 ml) from the shelves of a Watson outlet and placed them into the bag of her friend, who was with her and unaware of her actions. After they left the outlet, Ella retrieved the stolen items (with a total value of $379.70) from her friend’s bag.

The charges of cheating with common intention: Ella and another co-accused person had agreed on using the e-Commerce platform, Carousell to carry out scams in order to earn quick cash. They listed electronic lifestyle devices such as the Nintendo Switch Lite and the Nintendo Switch games for sale on Carousell, although they did not possess such items.

On 19 February 2022, the victim, [S] transferred a sum of $146 through a PayNow QR code provided by Ella for a Nintendo Switch Lite and a Nintendo Switch Game. After the payment was made, Ella was uncontactable, and the items were not delivered to [S]. The sum of $146 received from [S] was shared between Ella and the co-accused.

Sometime between 19 and 20 February 2022, another victim, [B] transferred a sum of $102 via “Paylah” to a contact number provided by Ella for a Nintendo Switch Lite. After the payment was made, [B] discovered that the item was not marked as “SOLD” or “RESERVED”. He tried to contact Ella but there was no further response from her. The item was not delivered to [B]. The sum of $102 received from [B] was shared between Ella and the co-accused.

The charge of being a member of an unlawful assembly with the common object to voluntarily cause hurt: On 23 August 2022, Ella and five other co-accused persons had met the victim, [M] at the incident location arranged by the first co-accused to settle an argument with [M]. At the incident location, the first co-accused punched [M]’s face and body several times with a knuckle duster. [M] fell to the ground due to the punches and was in a state of confusion. The second co-accused kicked [M], who was lying on the floor. The fifth co-accused uttered to the victim, “Uncle, don’t mess with us.”

History of intervention for the youth

Prior to being first charged on 24 August 2022 and even after the criminal proceedings had commenced, there had been a series of intervention for Ella, which should be pertinently set out.

On 24 February 2022, Ella’s parents contacted the Singapore Children’s Society to access the pre-Family Guidance Order (“pre-FGO”) regime in view of Ella’s challenging behaviours. Through the screening conducted by the Singapore Children’s Society, it was identified that Ella presented with risky behaviours such as association with negative peers, underaged smoking, vaping, alcohol consumption, sexualised behaviours, coming home late at nights and staying away from home. It was also noted that the parents presented with inconsistent parenting styles.

In view of the concerns, Ella and her family were referred to a separate social service agency for the Functional Family Therapy (FFT) and case management. Ella defaulted on three (3) of the family sessions without valid reasons. Attempts to schedule individual sessions with Ella were usually unsuccessful. While counsellors attempted to work with Ella on her academic plans, engagement in unconstructive activities and continued association with negative peers, she expressed little concern and prioritised having fun. She continued to have late nights and stayed away from home up to a week at times. She also lied about her whereabouts on multiple occasions. Communication and co-parenting skills were taught to Ella’s parents, but the progress was hindered primarily due to the on-going contention and acrimony between them.

In view of the escalating safety concerns, the parents were advised to file an application for a FGO at the Youth Court. Despite agreeing to do so, the Father decided not to proceed as Ella promised him that she would attend school. There was a subsequent progress plan laid out for Ella to assess if there should be mandatory intervention. Ella did not, however, abide with the conditions of returning to school and keeping to her curfew hours. There were also additional concerns over Ella’s moral risk as she was noted to have posted on her social media platform about looking for a ‘sugar daddy’ and revealed love bites on herself.

The FFT counsellor, Ms [T] concluded that the family’s progress was largely limited by the ongoing conflictual tension between the parents, their inability to collaborate with each other and Ella’s persistent misbehaviours with external peers. In view of Ella being remanded and the on-going criminal proceedings, pre-FGO intervention was terminated on 17 October 2022.

It was reported that Ella was referred to the Child Protective Service (“CPS”) six (6) times in 2022 for concerns over alleged dating violence by her ex-boyfriend and her at-risk behaviours. On 18 November 2022, Ella was again referred to CPS due to concerns over her at-risk behaviours and harsh physical punishment by the Father. On 16 November 2022, the Father was captured on the home’s CCTV pulling Ella’s hair, kicking her stomach twice, slapping her face, throwing a cushion and hurling vulgarities at her. Following this, the Mother applied for a personal protection order and a domestic exclusion order for Ella, and the proceedings are on-going.

CPS noted that Ella’s parents had difficulties in exercising proper supervision and control over her. Their ability to manage her was inhibited by their acrimonious relationship and conflicting parenting styles, which often triangulated Ella. While the Mother was receptive to the professionals’ advice and attempted to impose routine and discipline, the Father vacillated between harsh and permissive parenting styles.

During CPS’ investigations, Ella was missing from home, evasive and frequently ignored attempts to contact her. CPS assessed that Ella would benefit from being placed in a structured environment, namely SGH, for her own safety and invoked a Protector’s Order on 21 November 2022 for Ella’s admission to SGH. This was during the period when Ella was on court bail. On 23 November 2022, CPS filed a complaint with the Youth Court and an interim order for her placement at SGH was granted. This interim order lapsed on 13 January 2023. Although the parents objected to CPS’ withdrawal of the application for a care and protection order, they subsequently agreed to the withdrawal and the application was so withdrawn by CPS on 8 February 2023. CPS’s withdrawal of the application was premised on Ella being already remanded at SGH, thus addressing their safety concerns over her.

Procedural history in the criminal proceedings

After Ella was charged on 24 August 2022, the Mother posted bail for her but discharged herself as a bailor less than a month later, on 21 September 2022. The Mother had found 50 canisters of butane gas in Ella’s room on 7 September 2022. During the period while she was on bail, Ella continued to breach the bail conditions by staying out late or away from home. She also frequently consumed alcohol. The Mother thus believed that it was safer for Ella to be at SGH. However, the Father then posted bail for Ella. For the following period, Ella continued to hang out with negative peers and the Mother found more canisters of butane gas in her room. At the mention on 12 October 2022, the Court revoked the bail and Ella was remanded at SGH.

At the subsequent mention on 7 November 2022, although the prosecution submitted that there should be no bail for Ella, the Court was prepared to give another chance to her but increased the bail quantum from $10,000 to $15,000 in one surety and imposed stricter curfew hours. The Court also warned Ella to comply with the conditions of bail.

However, Ella did not comply with the conditions of bail. Once again, there were breaches of curfew hours, and a missing person report was even filed in this period following the second grant of bail (as Ella did not return home). Given the breaches, the Court revoked the bail on 15 December 2022. Ella was already placed at SGH by this time under the interim order obtained by CPS on 23 November 2022.

Positions of the Parties on the Appropriate Order Prosecution

The prosecution made no submissions and appeared content to go with the recommendation of a JRC Order for 21 months in the PSR. The investigating probation officer (“PO”) has assessed that probation is not a suitable option for Ella and identified the following risk factors: Ella’s offences demonstrated her poor consequential thinking, risk-taking tendencies and anti-social...

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