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Family Conferencing for Juvenile Offenders: A Singaporean Case Study in Restorative Justice

Abstract

Restorative justice has been or is being adopted in many parts of the world, including countries in Asia. In the case of Singapore, restorative justice was adopted by the court system in 1997 as its guiding philosophy in its approach towards juvenile offenders. This article traces the adoption of restorative justice by the Juvenile Court in Singapore and the use of family conferencing in the light of the principles of restorative justice. It concludes by suggesting areas where the family conferencing system in Singapore can be improved, and possible lessons for other jurisdictions considering adopting family conferencing.

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Notes

  1. Braithwaite (1999: 2) qualifies his statement that “Restorative justice has been the dominant model of criminal justice throughout most of human history for all the world’s peoples” somewhat in his later work (Braithwaite 2002: 5), where he says:

    While restorative justice may have been the dominant model of justice, it simplifies too much to say that restorative justice remained the dominant practice …. Most premodern societies sustained side-by-side restorative traditions and retributive traditions that were in many ways more brutal than modern retributivism.

  2. More recent impetus for restorative justice has come from the international arena: Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), art 40; and Basic Principles on the Use of Restorative Justice Programmes in Criminal Matters (2002).

  3. The Community Court (which deals with certain offenders such as those between 16 and 21 years old), set up on 1 June 2006, has also committed itself to the “dual principles of restorative justice and rehabilitation”: Subordinate Courts of Singapore 2006: 28. Ho (2007: 1328), who was Senior Minister of State for Law at the time, said: “The whole idea of the Community Court really is restorative justice, to take a problem-solving approach, to tap community resources. It is not just to punish but to try to solve the problem at hand.” Restorative practices have spread beyond the justice sphere to school settings where this is used in peer mediation and disciplinary offences (see Chan and Ismail 2007). Restorative practices are also used in “beyond parental control” complaints, in care and protection order cases, and in the Guidance Programme for youths-at-risk.

  4. John Braithwaite’s theory of reintegrative shaming was published in only 1989 (Braithwaite 1989); and the highly influential book by Howard Zehr was published in 1990 (Zehr 1990).

  5. “Family conferences” have recently been renamed as “juvenile case conferences” by the Children and Young Persons (Amendment) Act (2011). No explanation was given for the change in nomenclature, which could possibly be because the system practised in Singapore differs from what is practised in other countries under a similar name.

  6. Restorative justice has little role to play outside of the juvenile justice system in Singapore: Public Prosecutor v UI (2008). The Juvenile Court in Singapore deals with offenders who are below 16 years of age, but in some situations, the case could be heard by the High Court instead even if the offender is below 16 years old: Children and Young Persons Act (2001): section 33.

  7. Restorative justice has also been termed a “communitarian model” (Yong 1996a) and “transformative justice” (Ozawa 2002) in Singapore.

  8. Restorative justice has been critiqued for having, among other things, multiple and unclear goals, unspecified means to achieve the various objectives, few or no dispositional criteria, and vague standards for evaluation (Ashworth 2001; von Hirsch et al. 2003).

  9. Defined as those aged 7 years and above and under 16 years of age. Children under the age of 7 years are immune from criminal liability (Penal Code 2008: section 82). For more information, see Chan (2011).

  10. Descriptions of successful family conferences conducted in Singapore can be found in Magnus et al. (2003) pp. 63-69. Two of these conferences described were convened as a consequence of a “beyond parental control” complaint and one as a consequence of the juvenile being charged with a criminal offence.

  11. At the time of writing, US$1 is approximately S$1.24.

  12. Grievous hurt is defined by section 320 of the Penal Code (2008).

  13. The facilitators are counsellors from the Family and Juvenile Justice Centre of the Subordinate Courts. However, the possibility of the Juvenile Court Magistrate facilitating the family conference is expressly provided for in paragraph 4(3) of the Children and Young Persons (Family Conferencing) Regulations (2001). This provision should be amended.

  14. Caution must be used in drawing conclusions based on the small sample size.

  15. The fine was increased from S$1,000 by the amendments made in 2011.

  16. The procedure may be modified to suit the individual circumstances of the case if needed: Children and Young Persons (Family Conferencing) Regulations (2001): paragraph 5(5).

  17. Some of the statistics reported in the 1995 study were corrected in the 1997 study. Caution should be used in interpreting the results considering the small sample size involved.

  18. The recidivism rate is calculated on a 3-year time frame and includes juveniles placed on the Guidance Programme, probation and offences committed in juvenile homes run by the Government.

  19. “HEAL” stands for Healing, Empowering And Linking. “Project HEAL” commenced in early 2003, in conjunction with the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports: Subordinate Courts of Singapore 2004.

  20. The proximate variables include factors such as the juvenile offender’s level of remorse and behaviour in court; parental willingness to supervise him or her; and the Probation Officer’s confidence in working with him or her. Other factors considered are the offence type; the juvenile’s risk of recidivism such as a history of past offences, defiant or aggressive personality, parents’ marital status and parenting styles; and any diagnosis of mental disorder.

  21. Adolescence-limited offenders are those whose errant behavior is a passing phase that will eventually diminish with maturity, while life-course persistent offenders are those with chronic, persistent criminality: see Moffitt 1993; Nagin et al. 1995. One local study has found four factors to be significant predictors of adolescent recidivism: father’s criminality, history of running away from home, history of aggression, and age at first criminal offence (Ang and Huan 2008).

  22. 33% of 1995 sample and 23% of 1997 sample: see Table 2.

  23. 4% of 1995 sample and 3% of 1997 sample: see Table 2

  24. 6% of 1995 sample and 3% of 1997 sample: see Table 2.

  25. 18% of 1995 sample and 35% of 1997 sample: see Table 4.

  26. 3% of 1995 sample and 3% of 1997 sample: see Table 4.

  27. 5% of 1995 sample and 3% of 1997 sample: see Table 4.

  28. This legislative instruction existed from the founding of the Juvenile Court in 1949 in section 42 of the Children and Young Persons Ordinance (1949).

  29. This view is also shared by the various Juvenile Court Magistrates, who do not see any inconsistency between the two approaches: Public Prosecutor v WQ (a minor) (2008); Public Prosecutor v Y (a minor) (2003); Public Prosecutor v AN (2004); Pereira Denise Esther v Public Prosecutor (2001). The restorative approach has even been used to allow for a more severe sentence than would be justified under the welfare approach: Public Prosecutor v WQ (a minor) (2008) (4 months’ detention at the Singapore Girls’ Home was imposed to be “commensurate with the nature of the offence”).

  30. Public Prosecutor v Y (a minor) (2003); Public Prosecutor v AN (2004); Pereira Denise Esther v Public Prosecutor (2001).

  31. For a thought provoking essay on the spread of victim policies and whether these can be “transplanted” across jurisdictions, see Sebba 2008.

  32. See also Lu 1999; Wong 1999.

  33. One study of a sample Chinese population of delinquents and non-delinquents has found evidence that negative shaming can encourage and continue delinquency while “the values of forgiveness, interpersonal harmony and family values” can prevent recidivism (Wong 2001: 114).

  34. The Chinese comprised 74.1% of the Singapore population in 2011. Other ethnicities comprised Malays (13.4%), Indians (9.2%) and Others (3.3%): Singapore Department of Statistics 2011.On the other hand, it has been pointed out that the traditional emphasis of Chinese culture on harmony between persons makes restorative justice ideally suited to the Chinese, see van Wormer 2008; Wong 2008 and Lee 2008.

  35. In a survey of those who had commercial disputes resolved through mediation, it was found that (Boulle and Teh 2000: 300):

    Singapore disputants look to their mediators for more guidance during the mediation process and support the argument that the Singapore culture requires mediators to be more than facilitators and process managers. Overall satisfaction may therefore be related to mediators assuming a more interventionist role.

    Compare with Lee and Teh (2009) who are more nuanced in their approach in arguing that the Western model of interest based mediation can be successfully applied in a culturally sensitive way.

  36. A survey carried out in 1999 to assess the level of confidence of the community towards the Subordinate Courts in the administration of justice found that 86% of the respondents (made up of lawyers, educationists, social service personnel and community groups) opined that “the Juvenile Justice model has met their expectations in restoring the juvenile”: Subordinate Courts of Singapore (1999). However, it is not stated if and how the Juvenile Justice’s restorative justice model was explained to the respondents and what restoring the juvenile means.

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Legislation and Treaties

  •  

Singapore

  • Children and Young Persons (Amendment) Act. (2011). Act No. 3 of 2011.

  • Children and Young Persons (Family Conferencing) Regulations. (2001).

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The Philippines

  •  

  • Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act. (2006). Republic Act No. 9344.

United Nations

  •  

  • Basic Principles on the Use of Restorative Justice Programmes in Criminal Matters. (2002). E/2002/INF/2/Add.2

  • Convention on the Rights of the Child. (1989). A/RES/44/25.

Cases

  •  

  • Pereira Denise Esther v Public Prosecutor. (2001). Singapore Magistrate’s Court, 25.

  • Public Prosecutor v AN. (2004). Singapore Juvenile Court, 1.

  • Public Prosecutor v UI. (2008). Singapore Law Reports (Reprint), 4, 500.

  • Public Prosecutor v WQ (a minor). (2008). Singapore Juvenile Court, 4.

  • Public Prosecutor v Y (a minor). (2003). Singapore Magistrate’s Court, 3.

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Chan, WC. Family Conferencing for Juvenile Offenders: A Singaporean Case Study in Restorative Justice. Asian Criminology 8, 1–23 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11417-011-9122-y

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Keywords

  • Restorative justice
  • Family conferencing
  • Juvenile offender
  • Singapore
  • Asia