An appeals court in Australia turned down a prosecutor's appeal for a jail term against Singaporean naval officer Benedict Ang, who had been let off a charge of indecent conduct in return for good behaviour.
The three-judge court in decision grounds released on Tuesday found no merit in the prosecution's claim that the trial judge had not considered the seriousness of the offence and the vulnerable state of the victim.
Ang, 22, had been found guilty after a jury trial in Canberra last year of forcibly kissing a fellow female cadet in an Australian military academy. The offence was committed in the victim's room in the early hours of the morning.
The court had taken into account Ang's past good character and his age in relation to his rehabilitation prospects and declined to record a conviction against him. Instead, the judge bound him to 18 months of good behaviour.
The judge noted the trial had "besmirched" Ang's reputation and shamed him. He had been kicked out of the military academy and suspended on half-pay by the Republic of Singapore Navy.
Counsel for the Australian state's director of public prosecutions argued that the sentence was "manifestly inadequate" given the aggravating circumstances of the offence, the need to deter others and recognise the harm done to the victim. The maximum penalty for the offence is seven years' jail.
Among other things, the prosecutor urged the appeals court to take notice that the offence had occurred in a closed environment in which "it is so difficult for victims to come forward" and given this was a place where "secrecy and camaraderie are hallmarks of the environment as they need to be".
But the Canberra-based appeals court said these arguments were not raised at the trial and and an appeal was not a place to re-hear the case.
The court said it was not convinced that the trial judge's failure to convict Ang made the sentence "so lenient that it must be found to be manifestly inadequate".
Acknowledging, however, that Ang did get off lightly, the court quoted a 1982 Australian case, saying: "There must always be a place for the exercise of mercy where a judge's sympathies are reasonably excited by the circumstances of the case.
"This is, of course, constrained by the requirement that a sentence is not manifestly inadequate."
Contacted yesterday, a Defence Ministry spokesman said that internal disciplinary proceedings have been convened and the "appropriate disciplinary actions will be taken against Lieutenant Benedict Ang. The Singapore Armed Forces takes a serious view of the conduct of its servicemen".
This article was first published on June 6, 2014.
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