Enhanced Sentencing Regime for Serious Sexual & Violent Criminals

Man in jail cell

On 10 January 2024, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Law tabled the Criminal Procedure (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, which sought to introduce a number of proposals to update the existing criminal procedure laws and regulations.

Among these proposals was the introduction of a new sentencing regime, the Sentence for Enhanced Public Protection (SEPP), which is targeted at serious sexual and violent criminals. Notably, with amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) being a core component of the bill.

In this article, we delve into the introduction of the SEPP to understand the significance and implications of the sentencing within the broader context of justice reforms. It will cover:

What Exactly is the Sentence for Enhanced Public Protection (SEPP)?

This novel sentencing option introduced under the CPC marks a significant departure from conventional sentencing practices. With the aim of addressing concerns around dangerous offenders convicted of serious violent or sexual crimes, the SEPP is specifically tailored for individuals deemed extremely dangerous by the courts. These include individuals who have committed severe offences such as culpable homicide, attempted murder, rape and sexual penetration of a minor.

Essentially, these convicted offenders have the possibility of extended detention beyond their prescribed sentences. Thereby, continuing to serve beyond their sentences, they will only be released when they are no longer deemed a public risk. In comparison, under the conventional sentencing models, offenders are typically released after serving their designated terms.

This approach acknowledges the heightened risk these individuals present to society due to the nature of their offences. Hence, in determining whether SEPP is appropriate, the court will consider risk assessments (see below). Crucially, offenders eligible to be taken into consideration for SEPP must be at least 21 years old at the time of the offence. The SEPP is also open to repeat offenders and first-time offenders who meet the criteria.

A Glimpse into How the Sentence for Enhanced Public Protection (SEPP) Works

a glimpse into how the SEPP works

1) Standard criminal justice procedure 

Before the SEPP  process comes into play, the offender must first go through the standard criminal justice process. This includes being charged with a crime and either pleading guilty or going to trial.

Only after the offender has been convicted does the SEPP come into consideration at the sentencing stage. At this point, the court will assess whether the SEPP should be imposed based on the offender’s potential threat to public safety.

2) Initial sentencing under the SEPP

In determining whether the SEPP should be imposed, the court’s decision hinges on three aspects of careful evaluation:

  1. The offender’s criminal history: the consideration of whether the offender has a history of multiple violent assaults or offences which would suggest a heightened propensity for future dangerous behaviour
  2. The nature of the offence: if the offender is convicted of a particularly brutal crime such as aggravated rape or premediated attempted murder
  3. The risk posed: upon psychological evaluations and risk assessment reports by the Institute of Mental Health and other experts, the court might determine that the offender poses an unacceptable risk to potential victims, which could include specific individuals, vulnerable groups, or the general public. If assessments indicate that the offender exhibits a high likelihood of reoffending violently, the need for SEPP is justified.

Should SEPP be deemed appropriate, a sentence ranging from a minimum period of 5 to 20 years – with the possibility of life imprisonment – will be ordered by the court.

Once the minimum jail term sentence stipulated under SEPP is completed, individual cases consequently undergo rigorous and strict scrutiny by the MHA. Unfolding the review process further, it involves a comprehensive battery of psychological or psychiatric assessments to ascertain suitability for release. The MHA is not alone in this review process. Accompanied by a Detention Review Board comprising experts and professionals from a vast and diverse selection of fields (including but not limited to retired judges, lawyers, psychiatrists and psychologists), a decision as to whether to release the accused or explore other options is suitable is then made.

3) Offender representation

What about the voice of the offender in this labyrinth of review? During the review process, SEPP provides a platform for representation. When the time comes, offenders can plead their case for release. This promotes procedural fairness and gives offenders the opportunity to present arguments to demonstrate their potential for rehabilitation and reintegration.

4) Outcomes

  1. Conditional release: If deemed suitable for release, offenders may be granted the opportunity to be released under strict conditions. These conditions take the form of electronic monitoring, curfews, and active voluntary participation in counselling. The conditions for release are periodically evaluated, with the possibility of complete discharge if the offender shows consistent progress in rehabilitation.
  2. Detention assessment: If assessed and deemed unsuitable for release, they then face an indefinite period of detention. Following this, their case will be annually reviewed, where the offender’s progress and rehabilitation are monitored.

5) Appeal against detention

Under the latter scenario, even where the minimum sentence under SEPP is completed, the offender still has the right to appeal. This allows them the opportunity to challenge the assessment regarding their release status.

The appeal involves submitting a formal appeal to the higher court, making arguments and producing evidence supporting the offender’s case for release. Evidence of rehabilitation efforts may be relevant. Once the court has reviewed all relevant evidence presented by both parties, a determination will be made based on the merits of the case and applicable legal standards.

If you have questions about the criteria for SEPP, the rigorous review process conducted by a panel, review outcomes or the appeal regime, please contact a criminal lawyer who can provide legal advice and assistance to your specific situation.