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Court held that accused did not abuse court process in PP v Koh Tung Boon, Leonard

Our client faces numerous charges. He was convicted in 2018 but subsequently, he decided to retract his plea of guilt. The Prosecution objected vehemently to our client's application to reject his plea, primarily on the ground that such a retraction amounts to an abuse of court process. We argued that an accused should be allowed to retract his plea of guilt at any time before he was sentenced.

Diana Ho DJ, after hearing both written and oral submissions from the Prosecution and the Defence, held that as our client has qualified his mitigation plea, the court would have to reject his plea under section 228(4) of the CPC. The learned Judge also held that the Prosecution has failed to persuade the court that our client has abused the court's process. Accordingly, our client's application to retract his plea was allowed.

In Public Prosecutor v Dinesh s/o Rajantheran [2019] SGCA 27, the Chief Justice answered the two questions (which were reformulated by the Court of Appeal) raised by the Prosecution as follows:-

a) Does section 228(4) of the Criminal Procedure Code ("CPC") apply to a case where an accused person seeks to qualify his plea of guilt, at the mitigation stage of sentencing, to such an extent that it amounts to a retraction of his plea of guilt?

Answer by Menon CJ: Yes, it does, save where the court is satisfied that the conduct of the accused person amounts to an abuse of the process of the court.

b) Must an accused person seeking to qualify his plea of guilt in the manner aforesaid, at the mitigation stage of sentencing, satisfy the court that he has valid and sufficient grounds for doing so, before the court may reject his plea of guilt?

Answer by Menon CJ: No, because it is sufficient that the mitigation plea materially affects a legal condition of the offence.

Menon CJ disagreed with the Prosecution's position that section 228(4) of the CPC does not compel the court to reject a plea that has been materially qualified in mitigation unless the accused person is able to demonstrate valid and sufficient reasons for a retraction of his plea. Rather, Menon CJ held that where an accused person asserts facts in mitigation, which do qualify his guilty plea in the sense that these undermine a legal condition which constitutes a material element or ingredient of the offence, the court, at least as a general rule, is bound to set aside the earlier guilty plea. However, if a court is satisfied that an accused person's conduct amounts to an abuse of process, it is not compelled to reject a qualified plea notwithstanding s 228(4). Whether or not the accused person's conduct amounts to an abuse of process would necessarily be a fact-sensitive inquiry.

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