Justice officials are considering whether to take the cases of five shoplifters given an absolute discharge by a magistrate to the Court of Appeal. Magistrate Peter White on Thursday refused the Department of Justice's application to review the sentences imposed on the five defendants, who had pleaded guilty. A department spokeswoman said Mr White's sentencing had caused concern and the matter may be taken to a higher court to clarify sentencing guidelines. She said statistics for 2000 showed that of 3,357 shoplifting cases, 1,755 - or 52 per cent - were dealt with by fines and 493 - 14 per cent - with jail terms. 'Only 46 cases were disposed of by way of absolute discharge, and 35 of the 46 were heard by Mr White,' said spokeswoman Yvonne Ng. Mr White on Thursday refused the Secretary for Justice's request for an increase in the penalty on the five defendants - Tse Sheung-kai, Ho Yui-sing, Wong Ngong-shan, Ng Po-ping and Cheung Mar-luk. They had each pleaded guilty on January 9 before Mr White at Western Court to one charge of theft. He said previous cases involving 11 defendants, which were heard between December and January 8 - including the much publicised case of senior housing official Poon Kai-tik, who was accused of theft and common assault - served as examples of first offenders who committed shoplifting and were let off by the prosecution. 'These [five] defendants are entitled to believe what was given to those 11 defendants would also be given to them,' Mr White said. Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecution Peter Chapman argued the magistrate's decision would send a message to the public that such offences would not be treated seriously. He said the magistrate had put undue emphasis on the rehabilitation of the defendants but too little on deterrence. Mr Chapman said the department did not have a policy on which cases should be bound over as the decision had to be made on a case-by-case basis. He said the department would reflect on the ruling before deciding whether to take the matter to appeal. Mr White had suggested the prosecution consider binding over the defendants in view of the triviality of the cases and their previous clear records, but that was refused by prosecutors.