Penal Code review may include new offences, stiffer sentences to protect vulnerable groups, says Law Minister

Penal Code review may include new offences, stiffer sentences to protect vulnerable groups, says Law Minister

New offences and stricter punishments may be included as a part of an ongoing review of the Penal Code, said Minister of Law, K. Shanmugam.

Speaking at an event organised by the Association of Muslim Lawyers on 13 July, Shanmugam said that the proposed amendments aim to increase protection towards groups that are often made the targets of crime and violence, such as children, domestic workers, and people with disabilities.

He cited high-profile cases involving the abuse of such persons, such as the brutal abuse of 26-year-old Annie Ee Yu Lian by her flatmates and 2-year-old Mohamad Daniel Mohamad Nasser by his mother and her live-in boyfriend in 2015.

Mr Shanmugam also raised the case of domestic worker Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, whose weight dropped from 49kg to 29.4kg after her employers had provided her with only sliced bread and instant noodles for 15 months. Consequently, her employers were sentenced to a 10-month jail term, following the prosecutors’ appeal, and are permanently barred by the Ministry of Manpower from hiring domestic helpers in the future.

He added that the Government is looking into methods to increase protection against sexually abusive and exploitative behaviour, such as child pornography and grooming. 

Citing the case of mixed martial-arts instructor Joshua Robinson, who pleaded guilty to raping two 15-year-old girls and showing an obscene video to a 6-year-old, as well as being in possession of 321 videos containing child pornography, he said that sexual offenders, particularly those who commit crimes involving minors, may be “dealt with more severely through higher penalties”.

Such crimes are “particularly heinous, and all are senseless”, said Shanmugam.

“The law is not a game… My duty is to make sure that these games are not played. So we will change the law.”

On Jan 9 this year, Shanmugam said in Parliament that members of the public will have the opportunity to submit recommendations on a review of the Penal Code.

The review will cover introducing harsher punishments for sexual offenders and new criminal offences, he said.

The review will include areas such as repealing laws that criminalise attempted suicide, as well as dropping marital immunity for rape.

The review is set to be completed this year.

Previously, a review of the Penal Code was conducted in 2007. The Parliament had considered 77 amendments and the repeal of four provisions.

A notable decision made by Parliament during the review was the decision to retain s.377A of the code, which criminalises consensual sex between two adult men.

A Penal Code Review Committee was then set up in July 2016, to undertake a review of the Penal Code, and make recommendations on reforming it.

Crossover with other fields crucial to ensure the ongoing relevance of the Penal Code, says law professor

Associate Professor of Law at the Singapore Management University, Eugene Tan said that while he does not deny the underlying importance of deterrence that acts as the rationale behind harsh sentences in criminal law, he believes that deterrence should not be used in a textbook manner, as it may not be wholly applicable to all “crimes”.

“Advancements in human psychology and psychiatry and social attitudes have gradually changed our outlook on certain crimes, such as those who attempt suicide.”

“While criminal law is, in essence, concerned with crime, the criminal justice process now has to incorporate other disciplines such as such criminology, medical science, the social sciences and urban studies.”

“They not only contribute to law and order in our society but, more importantly, inform us how we can go about doing so, while upholding the integrity and dignity of the victims of crime and rehabilitating and reintegrating the offenders,” he wrote in a commentary on TODAY Online.

He added that the advent of technological advancements has made “the criminal landscape” in the 21st century “vastly different from what it was in the 19th century”.

“Whether it is white-collar crime, sexual offences, or the peddling of deliberate falsehoods designed to cause public panic, technology is increasingly part of the criminal’s arsenal.”

“The state has an important role to play in the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences, making criminal law “public” and each of us a stakeholder,” he wrote.

Professor Tan also believes that the law should be “clear, precise, and comprehensible to the public”, and should not only be seen as the sole purview of lawyers and other legal authorities, as “criminal law is concerned with the regulation of social order and spells out the fundamental requirements for a person’s treatment of others and their property”.

He also added that the criminal law system cannot be neglected or be viewed as “less important” than other areas of law, stating that criminal laws should be revised regularly to ensure relevance and fairness, in line with the evolution of society throughout the times.

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