Following recommendations from the Penal Code Review Committee (PCRC) which completed its two year exercise to review the laws and propos reforms, the Penal Code in Singapore is getting a much needed refresh. The Criminal Law Reform Bill was given its first reading in parliament on Monday (11 Feb).

The committee was co-chaired by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and Education, and Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health.

The proposals were then published online and engagement sessions held to get feedback from more than 700 stakeholders from the legal, social, religious, financial and education sectors, according to a joint press release by the ministries of Home Affairs and Law on Monday.

Among the major changes proposed in the bill is enhanced protection for vulnerable adults and young children, the repeal of marital immunity for rape, the expansion of definition of rape, and tackling emerging crimes. The bill also proposed decriminalising attempted suicides.

According to a joint press release by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law, the Government has considered the recommendations and feedback and agree with most of them.

Decriminalising attempted suicide

One of the recommendations that the Government is taking up is the decriminalisation of attempted suicide. The statement said that most of the respondents to the recommendations agreed that persons who attempt suicide should be provided with help rather than penalised. There were a minority, however, that felt decriminalising attempted suicide would be “contrary to the societal view that life is precious.”

That said, the government clarified that the repeal of attempted suicide ‘doesn’t not mean that the government has shifted its position on the sanctity of life’. As such, the abetment of attempted suicide remains a crime under the law. There will also be amendments to other legislation to provide the police with the power to intervene to prevent loss of life or injury in cases of attempted suicide.

This is a big change for Singapore, and a good one too. Section 309 of the Penal Code criminalises attempted suicide and those found guilty can be fined, jailed up to a year or both. Though people are rarely charged under this law, the fact that it is a crime still affects how cases of attempted suicides or apparent attempted suicides are handled.

In the case of foreign domestic workers as well, this change is welcome. In a case study presented by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) in their report on forced labour in the domestic work sector in Singapore, a domestic worker who was being abused and working in conditions of forced labour was investigated for attempted suicide following an escape attempt gone wrong.

The worker in question fell out of a window when she was trying to escape but the authorities refused to believe that she wasn’t actually trying to end her own life. And instead of looking into her abusive work situation, they deflected by investigating her under this law. Rosa was also handcuffed to the hospital bed while receiving treatment for her injuries.

Hopefully with this reform, the government will also consider training first responders such as paramedics, the police, and fire fighters how to deal with individuals who are attempting suicide and to better differentiate between someone who is actually attempting to take their own lives and someone trying desperately to escape an awful situation.

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