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Lawyers puzzled why AG didn’t want to prosecute NUS peeping tom

In a media report yesterday (22 Apr), several lawyers interviewed were puzzled why the recent peeping tom caught at National University of Singapore was not prosecuted by the Attorney-General.

For the background, Ms Monica Baey, who is an undergraduate student from the National University of Singapore (NUS) took to her Instagram account on 18 April to call out the school for trying to protect the man who had filmed her in the shower.

According to her, Ms Baey had been filmed in the shower by a male student, Nicholas Lim, back in Nov 2018. She made a police report immediately following the incident and the perpetrator was identified, along with CCTV and video evidence of him committing the act.

Unfortunately, following an investigation, the man in question was said to be only slapped with a 12-month conditional warning. She added that he will only be punished if he re-offends in the next 12 months.

Ms Baey furiously pointed out that this isn’t the first incident of its kind to happen at NUS, noting that many other women have fallen victim to being filmed in the shower.

When Ms Baey tried to appeal for a heavier sentence with the police, she was told by the investigation officer that that we should have to ‘just accept the outcome’. She added that the officer then said, “If you want real consequences or more action to be taken, go to NUS and push for action”.

Ms Baey said she did approached NUS to push for a stronger punishment from the school but the only thing they did was to forward her a letter of apology from the perpetrator.

Uncommon for first-time offender to be let off with just a warning

Criminal lawyers said the decision to give the young man who filmed a female undergraduate in the shower a conditional warning appears unusual, given that perpetrators in previous cases had been charged by the Attorney-General. A conditional warning will not show up on a person’s records. They noted that it is uncommon for even a first-time offender to be let off with just a warning for a sexual voyeurism offence.

Mr Josephus Tan from Invictus Law Corporation, said, “A first-time offender for Section 509 Penal Code offence should generally be looking at a sentence of two to four weeks in jail per charge. This NUS case seems unusual as he was let off with a conditional stern warning without going through the judicial process at the first instance.”

“Regardless of the sentence to be imposed, it would be appropriate for the offender in this case to be dealt with by our courts and a conditional stern warning could then be contemplated by the prosecution thereafter based on mitigating factors,” Mr Tan added. “A conditional stern warning is seen as a slap on the wrist in our criminal justice system.”

Ms Diana Ngiam, associate director of Quahe Woo & Palmer LLC, noted that in recent times, even first-time offenders are usually charged for similar acts of filming upskirt videos.

Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam said, “They (AGC) do not have to provide an explanation for their decision. Unlike other jurisdictions, they do not publish guidelines as to how they exercise their discretion.”

The lawyers pointed out the Attorney-General’s Chambers has full discretion to decide who to charge and what to charge the person with. But they also said that there could be mitigating factors why the Attorney-General had decided not to prosecute in the NUS case. Nevertheless, the AGC does not need to explain itself.

Given 12-months conditional warning because student has a high likelihood of rehabilitation and remorseful

The Singapore Police Force said in a statement on Tuesday (Apr 23) that the male student in question, was given a 12-month conditional warning because he had been assessed to have a high likelihood of rehabilitation and was remorseful,

They added that there were additional factors relating to his conduct that were relevant, such as the absence of other obscene materials in any of his devices.

“Police and AGC (Attorney-General’s Chambers) understand public concerns, on ensuring that our laws and enforcement provide sufficient protection for potential victims and sufficient deterrence against would-be offenders. That is the approach that Police and AGC take,” the statement read.

It added that in deciding whether to recommend prosecution for a criminal offence, “a number of factors are considered by Police in each case, including the age of the accused, the likelihood of reoffending/rehabilitation, the extent of remorse shown, whether there are aggravating factors (for example, like circulation of the offending images)”.

“A prosecution, with a possible jail sentence, will likely ruin his entire future, with a permanent criminal record,” said SPF, adding that the criminal justice system “seeks to temper punishment and deterrence, with giving offenders a second chance to reform, based on assessment of the relevant factors”.

“The approach in this case is consistent with the approach taken in other cases. There have been a number of similar cases, where such conditional warnings have been given,” it said.

Current AG is former PM Lee’s personal lawyer

The current Attorney-General of Singapore is Lucien Wong, who used to be the personal lawyer of PM Lee involved in the dispute with PM’s siblings over their late father’s estate. He was formerly chairman and senior partner of Allen & Gledhill.

On 25 November 2016, the Prime Minister’s Office announced Wong’s appointment as Attorney-General. He would be Singapore’s first Attorney-General without prior experience on the Bench nor in the Attorney-General’s Chambers. On 14 January 2017, he commenced his three-year term as Singapore’s ninth Attorney-General, succeeding V K Rajah.

In any case, since Saturday, two online petitions have gathered the signatures of almost 44,000 people, calling for the authorities to take tougher action against the perpetrator caught in NUS.