Legal policy of factoring educational background into sentencing to be reviewed: Shanmugam

Legal policy of factoring educational background into sentencing to be reviewed: Shanmugam

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will be reviewing the consideration of educational background in sentencing for certain criminal cases. 

Home affairs and law minister K Shanmugam said in a media conference over Zoom on Tuesday (21 Jul) that this issue is a matter of “legal policy framework” and not the fault of the courts and judges. 

A National University of Singapore (NUS) dentistry student was given a community-based sentence on 17 July for physically assaulting his ex-girlfriend. 

He was ordered to serve a short 12-day detention in prison and has to report to a day reporting centre for five months where he will also undergo counselling. He has to complete 80 hours of community service over a year too. 

Public outcry soon ensued after the verdict was reported. 

Mr Shanmugam’s statement followed a press statement by the People’s Action Party Women’s Wing released on the same day. 

The statement wrote that it has reached out to MHA to look further into this matter.

Legal Policy Areas to be Reviewed 

Mr Shanmugam said that MHA would conduct a review of three main areas:

  1. The penalties to be applied for similar cases in future
  2. The relevance of factors such as educational background in sentencing
  3. The relativity in punishment between different offences

“The penalty framework in the end must make sense”, he said, adding that he would make a statement in Parliament when the review was finalised.

Mr Shanmugam noted that previous reviews of the law had resulted in new laws being passed in Parliament, such as the Criminal Law Reform Bill on 6 May 2019. 

The Bill includes strengthened laws on the protection of vulnerable victims and minors against sexual offences. 

New laws were also introduced in the Bill which criminalised voyeurism and other technology-enabled sexual offences. 

Mr Shanmugam has commented publicly on past sexual offence cases where disproportionate sentences were meted out to NUS students. 

He raised concerns about the sentencing of Terence Siow Kai Yuan on 25 September 2019 where he was given a 21-month probation due to his “potential to excel in life”. 

Siow, who is an NUS student, molested a woman three times at Serangoon MRT station in September 2018. 

Additional facts of the case 

According to court documents, the victim’s stepfather had punched and slapped Yin multiple times on his face soon after he found out that he had assaulted his stepdaughter. The stepfather also used a cigarette butt to burn Yin’s face near his right eye. 

49 out of 54 of his dentistry batchmates have also given testimonies vouching for his character which led the judge to believe Yin’s actions that night were one-off. 

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