While MP Rahayu Mahzam empathises with the outrage over the sentence meted out to the NUS student, she adds that it is crucial to understand all the facts of the case first.
In response to this debate, public relations executive Joel Lim hosted a youth dialogue with Member of Parliament (MP) Rahayu Mahzam to discuss the case and answer questions about the criminal justice system.
This dialogue, titled Youth Sentiment on the Criminal Justice System and Sentencing, was the fourth episode of Joel’s Political Prude series he hosts on his Instagram page with the aim of educating young Singaporeans on politics. It has garnered over 3,000 views so far.
MP Rahayu Mahzam weighed in on the case during the Sep 12 dialogue and provided some clarifications on the criminal justice system in Singapore.
Mdm Rahayu empathised with the outrage that many might have felt over the sentencing.
The NUS dentistry student was given a Community-Based Sentence (CBS) that involved a short detention order of 12 days, a five-month day reporting order and 80 hours of community service.
“As a woman, clearly when I hear about another woman being hurt or violated, I get very affected. I think a lot of times when we hear about people getting hurt, we react, and I think that is what we are seeing, that people are feeling very strongly about the matter,” said Mdm Rahayu, who is also a member of the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Women’s Wing.
However, her training as a lawyer taught her to first evaluate the facts of the case before saying that the court has been unfair.
She highlighted how the case was reported in the media might not necessarily have captured all the facts and factors that were taken into consideration before the judge meted out the sentence.
“For the few cases we see in the media, there are thousands of other cases that are not reported,” she added.
“[Although] a few offenders happen to be university graduates and are sentenced a certain way, it is also a little dangerous to jump to the conclusion that it is because of their academic qualifications that they are sentenced this way.”
Joel shared with Mdm Rahayu that the sentiment among youths was that offenders of a higher social status and good academic backgrounds tended to receive lighter sentences.
Mdm Rahayu cautioned against the conclusion that just because an offender is a university student, they will automatically be given lighter sentences.
“The point blank answer is that a university education is not a get out of jail card. That’s very clear,” said the MP.
“Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. The courts will look at the whole picture to assess the rehabilitative prospects of the offender. If a person shows perseverance, some promise in their studies, this may be evidence of rehabilitative capacity.”
She added: “This does not mean that the person has to be from a university. The person could be from a polytechnic, an ITE. As long as you are showing the propensity for actually being willing to do better and reform, this is what the court actually considers.”
Joel also highlighted concerns that because of the violent nature of the crime committed by the NUS student, he should have not received a CBS, which he perceived as a “light” punishment.
Mdm Rayahu clarified that it is a “generalisation” to say that a CBS is a lighter sentence, as the short detention orders meted out under the CBS are, in effect, jail time for the offender.
She further elaborated that offenders who commit serious crimes are not given CBS; a serious crime is one where the maximum punishment exceeds three years.
Under the current penalty framework, the crime committed by the NUS student qualified for CBS.
“The court was right in considering CBS [for the NUS student] under these circumstances,” said Mdm Rahayu.
Joel suggested that such a violent act by the student should be considered a serious crime. Mdm Rayahu agreed that this was a potential area of improvement for the criminal justice system.
“How we distinguish between the severity of the crimes and what is considered exceptionally bad is something that we can raise and discuss in the review that was mentioned by Minister Shanmugam,” said Mdm Rayahu.
She also mentioned that ensuring sensitivity to victims during investigations and court proceedings is something that the system can improve on.
Minister Shanmugam announced in July that a review of the penalty framework will be carried out. Mdm Rayahu said that the feedback received from these discussions and a youth dialogue with Minister Edwin Tong will be taken into account for the review.
She offers some final advice: “When it comes to issues that are close to our hearts, I think we should edify ourselves, find out the full facts, don’t be emotive, be constructive and always look at how we can make things better. This makes public debates better and more constructive.
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