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Three things to note about the review of sentencing framework for hurt and sexual offences

The punishments for three sex offences will increase after review and AGC will generally object to rehabilitative sentences for adult offenders who commit certain sexual and hurt offences unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Ruth Chan
Ruth Chan

Enjoys solitude. Finds comfort in watching the sunset and drinking milo.


Published: 11 March 2021, 12:06 PM

The maximum punishment for three sexual offences are set to increase by a year, after a review of penalties for hurt and sexual offences.

This move comes after public uproar over hurt and sexual offences committed by university students in recent years, in which some believed that the punishments imposed on these perpetrators were inadequate.

Making the announcement in Parliament on Mar 5, Minister of Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam said: “You should not be able to come to Court and say you have a bright future, you will go far, and so on.

“You can go far. But first – serve the sentence.”

He was referring to the past cases of offenders who committed hurt and sexual offences and who were studying in local universities. The cases drew an uproar after some members of the public asked if some offenders were let off too lightly because of their educational qualifications. 

The cases sparked conversation about Singapore’s criminal justice system and the rationale behind sentencing. A youth engagement session on criminal justice was jointly held by the National Youth Council, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Law (MinLaw) last September too, as part of a wider review of the sentencing framework for hurt and sexual offences by MHA and MinLaw.

Here are three points to note about the review. 

1. Increase of maximum jail term for three sexual offences

The maximum jail term for those found guilty of outrage of modesty under section 354(1) of the Penal Code will be increased from two years to three years. 

This is to ensure that egregious cases are dealt with more seriously.

Mr Shanmugam said that from 2016 to 2020, an average of 1,190 outrage of modesty cases were reported each year.

This was 24 per cent higher than the average number of cases from 2011 to 2015.

There will also be an increase in the maximum jail term for offences of engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a minor, or causing them to observe sexual images, under section 376ED(3)(b) and section 376EE of the Penal Code.

The maximum jail term for these offences will be increased from one year to two years. 

The penalties are increased for parity with similar offences of sexual communication with a minor of the same age range.

 

Mr Shanmugam also said that there can be no excuses for offences such as outrage of modesty and voyeurism. PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/@KSHANMUGAM_

 

2. The AGC will generally object to rehabilitative sentences for adult offenders who commit certain hurt and sexual crimes

A deterrent stance will generally be taken against those above the age of 21 who commit certain hurt and sexual offences.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) will generally object to rehabilitative sentences – such as community based sentences and probation – for adults who commit such offences.

Mr Shanmugam said that the need for proportionate punishment and deterrence must generally take precedence over rehabilitation when adults commit hurt or sexual offences. Additionally, an offender should not receive a lighter sentence simply because he has higher education qualifications, or better prospects in life. 

 

Mr Shanmugam said that the starting point should be that such criminal conduct should never have happened and offenders should expect to face the full force of the law. PHOTO CREDIT: BILL OXFORD VIA UNSPLASH

 

3. Guide on sentencing to be published to educate public

For greater education about the sentencing process, a guide on sentencing in Singapore has been published on the websites of MHA, MinLaw and AGC.

The guide explains the sentencing process in our Courts. 

It also addresses important questions of public interest, and aims to provide greater clarity to the public about the sentencing process and relevant factors considered in sentencing.

Sentencing Advisory Panel to be formed

Separate from the review, and to promote more clarity and transparency in sentencing, an inter-agency Sentencing Advisory Panel will be set up.

Its key function is to issue non-binding sentencing guidelines.

For instance, if the panel decides to issue a sentencing guideline for a hurt-related offence, the panel can set out the sentencing framework, including different sentencing bands, based on the twin factors of harm and culpability. The framework can also include relevant aggravating and mitigating factors to be considered in sentencing. 

The guidelines will be published and be accessible to the public, and aims to provide greater clarity to the public about the likely sentence and the relevant factors to be considered in sentencing. This is in comparison to the current position where the legislation only sets out the maximum penalties. 

The guidelines will be persuasive but not binding on the Courts, who will have to decide each case on the facts before them.

The panel is expected to be made up of stakeholders from the criminal justice system including members of the Judiciary, AGC, MHA and the Singapore Police Force.


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