Officials considering how offenders of underage sex can be dealt with more severely: Shanmugam

The Attorney-General's Chambers will not be appealing against mixed martial arts instructor Joshua Robinson's four-year jail term.
The Attorney-General's Chambers will not be appealing against mixed martial arts instructor Joshua Robinson's four-year jail term.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - Officials will be considering how offenders of underage sex such as mixed martial arts instructor Joshua Robinson may be "dealt with more severely through higher penalties", said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Wednesday (March 8).

His remarks follow the Attorney-General's Chambers' statement that it will not appeal against Robinson's four-year jail term.

The 39-year-old pleaded guilty to having unprotected sex with two 15-year-old girls and showed an obscene video to a six-year-old.

His sentencing last Thursday sparked strong reactions from the public, with the father of the child expressing disappointment online. A petition calling for harsher punishment was also started on Sunday.

"I can understand people's unhappiness," said Mr Shanmugam, who is on a working trip in Australia, in a statement in response to media queries. He referred to Robinson's offences, which he added were "more serious" than a range of other cases involving sex with underaged girls.

 
 

These include, for example, a young man of 18 having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, or a case where 51 men were charged with having sex with an underage prostitute. They were jailed for between four and 20 weeks each, he said.

"I have asked my officials to consider what approaches are necessary for offenders like Robinson to be dealt with more severely through higher penalties," said Mr Shanmugam.

Currently, as the sex was consensual, the law does not provide for caning.

He added that the original decision was "cleared at the highest levels - by the previous AG himself, based on precedents from previous cases".

"In our system, decisions on prosecution, sentence to ask for, and appeals, are all within the discretion of the AGC. We need to respect the decision of AGC," he said.

"I do think that the sentences for such offences committed by Robinson need to be relooked at. That is why I have asked my Ministries to study this," he added.

But he said that it is premature to reveal what penalties are being considered.

Here is the full transcript from Mr Shanmugam's interview:

What are your views on the matter?
 
I can understand people’s unhappiness. This man Robinson exposed a 6-year-old girl to pornographic material. He was also charged for having sex with two girls aged 15. 
 
There is a wide range of behaviour which is currently dealt with, in respect of having sex with under-aged girls, for example: (a) a young man of 18 having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend; (b) A few years ago we had 51 men charged with having sex with an under-aged prostitute. They were jailed for between four and 20 weeks each.
 
In the context of all the facts, viz having sex with two underaged girls and showing pornographic material to a six-year-old, Robinson’s conduct here, was more serious (even though the girls agreed to having sex with him). 
 
I have asked my officials to consider what approaches are necessary for offenders like Robinson to be dealt with more severely through higher penalties (as AGC have explained, because the sex was consensual, the law does not provide for caning).
 
Comments on AGC’s decision not to appeal?
 
I have been told that the original decision on what sentences to ask for was cleared at the highest levels - by the previous AG himself, based on precedents from previous cases. So this matter had received attention at the very highest level. AGC have explained why they have decided that they could not appeal. I can understand that having taken a position in court, on what the sentence should be, it is difficult for AGC to now appeal.  As they have explained, the position they took was based on precedent.  In our system, decisions on prosecution, sentence to ask for, and appeals, are all within the discretion of the AGC. We need to respect the decision of AGC. 
 
If we don’t think the sentences, based on precedents, are adequate, then we consider what can be done. I do think that the sentences for such offences committed by Robinson need to be relooked at. That is why I have asked my Ministries to study this.  
 
What penalties are you thinking of?
 

It is premature to answer this now; this will be considered.