Shanmugam suggests tougher punishment for those who abuse women and children

It would affect those who abuse kids, sexually hurt women, causing death

The committee reviewing Singapore's homicide laws has been asked to study whether a default death sentence on criminals who sexually assault women or abuse children, leading to the victims' deaths, should be introduced.

The suggestion for this stiffening of the law came from none other than Law Minister K. Shanmugam who elaborated on his view for the first time since raising the issue in May.

"My thinking is that there should be a default death sentence for those who rape or sexually assault women, resulting in the victim's death, and for those who hurt a child and the child ends up dead," he had been quoted as saying then.

"The accused in such cases should face the death penalty, unless he can prove why there shouldn't be such a penalty."

Speaking yesterday on the sidelines of a Yishun community event, he said that "these are personal views". "But I've asked for these to be considered carefully, not just by the committee but by my own ministry," he added.

A default death sentence "does not mean that there will be a death sentence, but that the onus is on the attacker, usually a man, to prove that he didn't intend to cause it (the victim's death)", said Mr Shanmugam.

Criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan, a member of the review committee set up by the Ministry of Law, told The Straits Times yesterday that Mr Shanmugam's suggestion is indeed among the issues considered, and that the committee's report would be out soon.

Mr Shanmugam's suggestion has taken some in the legal fraternity by surprise.

"The amendments mooted by the Law Minister, depending on how they are phrased, appear to take away the discretion of the courts to look at the intention and personal culpability of the accused in arriving at an appropriate sentence," said Mr Terence Tan, a criminal lawyer with Peter Low LLC.

Mr Tan said although the crimes highlighted by Mr Shanmugam "could be seen as particularly heinous", they seem to already be covered under existing statutes.

Ms Gloria James-Civetta, a criminal lawyer of 19 years, said: "A default death sentence would seem very harsh, I hope there will be research done and measures taken for feedback and public consultation to see whether this would really be necessary."

hpeishan@sph.com.sg