Voyeurs, don't expect leniency in court

Court accepts evidence that they don't lose control

Diagnosed voyeurs caught filming unsuspecting victims will face an uphill task in convincing the courts to impose lighter sentences solely on account of their mental disorder, following a High Court ruling yesterday.

In a 62-page written judgment, Justice Chan Seng Onn accepted the medical evidence submitted by the prosecution that voyeurism - unlike impulse control disorders such as kleptomania - does not cause someone to lose his self-control.

The finding came in the case of a former civil servant who took upskirt videos and secretly filmed his girlfriend's family members in the shower.

The 31-year-old was given 30 months' probation in 2013 by a district judge, who placed considerable weight on the fact that he was diagnosed with voyeurism and concluded that deterrence should not take precedence over rehabilitation.

But yesterday, Justice Chan set aside the "manifestly inadequate" probation sentence and instead imposed a jail term of 16 weeks, following an appeal by the prosecution. Prosecutors had argued that a deterrent jail term for such offences was warranted to send a stern message to potential offenders, in an era where miniature and hidden digital video recording devices are increasingly available.

A person with voyeurism derives sexual arousal from observing an unsuspecting person who is naked, undressing or engaged in sexual acts.

During the appeal, medical experts on both sides weighed in on the issue of whether a person diagnosed with voyeurism is able to control his actions.

In his judgment, Justice Chan noted that the diagnosis of a mental disorder in most cases is a mitigating factor that the courts may take into account during sentencing. However, he said he would give "little or no mitigating value" to a mental disorder in which the person is able to control his actions and if it is shown that punishment will effectively deter him from committing the same acts again.

Justice Chan accepted the testimony of the prosecution expert, Dr Stephen Phang, that voyeurism is merely a descriptive label for a perverse form of behaviour which intrudes into the sanctity and privacy of others.

Dr Phang said a person with voyeurism, which is not a mental illness, remains in full control of his actions even if he shows symptoms of impulsivity.

Justice Chan said he was satisfied that the accused in the current case had full control over his actions in the light of his "high degree of planning and premeditation". He said the district judge was wrong in giving significant weight to the fact that the man was voyeuristic such that principles of deterrence were overridden.

Justice Chan said deterrence was relevant in sentencing. Given that camera phones are ubiquitous and recording devices come in all shapes and sizes and are getting cheaper, "the perverse now find it easier to prey on unsuspecting women almost everywhere", he said.

Rehabilitation is also relevant but it did not automatically mandate a lighter sentence, he said.

He noted the man had gone to great lengths to commit the offences, sticking mini-cameras to his shoe and planting a camera - in the guise of a lighter - in the bathroom of his girlfriend's home.

selinal@sph.com.sg