Parliament: MPs express concern over decriminalisation of attempted suicide

Mr Christopher De Souza
Mr Christopher De Souza
Mr Ang Wei Neng
Mr Ang Wei Neng
Workers' Party Chairman Sylvia Lim
Workers' Party Chairman Sylvia Lim

While there is a need to remove the stigma against mental illness, retaining the offence of attempted suicide in the Penal Code would be a more compassionate approach that could save more lives, said Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit-Timah GRC) in Parliament yesterday.

With no legal deterrent, those attempting suicide might see it as a licence to take their lives, said Mr de Souza, who urged the authorities to reconsider repealing the attempted suicide offence.

He was among seven MPs who spoke about the decriminalisation of attempted suicide during the debate over the Criminal Law Reform Bill passed in Parliament yesterday.

Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) also expressed reservations over decriminalising suicide as the current offence allows police to intervene in suicide attempts by arresting and placing the person in a safe environment, like a jail cell, to stabilise his condition.

Other MPs approved of the move, though some questioned the availability and effectiveness of support for those who attempt suicide.

In response, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin said: "The safeguards that were previously there - police intervention, SCDF (Singapore Civil Defence Force) intervention - will still be there post-decriminalisation."

He also said the abetment of suicide remains a criminal offence and that the amendments will significantly enhance the penalties for those who abet suicide attempts.

SUICIDE RISK

There is a risk that the number of suicides will increase if there is no provision to deter the act. Broader society will have no legal deterrent and those attempting suicide may consider the absence of a prohibition as a licence to attempt the act.

MR CHRISTOPHER DE SOUZA (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC)

GUARD AGAINST FALSE RAPE CLAIMS

We do have to be careful to guard against false allegations of rape in instances where a married couple is not yet divorced, but the marriage has already broken down and the woman may want to "cry wolf" to fulfil a personal agenda.

MR ANG WEI NENG ( Jurong GRC)

PROTECTION FOR VULNERABLE PERSONS

If the offender can prove that the victim was capable of protecting herself or himself in the same way as an ordinary person, then the exposure to double punishment would not apply. I am concerned about what this caveat means and how it would potentially undermine the extra protection that was intended.

WORKERS' PARTY CHAIRMAN SYLVIA LIM

Other hot topics raised by the 16 MPs who spoke yesterday included the repeal of marital rape immunity and the amendments to penalise abusers who target vulnerable victims.

About 10 MPs voiced support for the move to repeal marital immunity for rape, though some like Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) raised the issue of false rape allegations.

However, Mr Amrin said police officers are trained to deal with complex issues of evidence and proof.

"There are existing offences in the Penal Code on false reporting. We are enhancing penalties for false reporting," he added.

MPs also touched on the enhanced penalties - twice the maximum punishment - for abusers who target five categories of vulnerable victims. They are domestic workers, those with mental or physical disabilities, children aged below 14, and those in close or intimate relationships with their abusers.

Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim said there needs to be more clarity on the circumstances in which enhanced penalties are applied, highlighting that this rule does not apply in cases where the victim is proved to be capable of protecting himself in the same way an ordinary person can.

However, Mr Amrin said the enhanced penalties are to allow the courts to punish offenders more severely when they have preyed on their victims' vulnerabilities.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2019, with the headline 'MPs express concern over decriminalisation of attempted suicide'. Print Edition | Subscribe