AGC will object to rehabilitative sentences for adult sex offenders unless there are ‘exceptional facts’

The review came after public unhappiness over rehabilitative sentences that had been meted out to those convicted of sexual or hurt offences in recent years.
The review came after public unhappiness over rehabilitative sentences that had been meted out to those convicted of sexual or hurt offences in recent years.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) will generally object to rehabilitative sentences for adult offenders who commit certain sexual and hurt offences, unless there are exceptional facts, such as if the offender has an intellectual disability.

Examples of such offences include voyeurism, outrage of modesty, and voluntarily causing hurt against a vulnerable victim.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said this in Parliament on Friday (March 5), following a review of the sentencing framework for hurt and sexual offences conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of Law (MinLaw).

"The need for proportionate punishment and deterrence must take precedence over rehabilitation," said Mr Shanmugam, who was speaking during a ministerial statement on the review announced last July.

In response to media queries, MHA and MinLaw said that the AGC has generally objected to rehabilitative sentences for adult offenders who commit certain sexual and hurt offences. "With this review, AGC will depart even less from this position," said the ministries.

"The review is also intended to reassure the public that we treat cases involving sexual and hurt offences very seriously, and take a tough stance against such offenders," the ministries added.

The review came after public unhappiness over rehabilitative sentences that had been meted out to those convicted of sexual or hurt offences in recent years, with some feeling that the sentences had been too lenient.

The offenders include National University of Singapore (NUS) dentistry student Yin Zi Qin, who received a community-based sentence last July for attacking his former girlfriend in May 2019. He tried to strangle her and pressed his thumb against her eye, causing it to bleed.

He will not have a criminal record after completing his sentence, which included a short detention order of 12 days and 80 hours of community service.

In community-based sentences, instead of being sent to prison for long periods, criminals can be ordered to seek treatment for their issues, do community service, or report to a centre for counselling and rehabilitation, among other things.

Even as the the AGC reviews its position on such offences, due consideration must be given to exceptional circumstances, said Mr Shanmugam.

Citing an example of a first-time adult offender with an intellectual disability who touches a woman, he said: "It may, in certain circumstances, better serve the public interest to impose a rehabilitative sentence with appropriate conditions, to reduce the likelihood of future reoffending, rather than to impose an imprisonment term."

In a case where an offender is found to be suffering from a treatable psychiatric condition that contributed to the offence, for example, a mandatory treatment order (MTO) may be appropriate, he said.

Offenders given MTO will undergo treatment for their mental condition in lieu of jail time.