The time may have come for Parliament to consider a review of prescribed sentences for offences against minors and the elderly, said Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair at a conference yesterday.
"Legislation can be passed to increase the punishments for certain offences against these groups of victims, particularly those involving physical or sexual assaults, cheating or criminal breach of trust," he said.
Giving the keynote address on day two of the Sentencing Conference 2017 at the Supreme Court, Mr Nair said a similar review was done in 1998 to Section 73 of the Penal Code, which enhances the prescribed sentences for maid abuse offences by 1½ times.
"This is, of course, a matter for the legislature to consider," added Mr Nair, making his first public speech since he took on the Deputy Attorney-General role on March 1.
His call mirrored in part the remarks made by Attorney-General Lucien Wong at the Singapore Law Review Lecture on Oct 19, who highlighted offences against the elderly and minors as areas that must be tackled with "resolute prosecutorial action" and a bold approach to vindicate public interest.
At the conference, held for the second time since 2014, Mr Nair also pointed out the prosecution's sentencing responsibility and its role in assisting the court in arriving at a just sentence.
"The prosecution should place all the relevant facts of the sentence and the offender before the court, and should always be prepared to assist the court on any sentencing issues. This is because the prosecution acts in the public interest, and the public interest must extend to securing the appropriate sentence," said Mr Nair, a senior counsel and former director of Drew & Napier law firm.
SENDING STRONG DETERRENCE SIGNAL
If such cases are not addressed with appropriate severe sentences, there would be grave implications on effective policing, public safety and not least, the morale of our police force.
DEPUTY ATTORNEY-GENERAL HRI KUMAR NAIR, referring to the case of an offender who had slapped a police officer.
He outlined three ways in which prosecutors play their role on sentencing.
They are: giving the court a deeper understanding of legislative intent and policies underlying the offences; bringing to attention specific threats to the broader society that may warrant stiffer sentences for deterrence effect; and highlighting all relevant facts of a case, including mitigating factors, to ensure that sentences are firm, fair and appropriate.
Citing the case of an offender who had slapped a police officer as an example, Mr Nair said when it was up for appeal before the Court of Three Judges last month, the prosecution called on the court to formulate a sentencing framework to send a strong signal that such abuses would not be tolerated.
The offender's jail sentence was increased from one to 10 weeks.
"While some may suggest that a slap is a minor offence, we viewed it as a very serious case... If such cases are not addressed with appropriate severe sentences, there would be grave implications on effective policing, public safety and not least, the morale of our police force," said Mr Nair.
In response to queries, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said it is reviewing the Penal Code, which includes assessing whether current punishments for crimes, like those against the elderly and minors, are adequate.
It will provide updates when the review is completed.