Conditional warning appears 'unusual' in NUS case: Lawyers

The lawyers were commenting on a case of sexual voyeurism at the National University of Singapore's student residence Eusoff Hall, in which the punishment given to the perpetrator had been criticised.
The lawyers were commenting on a case of sexual voyeurism at the National University of Singapore's student residence Eusoff Hall, in which the punishment given to the perpetrator had been criticised.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

The decision by the police to give a young man who filmed a female undergraduate in the shower a conditional warning appears unusual, given that perpetrators in previous cases had been charged, said criminal lawyers yesterday.

But they also stressed that there are mitigating factors the Singapore authorities take into account and do not need to make public.

The lawyers were commenting on a case of sexual voyeurism at the National University of Singapore (NUS), in which the punishment given to the perpetrator had been criticised by the victim, undergraduates and members of the public.

NUS had suspended the young man for one semester, banned him from entering Eusoff Hall and got him to write an apology letter to Ms Monica Baey, whom he had filmed in a shower at student residence Eusoff Hall last November.

He also underwent mandatory counselling.

Last week, Ms Baey, 23, a third-year NUS communications and new media student, expressed on her Instagram account her frustration at what had happened, saying the university should have done more.

NUS confirmed last Saturday the police had investigated the case and the man was given a 12-month conditional warning by the authorities. This means he must remain crime-free for a year or may be dealt with in court for both his older and new offence.

 
 
 
 

A conditional stern warning, however, will not show up on a person's records and there is no need to declare it to private employers in general, unless required to.

The criminal lawyers noted that it is uncommon for even a first-time offender to be let off with just a conditional warning for a sexual voyeurism offence, which would come under the Penal Code's Section 509, which criminalises words or gestures intended to "insult the modesty" of women.

Mr Josephus Tan, founder of Invictus Law Corporation, said a first-time offender under the section should generally get a sentence of two to four weeks in jail per charge, although the court sentence may vary from a fine to a jail term to probation.

"But in the last few years, jail has been the norm for such cases," he said. "This NUS case seems unusual as he was let off with a conditional stern warning without going through the judicial process at the first instance."

Mr Tan added: "Regardless of the sentence to be imposed, it would be appropriate for the offender in this case to be dealt with by our courts and a conditional stern warning could then be contemplated by the prosecution thereafter based on mitigating factors.

"A conditional stern warning is seen as a slap on the wrist in our criminal justice system."

Ms Diana Ngiam, associate director of Quahe Woo & Palmer LLC, noted that even first-time offenders are usually charged for similar acts of filming upskirt videos.

"However, it could be a combination of factors that worked in this man's favour although we do not know what these factors are."

The lawyers said the Attorney-General's Chambers has full discretion to decide who to charge and what to charge the person with.

 
 

Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam said: "They do not have to provide an explanation for their decision... Their decision can only be challenged in court if it is exercised with malice or in bad faith.

"It is therefore difficult to say why the offender was not charged in court. Age, potential to do well, remorse and contributions to society may have been relevant factors."

Since Saturday, two online petitions have gathered the signatures of almost 44,000 people, calling for the NUS and police to take tougher action against the perpetrator.

Ms Ngiam said: "We should not be too quick to criticise the police for its decision; there could be more to it than we know."

Mr Tan said standard mitigating factors include the offender's age and his propensity to re-offend.

Last year, a 26-year-old NUS student got three strokes of the cane and was jailed nine months for molesting a classmate two months after he was given a conditional warning for peeping at a hall-mate in the shower.

In 2016, a 24-year-old male student at Nanyang Technological University was arrested after filming a resident in the shower of a student dormitory. More than 60 videos of male students showering were found in his mobile phone.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2019, with the headline 'Conditional warning appears 'unusual' in NUS case: Lawyers'. Print Edition | Subscribe