Handling of NUS offender's case was fair, say legal experts

NUS students and staff queueing up to attend a town hall held by the university last Thursday to address concerns over the Peeping Tom incident. Ms Monica Baey, who was filmed in a hall shower, sparked a public outcry over how NUS deals with sexual m
Many NUS undergrads felt that the punishments – a one-semester suspension, a ban from entering Eusoff Hall (above) where the offence took place and mandatory counselling – were too lenient for the perpetrator. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

While some have taken issue with the police's explanation for why undergraduate Nicholas Lim, 23, was let off with a conditional warning, legal experts that The Sunday Times spoke to said they believe the matter was handled fairly.

Considerations such as the age of the offender and the prospects of re-offending - which were cited by police - are applied to all cases in deciding whether to prosecute suspects, said law professor Eugene Tan. He added that, while deterrence is crucial to fight such crimes, "it is not a one-size-fits-all legal concept".

"The law is an ass if it dishes out a prescriptive set of punishments. If that's the case, we might as well let a computer determine the punishment tariffs," said Associate Professor Tan of the Singapore Management University School of Law.

"But I doubt that that is what we want or expect of our administration of criminal justice."

This was echoed by criminal lawyer Gloria James-Civetta, who said that the 12-month conditional warning given to Mr Lim was sufficient, given the police's explanations. "A conditional warning is like a 'curfew' imposed on him for good behaviour and not to re-offend," she said.

Prof Tan added that the police would have consulted the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) in meting out the conditional warning, and the prosecutorial discretion on the AGC's part is not something that would be taken lightly.

Some netizens have criticised the police's decision, and have called for stiffer punishments ranging from a lifetime conditional warning to jail time.

However, observers caution against this.

"As there was no discriminatory treatment in favour of Nicholas Lim, we should not be dictating what the state's sanction ought to be. The law should be allowed to take its course even if we disagree with it and/or its application," Prof Tan said.

Noting that Ms Monica Baey's experience appears to have resulted in some trauma, Ms James-Civetta suggested that the police could provide more emotional support to victims of all forms of sex crimes.

"Perhaps what can be done further is to open up the One-Stop Abuse Forensic Examination Centre at Police Cantonment Complex, to all victims of sexual assault be it serious or not," added the lawyer, who has 23 years of experience in criminal law.

"Clearly the victim felt stress and is suffering from trauma. A sensitive approach needs to be taken."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 28, 2019, with the headline Handling of NUS offender's case was fair, say legal experts. Subscribe