MHA to review penalty framework in cases similar to that of NUS student

This comes in wake of outrage over sentence given to man who tried to strangle ex-girlfriend

Student Yin Zi Qin was sentenced last Friday to a short detention order of 12 days and 80 hours of community service. Many observers have criticised the outcome of the case, believing the punishment was disproportionate to the offence. ST PHOTO: WONG
Student Yin Zi Qin was sentenced last Friday to a short detention order of 12 days and 80 hours of community service. Many observers have criticised the outcome of the case, believing the punishment was disproportionate to the offence. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will review the penalty framework in cases similar to the recent one involving a dentistry student who tried to strangle his former girlfriend and pressed his thumb against her eye after she rejected him.

The review will, among other things, look at the extent to which an offender's background, including his educational status, should be a relevant factor in what penalties should be applied.

This was disclosed by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam in an interview yesterday in the wake of outrage over the student's sentence.

National University of Singapore (NUS) student Yin Zi Qin, 23, was sentenced last Friday to a short detention order of 12 days and 80 hours of community service for attacking his former girlfriend on May 9 last year.

He was also given a day reporting order of five months, which means he will have to report to a centre for monitoring and counselling, and undergo rehabilitation. He will not have a criminal record upon his release.

Many observers, including the People's Action Party Women's Wing and the Association of Women for Action and Research, have criticised the outcome of the case, believing that Yin's punishment was disproportionate to his offence. Yin has since been suspended from NUS and is not allowed on campus.

During the interview, Mr Shanmugam said he "entirely understands" the strong feelings over the punishment, adding that women MPs and his own officers had spoken to him about it.

He said the review would cover three areas: the penalties for such cases in general; the extent to which an offender's background, among other factors, should be relevant in penalties; and how punishments for such offences stack up against punishments for other offences like theft.

He also said that he preferred not to comment on the specifics of Yin's case.

"I think it's natural when people are unhappy, they look at the courts and the judges," said Mr Shanmugam. However, the courts are "not the issue" here as judges decide based on what is presented to them, he said.

"When we disagree, the approach should be to look at the legal policy framework, which the Government can change, and which is what we will do."

He added that the penalties for such cases are stiff at present, but the ministry will also review that.

For voluntarily causing hurt, Yin could have been jailed for up to two years and fined up to $5,000.

In May last year, the victim broke up with Yin. He then used an access card she previously gave him to access her house. He met her in the basement, and they snuck into her room where the incident occurred.

Yin pleaded with her not to end their relationship, but she refused. He then hit his own head against the wall, placed his hands on the victim's neck and tried to strangle her.

 
 
 
 

After she struggled, he released his grip and pressed his thumb against her eye, causing it to bleed. She later blacked out, but came to and ordered him to leave.

During sentencing, District Judge Marvin Bay said he was satisfied that Yin was not at high risk of re-offending, and added that his relative youth, rehabilitative prospects and lack of antecedents made a community-based sentence viable, rather than a conventional sentence of imprisonment.

The judge noted that the victim did not suffer permanent injury to her eye but had suffered some degree of psychological harm.

She suffered from insomnia and was haunted by nightmares of Yin breaking into her house and assaulting her, said the judge.

The prosecution had sought a short detention order of 14 days. It is not appealing the matter.

In mitigation, Yin's defence counsel said his client had voluntarily returned to the victim's house to seek forgiveness from her and her parents after the attack.

Yin was subsequently punched and slapped several times in the face by the victim's stepfather, who also burnt his face with a cigarette butt.

The Straits Times understands the stepfather was given a warning by the police.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2020, with the headline 'MHA to review penalty framework in cases similar to that of NUS student'. Subscribe