Offenders who assault police officers may face jail and caning

Police officers saluting at a Change of Command ceremony at the Home Team Academy on Jan 5, 2015.
Police officers saluting at a Change of Command ceremony at the Home Team Academy on Jan 5, 2015.PHOTO: ST FILE

The High Court unveiled a new sentencing framework that seeks to stiffen penalties according to the gravity of cases where police officers are assaulted.
The High Court unveiled a new sentencing framework that seeks to stiffen penalties according to the gravity of cases where police officers are assaulted. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Offenders who assault police officers in serious cases may face jail terms of up to seven years and caning, as the High Court unveiled a new sentencing framework that seeks to stiffen penalties in the wake of a spate of cop abuse.

There have been 688 cases of physical hurt against the cops in three years and the court said the new framework is meant to reflect public outrage against such abuse as well as protect police officers.

The court issued a three-category framework in decision grounds on Wednesday, explaining why it increased by 10 times the one-week jail term of a drunkard who slapped a police officer in April last year.

Noting that police officers were often the target in cases prosecuted under the relevant section 332 of the Penal Code, the framework provides for punishments that range from a fine to up to seven years' jail.

The move towards stiffer terms comes at a time when sentencing trends show offenders can generally expect a jail term of three months where there are no aggravating factors, and higher terms of six to 12 months' jail for aggravated offences.

The court, noting that police officers "often find themselves in dangerous situations", cited data which showed "there has been a steady increase in the total number of cases of physical hurt and verbal abuse from 2014 to 2016 against SPF and Home Team officers".

"Attacks against police officers can have several undesirable consequences at a societal level," wrote Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang.

"All these issues are compounded by the increasingly complex and uncertain security environment with which modern day policing is presented in a densely populated country, where emergency situations could arise at any time with dire consequences to the public," he added, writing on the court's behalf.

 
 
 

Under the guidelines, where the offence involves lesser harm and lower culpability, the sentence band will range from a fine to up to a year's jail, depending on the circumstances of the case.

Where the offence falls into the second category - which involves either greater harm and lower culpability or vice versa, then the punishment will range between one and three years' jail.

But where there is both greater harm and higher culpability, the sentence will range between three and seven years' jail, which falls into the third category.

The court also made clear that caning would generally be justified for offences that fall within the third category, such as where "inordinate violence" is shown, and even in some cases in the second category.

The harm would refer to the extent of the hurt to a particular police officer and the consequences to the police in general, while the "degree of culpability would be measured chiefly in relation to the manner and motivation of the offender's involvement in the criminal act", said Judge of Appeal Tay.

The court, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Tay and Justice See Kee Oon, said the the proposed sentencing framework "seeks only to clarify and rationalise the existing state of the law and not to alter it. The sentencing framework also seeks to utilise the full range of sentences prescribed by law."

In the case, Jeffrey Yeo had been jailed in April in a district court after pleading guilty to slapping and hurling vulgarities at a police sergeant beside a canal along Bukit Timah Road last year. He was drunk at the time and the police had responded to a call and gone there to help him.

The prosecution team led by Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair appealed, arguing that the one-week jail term was a "nominal" one and short of the sentencing norm for similar offences. Yeo's lawyer Henry Lim Ghim Siew countered that even if a sentencing benchmark applied, the sentence had to be "calibrated" based on the specific circumstances of the case and offender.

The court acknowledged Yeo's genuine remorse and other mitigating factors but held that one week's jail was "out of tandem" with sentencing trends and raised the term to 10 weeks.