NUS Peeping Tom case: Age a key factor in deciding such cases, say lawyers

The 23-year-old NUS student had been given a conditional warning by police for his involvement in a sexual misconduct case at a residence hall. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Age is an important factor taken into account by the authorities when deciding whether to charge an offender, lawyers and counsellors told The Straits Times.

They were commenting on a police decision to give a 23-year-old male student, who filmed a female student showering at the National University of Singapore (NUS), a conditional warning - meaning it will not appear on his records.

The police said yesterday that the accused in this case showed a "high likelihood of rehabilitation, and was remorseful".

He also did not have other obscene materials in any of his devices, they said.

"A prosecution, with a possible jail sentence, will likely ruin his entire future, with a permanent criminal record."

Ms Diana Ngiam, associate director of Quahe Woo & Palmer LLC, said compassion should be shown in deserving cases and the police had "taken an enlightened approach" in the case of the NUS student and considered his "rehabilitative prospects".

Mr Tan Hee Joek, partner at law firm Tan See Swan & Co, said: "The younger a person, the higher chance of rehabilitation. Hence there's more mercy given to younger offenders, who have a higher chance of getting probation rather than a jail sentence, especially if he has a clean record and there is no aggravating factor.

"Rehabilitation considerations may feature more strongly than deterrence and retribution for such young offenders."

Mr Joe Chan, head of Reach Youth Services, said: "Generally, it's good to keep youth offenders out of the court system as far as possible so that they still have a chance to think about their mistakes and for other appropriate action to be taken."

But he also noted that it is not acceptable when "moral boundaries have been crossed and harm has been done to another individual".

"The police's decision will have to balance between seeking justice for the victim and rehabilitation for the offender," he added.

Lawyers also said that letting the accused off with a warning should not reduce the severity of the offence - in this case insulting a woman's modesty - and the act of filming means that the recording could have been circulated.

Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam said there are four principles at play when determining an appropriate sentence for an offender: retribution; general deterrence - or deterring the public at large from committing offences; specific deterrence, which refers to deterring a particular individual; and rehabilitation.

He said: "As opposed to just peeping, which one may rightfully or wrongfully take the position is youthful folly, there is a certain degree of premeditation in using a phone to make a video recording.

"What would be an appropriate outcome in a case like this is therefore not easy to say and is for society to grapple with and come to a consensus on."

Mr Josephus Tan, founder of Invictus Law Corporation, said: " It's heartening to know that rehabilitation remains at the core of the police's decision to issue a conditional stern warning. However, the same outcome could be similarly achieved if the offender is first charged in our criminal courts."

He added that giving a conditional stern warning to the student instead of taking criminal action "somewhat took away the much needed 'assurance' for the victim, other concerned students and their parents, thus resulting in the current public disquiet".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2019, with the headline NUS Peeping Tom case: Age a key factor in deciding such cases, say lawyers. Subscribe