Laws must reflect society's values, says Edwin Tong

Minister urges youth to discuss role of rehabilitation, at dialogue on sentencing framework

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong (rightmost column, fourth from top) taking part in a virtual dialogue with 50 people aged between 15 and 35 yesterday. PHOTO: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL The dialogue followe
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong (rightmost column, fourth from top) taking part in a virtual dialogue with 50 people aged between 15 and 35 yesterday. PHOTO: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong (rightmost column, fourth from top) taking part in a virtual dialogue with 50 people aged between 15 and 35 yesterday. PHOTO: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL The dialogue followe
The dialogue followed the case of 23-year-old National University of Singapore dentistry student Yin Zi Qin who received community-based sentences in July for attacking his former girlfriend in May last year. The case prompted the Government to review the penalty framework in cases similar to it. ST FILE PHOTO

All laws, what makes for a crime and what an appropriate sentence should be for a crime must reflect the values and the social mores of Singapore's society, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong yesterday.

"The crimes and the sentence must therefore resonate with these values in society," said Mr Tong, who is also Second Minister for Law.

He was speaking at the start of a virtual dialogue with 50 people aged between 15 and 35 in which they discussed Singapore's criminal justice system and the sentencing framework for causing hurt as well as sexual offences.

The dialogue was organised by the National Youth Council (NYC), the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) to help youth better understand the sentencing process in the criminal justice system and to hear their perspective on this.

It follows the case of 23-year-old National University of Singapore dentistry student Yin Zi Qin who received community-based sentences in July for attacking his former girlfriend in May last year. He tried to strangle her and pressed his thumb against her eye, causing it to bleed.

The case prompted the Government to review the penalty framework in cases similar to it.

NYC said it conducted a poll of 500 youth aged 15 to 35 between July 22 and 23 and nine out of 10 of them felt that the sentence in the dentistry case was too lenient. More than three quarters, or 76 per cent, of female participants polled felt that the acts committed by Yin were serious and 69 per cent of male respondents felt the same way.

Mr Tong said that many people were disappointed with the sentence, adding that he understood the "emotions behind the sentiments".

Noting that the court's decision had to be respected, he added: "But, at the same time, we are entitled to ask: What are the relevant legal policies on a matter like this, and how do we ensure that sentences are consistent with societal values?"

Mr Tong also stressed that some offenders, especially those who are young and who committed offences that are not so serious, deserve a second chance. He urged the participants, who comprised students and working adults, to discuss which cases should have an option for rehabilitation and the role it plays in Singapore's sentencing regime.

During the dialogue, one view that emerged was that rehabilitation should be a stronger consideration for younger offenders during sentencing to reduce their risk of re-offending.​

  • 76% Proportion of female participants in a National Youth Council poll who felt that the acts committed by Yin Zi Qin were serious, with 69 per cent of male respondents feeling the same way.

But the seriousness and community impact of their offences must still be taken into account, said participants.

But they also said that society must be more accepting of former offenders, allowing for their reintegration into society.

In a Facebook post after the event, Mr Tong said that MHA and MinLaw will take into consideration the feedback shared during the dialogue in their review of the sentencing framework.

MHA and MinLaw have started work on the review and, when it is completed, a ministerial statement will be made in Parliament.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 20, 2020, with the headline Laws must reflect society's values, says Edwin Tong. Subscribe