NUS responds to victims' complaints that it went against their wishes to lodge police report; says it had legal obligation to report

NUS said that it chose to delay making the police report out of consideration for the students' mental well-being.
NUS said that it chose to delay making the police report out of consideration for the students' mental well-being.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - The National University of Singapore (NUS) has responded to two female students who said the university made police reports about their complaints of sexual misconduct against their wishes.

The university said on Wednesday (Nov 4) that it had filed a police report on Oct 21 regarding the allegations of sexual misconduct to fulfil its legal obligations.

Both students had also told The Straits Times  that they were unhappy that NUS informed them that it had made a police report about Tembusu College don Jeremy Fernando only after the fact.

At a press conference on Oct 23, NUS said it had attempted to contact both victims before the police report against Dr Fernando was made and was able to reach one of them. 

In its latest statement on Wednesday, NUS said: "This may have given the impression that we had informed one student that NUS was making a police report just before we made it.

"We would like to clarify that what we had informed the student of was that NUS had a legal duty to file a police report, and would exercise this duty in accordance with NUS policy, if she chose not to do so. NUS also did not inform the student of when it would file the report."

A spokesman said: "We did not succeed in reaching the second student. Prior to this, we had also advised the two students of the option to file their own police reports, given the serious allegations that they had made about Dr Fernando. We successfully reached out to both students after the police report was filed to update them."

NUS had earlier said it lodged a police report, "given the seriousness of the allegations". It had also advised the two female students to do the same, although both opted not to.

The university added that it chose to delay making the report out of consideration for the students' mental well-being.

The spokesman said the university lodged the police report to protect its student body at large.

"In filing this report, NUS takes into consideration our obligations under the law, the need for transparency, and the need to protect the privacy and interests of all parties, including reasonable grounds for delay," she said.

A police report was "imminent", given that partial information about the matter was already public, she added, referring to allegations raised by the two female students that had been reported.

"NUS also owes a duty of care to its students at large to ensure campus safety, and weighed this in our decision to file a report without prior agreement of either student. If an allegation has been made, the police would be best placed to assess if an offence was committed," said the spokesman.

Under Section 424 of the Criminal Procedure Code, anyone aware of the "commission or the intention of another person to commit any arrestable offence shall, in the absence of reasonable excuse", immediately provide the authorities with information.

However, lawyers have said it is not clear that NUS was legally obliged to make a police report, as various factors could be counted as a "reasonable excuse". These include the victim's choice or a professional assessment of whether such an investigation would be in the victim's interest, and whether the party making the report has enough first-hand knowledge of the offence.

The university provided a detailed timeline of when it first became aware of the allegations against Dr Jeremy Fernando. PHOTO: TEMBUSU.NUS.EDU.SG

NUS received a complaint about Dr Fernando on Aug 27. A second complaint was made on Sept 7. The university sacked him on Oct 7, as its internal investigations showed he "had an intimate association" with an undergraduate - a serious breach of its code of conduct for staff.

It later released a public statement on Oct 18 - the day staff and students at Tembusu College were told of his dismissal.