Penal Code review committee: Wide-ranging proposals offer more protection for the vulnerable

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A committee conducting a review of the Penal Code has called for enhanced punishment for crimes committed against children, domestic maids and adults with mental or physical disabilities who cannot fend for themselves. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Women, minors and other vulnerable people will get more protection from violent and sexual crimes under the law, if recommendations tabled by a committee are accepted by the Government and passed by Parliament.

The committee, set up in 2016 to conduct a wide-ranging review of the Penal Code, has called for marital immunity for rape to be removed and also for attempted suicide to be decriminalised.

It has proposed a slew of changes to further protect minors from sexual predators, as well as enhanced punishment for crimes committed against children, domestic maids and adults with mental or physical disabilities who cannot fend for themselves.

The 169 recommendations also include updating the 150-year-old Penal Code with new laws to tackle emerging crime trends, such as voyeurism and the spreading of nude or explicit images.

The last comprehensive review was completed in 2007.

The current review committee was formed in July 2016, after the Government announced that it would undertake substantive reforms of criminal laws to ensure they remain relevant and updated.

Section 377A, the provision that criminalises sex between men, was not part of the review.

It was the first time that a committee including prosecutors, judges, lawyers in private practice, academics and representatives from the police has been convened to review the Penal Code, the main piece of criminal legislation in Singapore.

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The committee is co-chaired by Ms Indranee Rajah, who is Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Finance and Education, and Mr Amrin Amin, who is Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health.

It submitted its 500-page report and recommendations to Mr K. Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Law, on Aug 31 this year.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Shanmugam said he decided in late 2015 there was a need to relook the Penal Code.

"The Penal Code impacts a lot of people. It is a legislation that is about 150 years old."

Mr Shanmugam said that he indicated to the committee his thinking on areas to look at.

"I have been wanting to make a number of changes in the areas relating to protection of women, children, vulnerable victims. And I wanted the laws updated, because (there are) many more transnational crimes, offences, definitions of property. We have many different types of property now, and electronic means, those weren't thought of when the Penal Code was set up."

The recommendations are being put up for a public consultation, after which the Government will assess the feedback and make necessary amendments before tabling in Parliament at the end of the year.

The wide-ranging recommendations cover five broad categories, of which the biggest group provides enhanced protection for the vulnerable.

The committee proposed fully removing a provision that exempts men from being prosecuted for raping their wives.

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The provision was partly lifted in 2007.

It also recommended creating a new offence to deal with cases of abuse of vulnerable victims that leads to death or grievous hurt, such as the acts committed against waitress Annie Ee, who suffered for eight months before she died.

The recommendations also include new offences and enhanced penalties for sexual offences against minors, and strengthened provisions against sexual grooming of minors.

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This includes a new offence of causing a minor to look at sexual images, which carries up to three years' jail, depending on the minor's age, or a fine.

Currently, cases such as that of American expat Joshua Robinson, who showed an obscene film to a six-year-old, are prosecuted under a broader provision, which carries up to a year in jail.

The proposals also include a general enhancement of penalties, of up to two times the maximum prescribed by law, for offences committed against children under 14 years of age, maids, and vulnerable adults.

Another area tackled by the committee: emerging crime trends brought on by advances in technology and the proliferation of social media.

A new offence of voyeurism will target acts such as "upskirt" photography and other forms of voyeuristic recordings, regardless of the gender of the victims.

A new offence of fraud has also been proposed, to cover situations where a person makes a false representation even if it is not proven what outcome resulted from the false representation.

Other proposals include raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to 10, expanding the definition of rape, and the removal of outmoded provisions.

The full report can be found on the websites of the MHA, MinLaw and government feedback unit Reach.

Feedback must be submitted by Sept 30.

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