Penal Code review: Proposals aim to better protect vulnerable

A 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.
A 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.PHOTO: ST FILE

Wide-ranging suggestions include changes to laws on marital rape, sex abuse of minors

Women, minors and other vulnerable people will get more protection from violent and sexual crimes, 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 changes to further protect minors from sexual predators, as well as enhanced punishment for crimes committed against children, domestic maids and adults with disabilities.

The 169 recommendations also include updating the 150-year-old Penal Code with new laws to tackle emerging crime trends, such as voyeurism.

The last comprehensive review was completed in 2007. The current review committee was formed in July 2016 to ensure that criminal laws 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 of experts has been convened to review the main piece of criminal legislation in Singapore.

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

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

"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... We have many different types of property now, and electronic means; those weren't thought of when the Penal Code was set up."

The proposals are being put up for a public consultation, after which the Government will make necessary amendments before tabling them in Parliament by the year end.

The committee proposed fully repealing provisions that give men immunity from being prosecuted for raping their wives. This was partly lifted in 2007.

It also recommended creating a new offence to deal with cases of abuse of vulnerable victims that lead to death or grievous hurt, such as the acts committed against waitress Annie Ee.

The proposals include new offences and tougher penalties for sexual offences against minors.

They include jail of up to three years for a new offence of causing a minor to look at sexual images. Currently, cases such as that of American expatriate 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.

 
 

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

A new offence will target acts such as "upskirt" photography and other voyeuristic recordings, regardless of the victim's gender.

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 it.

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

The full report can be found on the websites of the ministries of Home Affairs and Law and government feedback unit Reach. Feedback must be submitted by Sept 30.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2018, with the headline 'Penal Code review: Proposals aim to better protect vulnerable'. Print Edition | Subscribe