Time to consider review of sentences for offences against the elderly, minors: Deputy A-G Hri Kumar Nair

Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair's call mirrored in part the remarks made by Attorney-General Lucien Wong at the Singapore Law Review Lecture, which highlighted offences against elderly and minors as areas that must be tackled with "resolute pr
Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair's call mirrored in part the remarks made by Attorney-General Lucien Wong at the Singapore Law Review Lecture, which highlighted offences against elderly and minors as areas that must be tackled with "resolute prosecutorial action".PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - It may be time for Parliament to consider a review of prescribed sentences for offences against minors and the elderly, said Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair at a conference on Friday (Oct 27).

"Legislation can be passed to increase the punishments for certain offences against these groups of victims, particularly those involving physical or sexual assaults, cheating or criminal breach of trust," he added.

Giving the keynote address on Day 2 of the Sentencing Conference 2017 at the Supreme Court auditorium, Mr Nair said a similar review was done to Section 73 of the Penal Code, which enhances the prescribed sentences for maid abuse offences by 1½ times. The review was made in 1998.

"This is, of course, a matter for the legislature to consider," added Mr Nair, making his first public speech since he took on the deputy attorney-general role on March 1.

His call mirrored in part the remarks made by Attorney-General Lucien Wong at the Singapore Law Review Lecture on Oct 19, which highlighted offences against the elderly and minors as areas that must be tackled with "resolute prosecutorial action" and a bold approach to vindicate public interest.

In his speech at the conference held for the second time since 2014, Mr Nair, a former director of Drew & Napier law firm, also highlighted the prosecution's sentencing responsibility and its role in assisting the court in arriving at a just sentence.

He cited the speech at the 2014 Sentencing Conference by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in which the latter said the prosecution's duty to the court would extend to the sentencing stage.

"The prosecution should place all the relevant facts of the sentence and the offender before the court, and should always be prepared to assist the court on any sentencing issues. This is because the prosecution acts in the public interest, and the public interest must extend to securing the appropriate sentence," said Mr Nair, a senior counsel.

Speaking to more than 300 judges, prosecutors, lawyers, academics, enforcement officers and others at the conference, Mr Nair outlined three ways in which prosecutors can play its role on sentencing.

They are: giving the court a deeper understanding of legislative intent and policies underlying the offences; bringing to attention specific threats to the broader society that may warrant stiffer sentences for deterrence effect; and highlighting all relevant facts of a case, including mitigating factors, to ensure that sentences are firm, fair and appropriate.

One example he cited was an appeal case before the Court of Three Judges where an offender had slapped a police officer. He said the prosecution called on the court to formulate a sentencing framework to send a strong signal that such abuses would not be tolerated.

The offender's sentence was increased from one to 10 weeks' imprisonment.

"While some may suggest that a slap is a minor offence, we viewed it as a very serious case because of a larger policy objective - the pressing need to ensure the safety of public servants in general, and police officers in particular," said Mr Nair.

"If such cases are not addressed with appropriate severe sentences, there would be grave implications on effective policing, public safety and not least, the morale of our police force."