Parliamentary Speeches

Wrap-Up Speech for Second Reading of the Criminal Law Reform Bill - Speech by Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health

Published: 06 May 2019

1. Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank the Members who have spoken.


2. Let me address the points that have been raised by Members. Members spoke positively about the amendments relating to vulnerable victims.


3. Members spoke eloquently and passionately about the need to protect the vulnerable victims like Annie Ee, Daniel Nasser, were mentioned in many of the Members’ speeches. No words can express the sorrow their families went through. We hope that the new laws protecting vulnerable victims will help to deter such cases from occurring.


4. Mdm Rahayu asked about the difference between “vulnerable person” in the Bill and “vulnerable adult” in the Vulnerable Adults Act, or VAA.


5. The VAA provides powers to the State to take intrusive measures such as removal of the vulnerable adult from their living conditions.


6. Hence, a narrow definition of “vulnerable adults” was adopted in the VAA. This is to strike a balance between respecting individuals’ autonomy and protecting those in need of help using intrusive protective measures.


7. Those that do not meet the high threshold in the VAA can and have been helped in other ways.


8. The PCRC was of the view that the definition in the VAA was too narrow for the purposes of the Penal Code, and it recommended for “vulnerable persons” in the Penal Code to be wider, to cover more persons.


9. This sends a strong deterrent signal and can potentially reduce the need to resort to intrusive remedial measures as envisaged in the VAA.


10. The VAA was only recently passed. We should give it time, and MSF will keep a close watch to ensure the interests of the vulnerable in the community are looked after, and the balance appropriately struck.


11. Mdm Rahayu and Mr Melvin Yong spoke about the proposed section 304C offence, and whether persons who are also suffering from abuse might be prosecuted for not taking action.


12. The provision provides that a person is not guilty of an offence under s304C if she could not have been expected in her circumstances to take steps to protect the victim from the significant risk of grievous hurt. We have also provided that such circumstances include her past or present experiences of abuse as a result of an unlawful act by any member of the same household as her.


13. Mdm Rahayu also asked about the differences between the new sections 335A and 304C.


14. The bases for the introduction of these offences are quite different.


15. The offences of “failure to protect” has been proposed to cover persons who owe these vulnerable victims a duty of care.


16. It reflects society’s view that these people are responsible for the safety and well-being of the vulnerable victims in their care, custody, or control.


17. The offence of “causing or allowing death” applies to members of the same household as, and who have frequent contact with, the victim.


18. This offence was introduced to overcome an evidential difficulty where two accused persons who have the exclusive opportunity to harm the vulnerable victim deny any ill-treatment of the victim.


19.Ms Anthea Ong and Ms Sylvia Lim asked about conditions under which the courts may apply enhanced penalties for the offences against vulnerable victims.


20. The enhanced penalties allow the courts to punish offenders more severely if they prey on the vulnerabilities of certain persons.


21. If the vulnerability did not make the person more susceptible to the offence, the offender will be subjected to punishment, but not enhanced punishment.


22. A person with a physical disability, for instance, may not necessarily be vulnerable, say in respect of a white collar crime like fraud.


23. There has to be a link between the vulnerability and the offence, for enhanced punishments to apply.


24. Ms Irene Quay and Dr Lee Bee Wah made suggestions to improve the reporting and detection of domestic violence.


25. Domestic abuse should, in the first instance, be reported to the Police. Police are trained to deal with such cases, and have the legal powers to intervene quickly to stop any imminent or ongoing abuse.


26. Police also work with MSF to ensure that the victim receives care, and if required, will physically separate the victim and the assailant. MSF will consider Members’ suggestions.


27. As Ms Quay acknowledged, much has already been done by MSF.


28. Associate Professor Walter Theseira asked how the amendments relating to abuse and neglect of vulnerable victims interact with decisions associated with palliative care.


29. The Bill does not affect bona fide palliative arrangements.


30. The Bill, for example, at s304C, introduces obligations on persons in the household who have frequent contact with the victim, and who are aware of a significant risk of grievous hurt being caused to the victim; to take steps (which could reasonably have been expected of such persons to take) to protect the victim from the significant risk.


31. This involves a fact-sensitive exercise.


32. Mr Patrick Tay and Dr Lee spoke about rehabilitation of offenders in Prisons.


33. Psychiatric intervention will be provided to selected offenders where necessary and feasible.


34. Prisons programmes also include psychology-based correctional programmes, family programmes, and work programmes. Mr Tay suggested that psychiatric treatment or psychological counselling be mandatory for sexual predators after the completion of their sentence. We will consider this suggestion.


35. Mr Tay will be aware that offenders who are subject to Mandatory Aftercare Scheme (MAS) for certain serious sexual offences – are required to undergo community supervision and must comply with conditions such as counselling and case management.


36. Mr Melvin Yong spoke about the impact of the amendments on Prisons’ resources.


37. The Ministry will monitor the impact of the amendments on Prisons, and continue to ensure that Prisons will be adequately staffed and resourced.


38. Members had a discussion earlier about the possibility of certain Penal Code offences be amended by schedule. In general, Parliament should have oversight of criminal offences of general applications such as those in the Penal Code. There is agreement that we do not retrospectively make acts criminal. On s409, we acted to reform s409 as quickly as practicable, considering the need to consult the relevant stakeholders. I believe the amendment has benefitted from Parliamentary scrutiny. In the case of the Misuse of Drugs Act, it is a specialised legislation and the schedule list classes of substances. If it only lists specific molecules, the peddlers will change one of the many component molecules, so there is in that case particular operational context.


39. Dr Lee Bee Wah spoke about minors dating adults, and of dating websites. We share Dr Lee’s concern and our response is multipronged. The amendments today will deal with sexual exploitation of minors by adults. We want to prevent predatory conduct by adults against minors. We have amended the sexual grooming offences. We have also introduced a sexual communication offence to deal with sexting between an adult and a child. These address grooming behaviour upstream.


40. We will closely monitor and take action against the users of dating websites or social media sites if they exploit young persons.


41. Mr Alex Yam spoke on criminalising all forms of child abuse material. The distribution and sale of fictional child abuse material is criminalised as “obscene material” in the Penal Code, and will be subject to enhanced penalties. The current maximum penalty is 3 months and it will be enhanced to 2 years. We thank Mr Alex Yam for drawing our attention to the international developments and we will monitor the situation closely.


42. Dr Lee spoke about cases where parents have clearly ignored sexual abuse of their children.


43. She asked about abettors and those who repeatedly witness abuse but do nothing. The amendments criminalise the failure of caregivers to protect children from ill-treatment, which includes the subjecting of the child to sexual abuse. Where death is caused to the child or young person, the maximum imprisonment term has been increased from seven to 14 years. Where death is not caused, the maximum imprisonment term has been increased from four to eight years.


44. Ms Sylvia Lim asked whether the CYPA amendments, whether they will be brought into effect at the same time that MSF raises the proposed definition of “young person” to 18. We will try to see whether we can have the changes take effect at the same time, or if not possible, as soon as practicable.


45. Members supported the introduction of the new offence of voyeurism and distribution of intimate images.


46. Mr Patrick Tay, Mr Desmond Choo, and Mr Melvin Yong asked about the impact of the new offences of voyeurism and distribution of intimate images on private investigators, persons who report crimes, or caregivers.


47. There are defences where the recordings are for legitimate purposes. Specific requirements apply to qualify for this defence. Among others, the act has to be done without malice, with reasonable cause, the image or recording is used for contemplated or pending court proceedings, and is not kept longer than necessary or required.


48. Mr Choo sought a clarification on whether cases which involved the distribution of videos prior to these amendments coming into force would be investigated under the new offences. They would, if the distribution takes place after the provisions take effect. If their offending acts occurred before the new laws are in force, they would be dealt with under prevailing laws.


49. Mr Tay also suggested that the courts be allowed to make orders which essentially involve the deletion of the offending images or recordings. The courts can order the disposal of any property which has been used in the commission of an offence. The CPC was amended last year to specifically allow an order for the deletion of data on a computer or mobile phone where the data was the subject of an offence.


50. Mr Tay also spoke on dealing with the source of the offending images. The source of the images will be identified through Police’s investigations. The Police will do its best to track the source. Those in possession of the images have to cooperate in investigations to provide information on the originators of such material.


51. Mr Desmond Choo and Dr Lee Bee Wah spoke about websites that carry prohibited material.


52. We take a strong stand against sites that host prohibited material. IMDA can issue directions to the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to such websites.


53. Internet content providers (ICPs) include web-hosting services, and they are all class-licensed under the Broadcasting Act.


54. They are required to comply with the Internet Code of Practice and ensure that prohibited material is not hosted on their websites.


55. If such websites are verified to be hosted in Singapore, the IMDA can direct the ICPs to take down the content; and suspend or cancel the class licences of the ICPs.


56. I thank Members for their support for the repeal of marital immunity for rape.


57. Mr Louis Ng asked about the extent of the repeal of marital immunity. The answer is all non-consensual sex with one’s spouse will be an offence.


58. His question also discusses sex within marriage involving minors. It is not tenable to completely ban minor marriages today. A majority of countries around the world share the same approach. The legal age of marriage is set at 18 years of age. We allow minors in Singapore to enter into marriage with special approval. But these marriages are extremely rare, and robust safeguards are in place.


59. Members raised concerns relating to proof. I make two points in response. First, all cases of alleged rape – within or outside of marriage – are subject to the same level of evidential rigour during investigation and prosecution. Police officers at the Serious Sexual Crime Branch are trained to deal with complex issues of evidence and proof. Second, there are existing offences in the Penal Code on false reporting. We are enhancing penalties for false reporting.


60. I want to thank Members also for their support for the amendments to Sections 375 on rape, 376 on sexual assault involving penetration, and 509 on insult of modesty.


61. Ms Anthea Ong supported the expanded legal definition of rape and spoke passionately about the need to protect all victims of sexual assault, regardless of gender. We agree.


62. Ms Anthea Ong and Mdm Rahayu spoke about a positive definition of “consent” in the Penal Code.


63. Instituting a new positive definition of consent could generate further uncertainty in view of the fairly, settled law in this instance.


64. The PCRC studied this issue and found that the experience of England and Wales in having a positive statutory definition does not help in clarifying the scope of consent.


65. Ms Ong has suggested greater public awareness about the contours of consent. We will work with agencies and organisations to improve on public education in this area.


66. Members spoke on the repeal of attempted suicide.


67. I was particularly struck by Mr Desmond Choo’s first-hand account from his days as a Police officer. He had to serve a warning to a semi-paralyzed lady who had attempted suicide. He said it felt unnecessary and discomforting. With today’s amendments, such warnings will no longer be required.


68. Mr De Souza set out his concerns regarding the decriminalisation of attempted suicide. Let me be clear. The abetment of suicide is still a crime. The amendments actually enhance the penalties for abetment of suicide significantly.


69. The amendments multiply the maximum punishment by ten times to 10 years’ imprisonment and more for certain other categories.


70. Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide remain illegal.


71. Mr Louis Ng spoke about support professionals that could assist police when intervening in attempted suicide cases.


72. The SPF’s Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU) is trained to handle cases like suicide attempts. Comprising police officers and psychologists, they are trained in negotiation tactics and suicide intervention. Officers are also trained to ensure their own safety. Social workers, for instance, at SOS and SSOs, can be involved later after the Police have ensured the safety of various parties.


73. We will look into Mr Ng’s suggestion on psychological first aid training.


74. On the use of MyResponder, interventions involving attempted suicide are different from CPR and AED procedures. We want to avoid a situation where a well-meaning member of the public, reacting to the notification, exacerbates the situation, or puts himself in danger.


75. Mr Murali spoke about Police intervention and treatment. The safeguards that were previously there – Police intervention, SCDF intervention – will still be there, post-decriminalisation. Where appropriate, Police can still exercise powers under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act. There will still be mental health treatment for appropriate cases. But, as Ms Anthea Ong highlighted, not all cases involve mental illness. For others, counselling or family support may be needed.


76. The Government will continue to maintain statistics, taking into account inputs from the various agencies which respond to suicide attempts.


77. Some have raised questions on whether decriminalisation will impact reporting by the public. This should not be the case.


78. Our experience informs us that callers who call emergency lines to report attempts do not call to report a crime.


79.They call for help, out of concern for the safety of the person attempting suicide and others in the vicinity of the person.


80. Mr De Souza asked for a study to be conducted following the decriminalisation.


81. We will monitor the situation post-amendment but we must remember that suicide attempts happen for various reasons.


82. An increase or decrease in the number of attempts may not be attributable to criminalisation or decriminalisation. Mr Ang Wei Neng asked for statistics on reports for attempted suicide. The number has been steady in the last five years. The average annual number of reports is 1,210.


83. The medical literature suggests that there are multiple factors that affect suicide risk ranging from barriers to seeking help, to economic downturns, to personal risk factors. For example, mental health disorders, substance abuse, financial problems and many others.


84. Mr Ang Wei Neng suggested there be mandatory counselling for those who attempt suicide.


85. The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) operates a 24-hour hotline to counsel persons in distress.


86. The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) operates a 24-hour Mental Health Helpline to assess and triage cases, and activate home visit teams, if necessary.


87. To make it mandatory means that we will have to enforce the need to go for counselling, and are likely to do so on pain of punishment.


88. Again, we are trying to move away, in this area, from criminalisation to help. So, we should tread carefully in this aspect.


89. Mr Louis Ng spoke about MACR and whether it could be raised to the age of 12. There is currently no scientific consensus on what the MACR should be. So, we looked at factors such as prevailing criminal activity among the various age groups. We assessed that there would not be a significant threat to public safety to raise the MACR to 10 years of age. Persons 10 years of age or above and under 12, can still avail themselves of a defence if they can show that they have not attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge the nature and consequences of his conduct. We think this strikes the right balance.


90. Mr Melvin Yong spoke about his concerns regarding the raising of the MACR. I hear the Member’s concerns, and assure him that the raising of the MACR will only come into force when the mechanism to address offending behaviour in children below the MACR is put in place.


91. The framework will ensure that children below the MACR will still have their behaviour addressed.


92. I thank Ms Sylvia Lim for her support for the introduction of s 323A [VCH resulting in GH] and the raising of the maximum sentence for s 323 [VCH].


93. Both Ms Lim and Mr Ang Wei Neng spoke about causing hurt and arrestability. We do take hurt offences seriously.


94. All Penal Code offences committed against children under 14, vulnerable persons, and domestic workers, will be made arrestable, regardless of the arrestability of the underlying offence. This includes VCH against these vulnerable victims.


95. In addition, the expansion of the definition of “public servants” to include persons, such as those who conduct illegal parking enforcement on behalf of the Government, means, that acts of hurt committed against a wider range of persons will be arrestable.


96. So, we are moving incrementally, to ensure that cases get the appropriate response and there is no inadvertent diversion of Police resources away from critical cases.


97. Ms Lim and Mr Ang asked about the various scenarios in which Police initiate investigations for VCH cases without a need for a magistrate’s complaint. These include acts of VCH which cause serious injury which falls short of grievous hurt, acts of VCH involved in road rage, VCH cases involving secret society members, racially or religiously aggravated VCH cases and acts of VCH against public service workers such as taxi drivers, transport workers, or nurses.


98. We will continue to monitor the situation with regard to VCH and study the various suggestions. Post amendments, we can assess if there is a need to create a more expedited framework for the resolution of other types of VCH cases, and if this can be done without compromising due process or compromising the delivery of Police response to other more serious offences.


99. Mr Murali asked about the proposed revision to criminal conspiracy. There are no reported instances of the use of Section 120A of the Penal Code against conspiracies to engage in non-criminal conduct. There is no strong policy reason or public imperative to keep it in the Penal Code. There is available recourse for such civil wrongs through the civil courts. The same approach is taken in the UK under the Criminal Law Act 1977, where criminal conspiracy is limited to agreements to commit offences.


100. The Member also spoke about criminal defamation. The assessment on criminal defamation is different.


101. While there is civil recourse for defamation, the policy assessment is that there may be certain cases of defamation where criminal sanctions are required to reflect the seriousness with which society regards such conduct.


102. It overlaps with a civil wrong, but so do other crimes such as theft and fraud. And a policy decision has been made for these acts to be treated both as crimes and as civil wrongs.


103. Mr Murali has proposed moving the Penal Code offences relating to kidnapping or corruption to other specialised legislation. We will consider Mr Murali’s feedback, and will also ask CPIB to consider it as well.


104. I should address one point though. The Member said there was an anomaly in sentencing; kidnapping in the Kidnapping Act is punishable by death but this was not the case in the Penal Code. The apparent inconsistency can actually be reconciled. The heavier penalties under the Kidnapping Act are due to the fact kidnapping for ransom is involved. Conversely, the kidnapping offence in the Penal Code encompasses a much broader range of conduct, including less serious conduct.


105. Mr Desmond Choo sought clarification on the need for an identifiable victim for the new fraud offence.


106. The new offence of fraud does not require an identifiable victim.


107. The LIBOR case is a clear example where dishonest gain can be made through the financial system without there being an identifiable victim or loss caused.


108. It is very difficult to find a lay person who understands how LIBOR is calculated, given the arcane nature of the mechanism.


109. Proving loss is also extremely difficult, because LIBOR is an inter-bank lending rate and it only impacts ordinary consumers indirectly, and the impact depends on the practices of each bank. For example, in setting fixed deposit interest rates linked to LIBOR.


110. If it is clear that someone acted dishonestly to gain a benefit, he should be punished.


111. Mr Choo asked why this new section was required in lieu of strengthening the Securities and Futures Act.


112. The SFA regulates specific financial transactions and products, whereas the fraud offence will cover any kind of dishonest or fraudulent behaviour for gain.


113. The new fraud offence puts a stop to the game of ‘catch-up’ with actors who have a strong financial interest in finding loopholes in regulation. So this law can be used against such actors.


114. Mr Choo also asked about how the regime compares with that of foreign jurisdictions.


115. The proposed Fraud offence is adapted from the UK Fraud Act 2006.


116. It has a heavier maximum punishment (20 years’ imprisonment as opposed to 10 years’ in the UK) to account for the fact that a single count of fraud can encompass a single deceptive scheme which affects multiple victims.


117. The higher maximum punishment is to ensure that complex, large-scale frauds receive the appropriate sentence.


118. Mr Choo also asked about the lack of a materiality requirement in the new offence.


119. The purpose of the new fraud offence is to focus on the culpability of the offender and not the effect it may have had on the victim.


120. Requiring proof of materiality requires a shift of focus back to the victim and how material they found the falsehood, and this is inconsistent with the purpose of the new offence.


121. Mr De Souza spoke about presumptive minimum sentences.


122. The amendments set out the provisions which presumptive minimum sentences apply to. They include provisions in laws outside the Penal Code, including certain offences under the Passport Act, the Fisheries Act, and the Immigration Act. But the listed offences do not include provisions in the MDA.


123. The list of offences presumptive minimum sentences will be applied to is tightly scoped. We are not introducing a general doctrine that mandatory minimum sentences should be replaced by presumptive minimum sentences.


124. Finally, let me discuss an issue Members have raised – education, awareness raising, and social norms.


125. Members have raised important and valid points. We agree that public education and awareness raising is vital, and we know that the amendments today need to be known beyond this House.


126. We will continue to work on this together with Members and community partners.


127. Yes, the law has its limits. The law can shape social norms, but it is only one factor.


128. The legal direction is clear.


129. Families, schools, media, and the wider community, including NGOs, also play important roles in shaping norms and we look forward to working together.


130. I believe I have responded to major concerns raised by Members. I thank Members for their support on this important Bill.


131. The amendments are timely, comprehensive, and necessary.


132.I thank members of the Penal Code Review Committee for its comprehensive report leading to this Bill, and all who shared their views on the Bill.


133. As Mr De Souza has said, this is a monumental Bill and a law that has been with us for close to 150 years.


134. The task of this generation is to update it, strengthen it, and make it relevant to today’s circumstances.


135. This is an opportunity for this House to register our strongest condemnation against acts that harm the most vulnerable among us.Persons like Annie Ee, Cindy, Daniel Nasser.


136. It is our duty to protect our society against predators like Joshua Robinson and ensure they get the justice they deserve.


137. Thank you.


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