Published: 02 August 2021
1. The Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill (the “Bill”) was introduced for its First Reading in Parliament today.
2. The Bill amends the Penal Code, which is a key part of Singapore’s criminal law framework. The Penal Code was last amended in 2019, to enhance protection for vulnerable victims, enact new offences to tackle emerging crime trends, and update the Penal Code for greater coherence and clarity.
Amendments to the Penal Code
3. The Bill introduces further amendments to the Penal Code and other legislation. Broadly, the key amendments are to:
a. Increase the penalties for three sexual offences, including outrage of modesty;
b. Expand and clarify the scope of certain offences and defences; and
c. Modernise the language of certain terms.
Increasing Penalties for Three Sexual Offences
4. As part of the 2020/2021 review of the sentencing framework for sexual and hurt offences, MHA and MinLaw reviewed the penalties for sexual and hurt offences in the Penal Code, including the offences of voyeurism, distribution of intimate images, outrage of modesty, and voluntarily causing hurt.
5. In March 2021, during the Ministerial Statement on the Review of the Sentencing Framework for Sexual and Hurt Offences, the Minister for Home Affairs and for Law Mr K Shanmugam, announced that the review had concluded that the maximum penalties were generally properly calibrated, but that the penalties should be increased for three offences – outrage of modesty, and two offences to do with engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a minor or causing a minor to view a sexual image.
Outrage of Modesty
6. During the 5-year period from 2016 to 2020, an average of 1,190 cases of outrage of modesty were reported each year. This was a 24% increase from the previous 5-year period (from 2011 to 2015). To enhance deterrence and allow the courts to deal with egregious cases more severely, the Bill increases the maximum imprisonment term for outrage of modesty under section 354(1) of the Penal Code from two years to three years.
Sexual Activity in the Presence of a Minor or Showing Sexual Image to a Minor
7. The Bill increases the maximum imprisonment term from one to two years for the offences of: (a) engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a minor between 14 and 16 years of age or causing a minor between 14 and 16 years of age to view a sexual image (under section 376ED(3)(b)); and (b) engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a minor between 16 and 18 years of age or causing a minor between 16 and 18 years of age to view a sexual image, if the offender is in an exploitative relationship with the minor (under section 376EE). This will ensure parity with similar offences involving sexual communication with minors of the same age ranges (under sections 376EB(3)(b) and 376EC of the Penal Code respectively), which carry a maximum imprisonment term of two years.
Expanding and Clarifying Certain Offences and Defences
Provision of False Information to a Public Servant
8. Today, section 182 covers the giving of false information to a public servant with the intent of causing, or knowing that it will likely cause, the public servant to improperly use, or not to use, his lawful powers. However, section 182 does not apply where a person gives false information with the intent of causing, or knowing that it will likely cause, the public servant to be ineffective or inefficient in exercising his lawful powers. For example, section 182 does not apply where a person misleads the Police about the identity of a suspect, causing the Police to have to put in much more time and effort to uncover the identity of the suspect. This is not just a matter of wasting Police resources, but also compromising public safety; if the suspect remains at large, he could commit more offences, leading to more victims. The Bill expands section 182 to cover such scenarios.
9. Section 186 of the Penal Code makes it an offence to voluntarily obstruct a public servant in carrying out his public functions. The Bill amends the section, to clarify that “obstruction” may arise from providing false information, and not just physically obstructing the public servant.
10. The Bill further raises the maximum imprisonment term for section 186 from three months to six months, to align the penalty with a similar offence under section 177(1) of the Penal Code (giving false information to a public servant, while legally bound to give information).
Procuring Sexual Activity by Deception or False Representation
11. Currently, section 376H of the Penal Code makes it an offence for a person to obtain consent for sexual activity by deceiving the victim about the use of any sexually protective measure (e.g. the offender obtaining the victim’s consent to have sexual intercourse by lying that he would use a condom, but subsequently not using one). It is also an offence to deceive the victim about whether the offender or the person whom the victim is induced to touch carries a sexually transmitted disease (“STD”) (e.g. lying to the victim that the offender / another person was not suffering from an STD so as to obtain the victim’s consent to sexual activity).
12. The Bill broadens the scope of the offence in two ways. First, the proposed amendments will expand section 376H to cover a person who induces, through deception or false representation, the victim to consent to being touched sexually by a third person.
13. Second, the proposed amendments will clarify that it may be an offence if the deception pertains to the risk of the victim contracting an STD (e.g. where an offender lies to the victim that the offender’s STD is not transmissible via sexual activity).
Sexual Penetration of a Corpse
14. Currently, the offence of sexual penetration of a corpse only prohibits: (i) a man from penetrating a corpse’s vagina, anus or mouth with his penis; and (ii) any person from causing a man to penetrate a corpse in such manner without the man’s consent. The Bill makes this offence gender-neutral, and expands its scope to cover other forms of sexual penetration involving corpses.
Offences relating to Voyeurism, Child Abuse Material, and Abusive Material of Minors
15. Currently, the terms “buttocks” or “anal region” are used in the context of offences involving voyeurism, child abuse material, and abusive material. To avoid ambiguities in interpretation, the Bill clarifies that the term “buttocks” includes the “anal region”.
16. Currently, “child abuse material” and “abusive material” are defined to include material depicting minors’ breasts, or their genital or anal regions, in circumstances which reasonable persons would consider offensive.
a. The Bill clarifies these terms, to catch images of minors’ genitals, buttocks or breasts, whether “exposed or covered”. This ensures that the offences will cover photographs of scantily clad minors; or close-up photos of minors’ genitals, buttocks, or breasts even if they are covered by clothing, in circumstances which reasonable persons would regard as sexually offensive.
b. To avoid ambiguity over whether these offences apply to material depicting minors in a non-sexual manner (such as diaper advertisements), the Bill clarifies that the depiction of the minors’ genitals, buttocks or breasts must be sexual in nature.
Modernising the Language of Certain Terms in the Penal Code
17. As part of our continuing efforts to ensure that the Penal Code is more accessible to present-day readers, the Bill replaces certain archaic terms (such as “wantonly”, “malignantly” and “maliciously”) with terms which are more easily understood, and already defined in the Penal Code (such as “rashly” or “intentionally”).
Ministry of Home Affairs
Ministry of Law
2 August 2021