SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Law will maintain its approach in naming those accused of sex crimes, said Minister of Law K Shanmugam on Monday (May 10).
He was responding to a parliamentary question from Nominated Member of Parliament Tan Yia Swam about how media reports of ongoing trials of sex crimes are regulated and protecting medical professionals whose reputations are affected by coverage of such cases.
"The Ministry of Law has previously assessed whether the names of accused persons should not be published until they are convicted," said Mr Shanmugam in Parliament on Monday.
Mr Shanmugam noted two approaches: Protecting the identity of accused persons until they are convicted with rules to grant anonymity to the accused in certain cases; and having open court proceedings where “all matters are out immediately”, which does not provide the courts with a general power to grant accused people anonymity to protect their reputations.
“The downside in this second approach is that of course the reputation of accused persons is often irreparably damaged by the publicity arising from media coverage of an ongoing criminal trial, even if they are acquitted at the end of the day," he said.
"And I think Dr Tan's question probably arises from the trial of doctors and sex crimes, but this applies to all accused, a variety of cases."
Mr Shanmugam said: "After assessments, we have decided to keep to our approach, which means that in general, accused persons are publicly tried and the verdict is publicly announced. That also allows unidentified victims of serial offenders, for example, to come forward and seek help.
"But I emphasise our position on this issue is, however, not set in concrete. We can also see the merits of shifting to some version of the first approach. So we will keep reviewing this while we are maintaining status quo."
Under the Ministry of Law's current approach, “there is anonymity given if it is required in public interest” in some circumstances, said the Law Minister. This includes protecting sensitive information related to national security, and the identities of young children or people and alleged victims of sexual or child abuse offences.
“But the reason for doing that is to protect those vulnerable victims and children from being identified and give them a better life," said Mr Shanmugam.
Noting that the courts have the power to prohibit the publication of the identity of the accused and impose some conditions on how the trial can be reported, Mr Shanmugam stressed that the media must also comply with these orders when covering the proceedings.
“There are … pros and cons with both approaches, whether to allow or to prohibit the publication of names of accused persons until they are convicted. We will keep our position under review.”