Court to hear 3 challenges to section 377A

Court to hear 3 challenges to section 377A

Pink Dot light up 2019
This year, the traditional light-up for Pink Dot spelled out a call to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men. (Photo: Cindy Co)

SINGAPORE: Three challenges to the law that criminalises sex between men will be jointly heard in chambers before a High Court judge from Wednesday (Nov 13).

Lawyers involved in the cases told CNA that they would be relying on arguments such as scientific evidence to say that homosexuality is a natural variant of human sexual orientation and that the law violates the constitution.

According to Section 377A of the penal code, any man who commits any act of gross indecency with another man in public or in private can be jailed for up to two years. This extends to any man who abets such an act, procures or attempts to procure such an act.

The challenges were mounted by three men: Johnson Ong Ming, a 43-year-old disc jockey and producer; Dr Roy Tan Seng Kee, a 61-year-old retired general practitioner; and 42-year-old Bryan Choong, the former executive director of LGBT non-profit organisation Oogachaga.

Lawyer Johannes Hadi, who is representing Mr Ong with Suang Wijaya and Eugene Thuraisingam, told CNA that the lawyers will aim to prove that "homosexuality is a natural variant of sexual orientation in humans".

"If we can prove this, then section 377a is not just an absurd law because it criminalises homosexual adults for who they are and what they do in private, but also discriminatory," said Mr Hadi. 

He said this would offend articles in the constitution which prohibit the deprivation of life or personal liberty save in accordance with law and which mandates that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law. 

Lawyer M Ravi also said that the principle he will be relying on for his client Dr Tan is that 377A "infringes right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law, under Article 12(1) of the constitution".

"Identical conduct occurring in private between males and females, or between females, would not constitute a criminal offence and be subject to investigation and penalty."

The case will be heard in chambers in the High Court, before Justice See Kee Oon, from Wednesday afternoon.

CHALLENGE COMES AFTER FORMER CHIEF JUSTICE'S COMMENTS

Last month, former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong called for a review of 377A in a paper published online on Oct 14.

He said that the law was a product of specific social conditions that have long ceased to exist in Singapore.

His comments came after former attorneys-general Professor Walter Woon and V K Rajah pointed out that the section poses a constitutional problem given the Government's position on the law. 

In response to Prof Woon's and Mr Rajah's comments, Attorney-General Lucien Wong said in a media statement on Oct 2 last year that the public prosecutor retains "full prosecutorial discretion" with respect to section 377A.

Mr Wong said the Government's position on it was that the police would not proactively enforce it such as by conducting raids, but will investigate if reports of offences are lodged under Section 377A.

Various religious groups and leaders have spoken out against the repeal of 377A, with the Archbishop of Singapore saying that accepting homosexual acts as a social norm would have "dreadful consequences" for the stability of families, the well-being of children and bring long-term and irreversible risks to the common good.

Last year, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam highlighted how society is "deeply split" on the issue, with a majority of people opposing any change but with a growing minority wanting it to be repealed.

Source: CNA/ll

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