MHA to review penalty framework following sentencing of NUS student in strangling case

MHA to review penalty framework following sentencing of NUS student in strangling case

K Shanmugam Law Home Affairs Minister file photo
File photo of Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

SINGAPORE: Penalty frameworks, how they are applied and how certain factors like an offender's educational background are taken into account are among certain policies to be reviewed, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam on Tuesday (Jul 21).

He made these remarks in response to the sentencing of a National University of Singapore undergraduate who trespassed into his ex-girlfriend's home, strangled her and injured her eye. The student was given community-based sentences.

Speaking to the media via Zoom, Mr Shanmugam said "there are strong feelings on the punishment", adding that female Members of Parliament (MPs) have spoken to him.

"I entirely understand their feelings," he said, adding that his own officers in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) have "very strong feelings too".

"We need to deal with this as a matter of policy. So I've asked my ministry, MHA, to do a review on what penalties should be applied," he said.

There are three areas to be covered in the review, on which Mr Shanmugam will make a statement in Parliament after it is completed.

These are: The penalties for "such cases in general", with the minister declining to elaborate if they are for specific offences; the extent to which an offender's educational background and other factors should be relevant or not; and the relativity in punishment between this offence and other offences, for example how the punishment for a hurt offence compares to theft or spitting.

"We will consult stakeholders on this," he said. "The penalty framework in the end must make sense. And when the review is finalised, I will make a statement in Parliament."

THE OFFENDER'S SENTENCING

Last week, Yin Zi Qin was given a short detention order for 12 days, a day reporting order for five months with counselling and an order to complete 80 hours of community service over a year.

Under a short detention order, an offender can be detained in prison for a period not exceeding 14 days, according to the State Courts' website.

Day reporting orders are administered by the Singapore Prison Service and require offenders to report to a day reporting centre for monitoring, counselling and to undergo rehabilitation programmes.

Community service orders are imposed to reform offenders and for them to make amends to the community by performing unpaid community service under the supervision of an authorised officer.

In sentencing Yin, the judge noted that while probation was not appropriate in this case, Yin's relative youth, rehabilitative prospects and lack of previous convictions made community sentences a viable option.

His sentence sparked outrage online, with petitions being launched against it and NUS releasing a statement shortly after to state that Yin has been suspended and is not allowed on campus.

READ: NUS student who strangled ex-girlfriend suspended and not allowed on campus: University

The People's Action Party's (PAP) Women's Wing and female PAP Members of Parliament also said in a statement on Tuesday that they are "dismayed" by the "disproportionate" sentence meted out.

Mr Shanmugam said he would not be commenting on the specific facts of Yin's case. While he said he thought it is "natural" for people to look at the courts when they are unhappy, he stressed that judges decide based on what is presented to them.

"I think courts are not the issue. Courts are independent. When we disagree, the approach should be to look at the legal policy framework, which the Government can change," he said. 

He stressed that the laws here protect the "vulnerable and the weak". 

"Of course, women's protections in Singapore are very high, and we have to continue to make sure that it is so, both in terms of the framework and the application," said Mr Shanmugam, who did not give a specific timeline for the review.

Asked if the backlash was in part due to previous cases such as the case of NUS undergraduate Terence Siow, who molested a woman, the minister pointed to new offences enacted on voyeurism and enhanced penalties for existing crimes.

He added that Yin's specific offence of voluntarily causing hurt has "stiff" penalties. For his offence committed in 2019, he could have been jailed for up to two years, fined a maximum S$5,000, or both.

The penalties for voluntarily causing hurt have recently been increased - the maximum jail term is now three years for such offences committed from January this year.

Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), also made remarks on the case to the media, shortly after Mr Shanmugam.

She said youths have been "quite prepared to speak their mind" on issues around the case, and encouraged those who have been following the case to join discussion sessions to be organised by MCCY and the National Youth Council.

The Attorney-General's Chambers told CNA on Tuesday evening that it will not be appealing Yin's case.

Source: CNA/ll(ta)

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