SINGAPORE: The Penal Code in Singapore is getting a much-needed refresh through the Criminal Law Reform Bill, which was given its first reading in Parliament on Monday (Feb 11).
Among the sweeping changes proposed in the bill is the much-anticipated repeal of marital rape immunity, more protection for vulnerable adults and young children as well as decriminalising attempted suicides. The bill also proposed new offences to tackle emerging crimes arising from advances in technology.
READ: Marital rape, voyeurism to become offences in ‘sweeping’ changes proposed for Singapore’s penal code
These come after the Penal Code Review Committee (PCRC) completed its two-year exercise to review the laws and propose recommendations for reforms last August.
The committee was co-chaired by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and Education, and Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health.
The proposals were then published online and engagement sessions held to get feedback from more than 700 stakeholders from the legal, social, religious, financial and education sectors, according to a joint press release by the ministries of Home Affairs and Law on Monday.
The Government had considered the recommendations and the feedback received and agreed with most of them, the release added.
The amendments to the Penal Code will have four focus areas:
- Enhance protection for vulnerable victims
- Update the Penal Code
- Rationalise the general principles, explanations and defences in the Penal Code
- Tackle emerging crime trends
It will also remove outmoded offences, simplify offences by removing distinctions that are no longer relevant, remove offences in the Penal Code that are already dealt with under dedicated legislation and update the sentencing framework, the ministries said.
DECRIMINALISING ATTEMPTED SUICIDE
One of the PCRC’s recommendations the Government took onboard is the decriminalisation of attempted suicide.
The release said that most of the respondents to the recommendations agreed that people who attempt suicide should be provided with help rather than be penalised. A minority felt that decriminalising the act is “contrary to the societal view that life is precious”, it added.
To this, the Government said the repeal of attempted suicide “does not mean that (it) has shifted its position on the sanctity of life”.
“This is reflected through the continued criminalisation of the abetment of attempted suicide, as well as amendments to other legislation to provide the police with the powers to intervene to prevent loss of life or injury in cases of attempted suicide,” the ministries said. Euthanasia, for instance, is still a crime.
Another recommendation included in the Criminal Law Reform Bill is the raising of the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from seven to 10 years of age.
The ministries said there was support for raising the age limit, but there were differing opinions on how high the ceiling should go. Some social sector representatives felt that the MACR should be raised to 12 in line with the recommendation of the United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, they said in the release.
In response, the Government took the PCRC’s recommendation, which will put Singapore on par with jurisdictions like England, Wales and Hong Kong.
One of the reasons given was that there is a “marked increase” in the number of juveniles offending from the age of 10, which might require police to intervene, the release said, though it did not quantify the increase.
However, the change will only come into effect after the Government had developed a suitable rehabilitation framework to manage children between seven and 10 years who commit a crime, it added.
PUTTING A HALT TO “STEALTHING”
The Government is also looking to introduce a new offence, criminalising the procurement of sex where consent is obtained by deception or false representation.
This could be done either by lying about the use or manner of use of a sexually protective device, or lying about whether one is suffering from a sexually transmitted disease (STD), the release said.
For the first scenario, the act is sometimes known as “stealthing”, which describes the removal of the protective device, such as a condom, during sexual intercourse. Last December, a police officer was found guilty of stealthing in what was believed to be the first case of its kind to be prosecuted in Germany, according to media reports.
The second reading of the Criminal Law Reform Bill is expected to take place in May.
The last time Singapore’s Penal Code had a major review was in 2007.