Assessing mental state of boy who threw cat off Boon Lay block is key to any criminal case, say lawyers
The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Singapore is 10, while a child aged between 10 and 12 must be shown to have sufficient maturity to be held criminally responsible.
SINGAPORE: Assessing the mental state of a boy who was caught on a closed-circuit television camera throwing a cat off a Housing Board (HDB) block in Boon Lay is key to any criminal case made against him, lawyers told CNA on Monday (Dec 19).
The video posted on Facebook showed the boy following the black cat out of a lift, before carrying it up and throwing it over a ledge and off the lift landing. A loud crash could be heard seconds later.
The cat, named Panther, died of its injuries. A police report has been filed, and the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) – a cluster of the National Parks Board – said last week that an investigation is under way.
AVS' executive director asked members of the public "not to speculate on the details of the case and allow investigations to run its proper course".
An online petition calling for authorities to "fully investigate and bring the perpetrator to justice" has collected more than 57,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
The potential offence in question is cruelty to animals under Section 42 of the Animals and Birds Act, said Mr Josephus Tan of Invictus Law Corporation.
The penalty for first-time offenders is up to 18 months' jail, a fine of up to S$15,000 or both.
Given the CCTV footage, Mr Tan said he did not think there was any dispute as to the boy's physical actions. Instead, the pertinent question was about the boy's mental state at the time.
"Does he have sufficient maturity to understand his offending conduct? Was he mentally impaired at the material time of the offence?" asked Mr Tan.
Mr Chua Hock Lu of Kalidass Law Corporation also said that an assessment of the boy's mental state would be relevant even if an offence under the Act is made out.
The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Singapore is 10, meaning that nothing done by a child under the age of 10 can be considered an offence.
A child between 10 and 12 who does not have enough maturity to understand the nature and consequence of his or her conduct also cannot be held criminally responsible.
"The main difference between the two is that in the latter, it is up to the Youth Court to decide whether the child has sufficient maturity based on the facts of the case so as to be able to be found guilty of the offending conduct," said Mr Tan.
The exact age of the boy involved in the cat throwing incident is not known.
Mr Tan said it is unlikely that the boy will be fined or jailed if found guilty, and the more likely outcome may be probation with a requirement to fulfil specific conditions like counselling and therapy.
Aside from the CCTV footage, many other aspects of the incident have to be explored by the prosecution in making a case against the boy, said Mr Shashi Nathan and Ms Laura Yeo of Withers KhattarWong.
"For example, if the boy suffered from any emotional or psychiatric disturbance at the time of the incident," they added.
In a similar case in 2016, 41-year-old Lee Wai Leong was sentenced to 18 months' probation after throwing a cat from the 13th floor of an HDB block in Yishun, causing its death.
An Institute of Mental Health assessment found he had moderate intellectual disability and was "quite obviously simple-minded", TODAY reported then.
Mr Tan, who was the defence lawyer in that case, told CNA that Lee's intellectual disability was the main consideration as to why the man was not jailed.
ADDRESS THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Another lawyer said the Boon Lay case was "rare" as it involved a young child, and added that early investigations would most likely include a psychological assessment of the boy.
"I think the underlying issue could most likely be either a psychological one or a family environment kind of situation," said FC Legal Asia senior associate Goh Jia Jie, who is also an animal welfare advocate.
While there is a desire among the public to see the boy punished, that would not address "the root of the problem" nor get closer to understanding why he acted that way, said the lawyer.
For youthful offenders, rehabilitation is key, added Mr Goh, who stressed the importance of addressing the boy's environment and psychological needs.
For adult offenders, he said that one area of improvement would be the use of disqualification orders by the court to ban an offender from owning an animal.
Currently, the maximum period of disqualification is 12 months. This is on top of any jail term or fine to which the offender is sentenced.
In "very egregious" cases involving "pure abuse" resulting in the death of an animal, Mr Goh said he believes the court should be given the discretion to order a lifetime ban.
A more important step is public education and teaching children to be kind to animals, he added.
Last November, the Ministry of National Development said it was reviewing the penalties under the Animals and Birds Act to ensure they remain effective in deterring animal cruelty and abuse.
The ministry also said NParks will continue working closely with animal welfare groups and veterinarians to raise public awareness on responsible pet ownership and animal care.