The Penal Code Review Committee (PCRC) has completed its review of the Penal Code and submitted its report and recommendations to Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs & Minister for Law, on 31 August 2018.
2. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Law (MLaw) would like to invite the public to provide feedback on the proposed amendments to the Penal Code.
3. In MLaw’s addendum to the President’s Address in 2016, the Government announced its intention to undertake substantive reform of our criminal laws, to ensure that they remain relevant and up-to-date.
4. The PCRC was convened by MHA and MLaw in July 2016, to undertake a review of the Penal Code, and make recommendations on reforming it.
5. The PCRC is co-chaired by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Finance & Second Minister for Education, and Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs & Ministry of Health. The PCRC comprises leading practitioners and thought leaders from the private sector, academia and the public sector, including the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Judiciary. Please refer to the Annex for a factsheet, which includes the list of members and the Terms of Reference of the Committee.
6. The Government would like to thank the PCRC for its efforts in reviewing the Penal Code, and its reform recommendations. In his letter to the Committee, Mr Shanmugam said: “On behalf of the Government, I wish to thank the members of the PCRC for the carefully considered recommendations. The Committee has proposed wide-ranging changes to the Penal Code, which the Government will now discuss, with the benefit of views obtained from consultation sessions with various stakeholders. It is my hope that this process will culminate in a revised Penal Code that is principled, proportionate, and practical; one which will continue to serve Singapore well in the years to come.”
Key Aspects of the Recommendations
7. The PCRC has submitted its recommendations in the following five areas:
(i) Enhancing protection for vulnerable victims;
(ii) Tackling emerging crime trends;
(iii) Updating the Penal Code;
(iv) Harmonising criminal laws; and
(v) Updating the sentencing framework.
Enhancing Protection for the Vulnerable in Society
8. The PCRC recommended strengthening protection for the vulnerable in society. Three specific groups – children, “vulnerable persons”1 , and domestic maids – have been identified as “vulnerable victims” for enhanced protection in the Penal Code. The recommendations will help to deter crimes against them. The PCRC has also made a recommendation to protect married women.
9. The key recommendations to enhance protection for “vulnerable victims” include:
- For sexual offences committed against minors:
a. Retain the age of consent for sexual activity at 16 years.
b. Retain the age below which sexual activity with minors will be regarded as a statutory aggravating factor at 14 years.
c. Introduce a new offence criminalising sexual penetration of minors who are between 16 and 18 years of age, where the offender has exploited or manipulated the victim.
d. Enhance existing penalties for the offence of sexual penetration of a minor under 16, where the offender has exploited or manipulated the victim.
- Strengthen provisions against sexual grooming:
a. Lower the threshold required for sexual grooming and enhance penalties for cases where the victims are under 14 years of age.
b. Introduce a new offence of sexual communication with minor to cover situations where the offender has not met the victim.
c. Introduce a new offence of causing minor to look at sexual images.
- General enhancement of penalties for offences knowingly committed against “vulnerable victims”:
a. Enhancing penalties for all offences in the Penal Code committed against children under 14 years of age.
b. Enhancing penalties for all offences in the Penal Code committed against “vulnerable persons”.
- The creation of a new offence to deal with cases of abuse of “vulnerable victims” leading to death or other forms of grievous hurt.
- Increasing protection for domestic maids. The PCRC proposed that the court should have the discretion to sentence an employer, or agent of the domestic maid, who commits an offence in the Penal Code against a domestic maid to up to two times the maximum punishment prescribed for the offence.
10. The law on marital immunity for rape has been raised and discussed on many occasions and at various platforms, including in Parliament. The PCRC has recommended to repeal marital immunity for rape, based on the principle that all women should be protected from sexual abuse, regardless of their marital status or the identity of the perpetrator. The PCRC also took the view that the majority of our population no longer subscribe to the belief that a wife had irrevocably surrendered herself to sexual intercourse with her husband upon marriage.
Tackling Emerging Crime Trends
11. While crime rates have remained low in Singapore, the advancement in technology and proliferation of mobile devices and social media have spawned new types of crime. One example is up-skirt photography and other forms of voyeurism which have caused distress to many victims. The PCRC has thus recommended to introduce the specific offences of “voyeurism”, and “distributing or threatening to distribute an intimate image” to clearly define and provide punishments for these offences, regardless of the gender of the victims. This will ensure that the law continues to provide for consistent and proportionate outcomes based on the seriousness of the offences committed.
12. In the area of white-collar crime, we see increasingly sophisticated and complex criminal schemes which threaten the integrity of our financial systems and prey on vulnerable consumers. The PCRC therefore recommended a new offence of fraud, adapted from the United Kingdom, to deal with emerging crime tactics that target financial systems. In addition, the PCRC recognised that the advent of technology and the Internet has enabled crime and criminals to cross borders, leading it to recommend the clarification and expansion of extra-territorial jurisdiction for selected white-collar and property offences.
Updating the Penal Code
13. To strengthen and modernise the Penal Code, the PCRC recommended updating the Penal Code to clarify the establishment of criminal liability, strengthen general defences and their exceptions, and update certain offences. Amongst these, a key amendment is the decriminalisation of attempted suicide.
14. The PCRC reaffirmed society’s opposition to suicide. Nonetheless, it recommended decriminalising attempted suicide via the repeal of section 309 of the Penal Code. Section 309, a 19th century provision, exists because it was thought that criminalisation was the best way to deter suicide attempts. Today, the PCRC accepts the view that treatment, not prosecution, is the most appropriate response to persons who are so distressed that they attempt to take their own lives.
15. The PCRC therefore recommended repealing section 309 of the Penal Code, and expanding section 7 of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act to ensure that persons who require mental health assistance receive the appropriate assessment and treatment.
Harmonising Criminal Laws
16. The PCRC recommended the harmonisation of offences in the Penal Code through the removal of outmoded provisions, as they deal with a very narrow set of offences that are unlikely to occur in the modern context. The PCRC also recommended the simplification of offences, to remove distinctions between offences that appear arbitrary or are no longer relevant, for example, when mischief is conducted against railway engines, works of irrigation, and telegraph cables.
17. While certain distinctions between offences have been removed, the Committee has recommended retaining the highest level of punishment prescribed for that class of provisions, to ensure that the maximum penalty for existing offences is not diminished, while allowing the Court flexibility to mete out lower sentences for less serious offences.
18. The PCRC also recommended the introduction of a new provision dealing with violent group crime resulting in death.
Updating the Sentencing Framework
19. The PCRC was of the view that the relative severity of offences needed to be recalibrated from time to time. To that end, the PCRC reviewed the offences in the Penal Code, to ensure that the punishments meted out continue to be commensurate with the seriousness of the offences. Some of the sections that were reviewed are as follows:
- Hurt and grievous hurt;
- Assault of public servants;
- Use of life imprisonment;
- Use of fines;
- Enhancement of penalties to ensure proportionate outcomes; and
- Chapter X offences (Contempt of the lawful authority of public servants).
Invitation to Provide Feedback
20. We welcome your views on the above proposals, as well as any other suggestions you may have on the Penal Code. The full report can be found on MHA, Mlaw and REACH’s website. Please submit your feedback to us by 30 September 2018 via email at PCR_Feedback@mha.gov.sg, or via hard copy to the below address:
Ministry of Home Affairs
New Phoenix Park
28 Irrawaddy Road
(Re: PC Consultation)
21. Your feedback is important to us. All views and comments received will be considered. However, we will not be able to individually acknowledge or address every comment. We will consolidate and provide a summary of the key comments received at the close of the consultation exercise. This is to maintain confidentiality of feedback contributors.
22. The Penal Code Amendment Bill is targeted to be tabled in Parliament in November this year.
1A “vulnerable person” is any person who by reason of mental or physical infirmity, disability or incapacity is substantially unable to protect himself or herself from abuse, neglect or self-neglect.