The Path to a Safer Singapore
A Commentary on the Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill
The Penal Code was recently substantially amended in 2019 to better protect vulnerable victims and curb sexual offences. This was timely, given the rise in offences of such nature. To strengthen our legal framework and further protect the vulnerable, the Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill (the Bill) was introduced for its First Reading in Parliament on 2 August 2021 to enhance the Penal Code. The Bill reinforces the desire to ensuring that Singapore remains one of the safest country in the world, where those in need are adequately insulated against those who prey on them.
In response to a marked increase of outrage of modesty cases in recent years, the Bill seeks to increase the maximum imprisonment term under section 354(1) of the Penal Code from two years to three years. This is to allow the courts to mete out heavier sentences for more serious cases. Foreseeably, potential offenders would be suitably deterred from engaging in such wanton behaviour while those who persist will face appropriately enhanced punishments.
In addition, the maximum imprisonment terms for the freshly minted offences under sections 376ED(3)(b) and 376EE of the Penal Code, involving sexual activities in the presence of minors or causing minors to view sexual images, will be increased to two years instead of the current one. That will ensure uniform treatment with similar offences under sections 376EB(3)(b) and 376EC of the Penal Code as logically, there should not be any perceivable difference in the handling of the offenders between the two sets of offences.
Furthermore, to stem out ambiguities possibly arising from the use of “buttocks” or “anal region” in some of the sexual offences in the Penal Code, the Bill seeks to clarify that “buttocks” includes the “anal region”. This makes the obvious even more explicit and allows for unambiguous interpretation of the provisions accordingly.
To further protect minors from sexual fiends, the Bill also sought to clarify that “child abuse material” and “abusive material” include images of minors’ genitals, buttocks or breasts – whether such areas were exposed or covered with clothing. The essence behind the mischief is to prevent proliferation of minors’ images that are sexual in nature – clothed or otherwise.
The Bill further widens the ambit of section 376H of the Penal Code to include an offender who induces the victim, through deception or false representation, to agree to be touched sexually by a third party. Additionally, it will also be an offence if an offender deceives the victim that the offender’s Sexually Transmitted Disease cannot be transmitted through sexual activity with the victim. Such inclusions will mend the gaps and tighten the noose around potential sexual offenders who would knowingly infect others through deceit.
In tandem with recent movements for gender equality, section 377 of the Penal Code involving sexual penetration of a corpse is expanded to make it gender-neutral as the current offence is focused on the offender being a man. Further, sexual penetration will be enlarged in its scope from the current vagina, anus or mouth. This would ensure parity for offenders to be dealt with equally before the law.
Apart from protection against sexual deviants, the Bill also seeks to jealously guard public safety and resources. Consequently, the Bill seeks to broaden the ambit of section 182 of the Penal Code to cover situations when an offender provides false information with the intent of causing or with the knowledge that it will likely to cause a public servant to be ineffective in performing his duties. This will deter potential offenders from wasting precious public resources to protect suspects.
In line with the widening of the scope of section 182 of the Penal Code, section 186 of the Penal Code will make it clear that providing false information to a public servant is also obstruction and obstruction is not limited to physical obstruction. As such, the maximum imprisonment term will be increased from the current three months to six months to reflect the severity of the offence and align it to a similar offence under section 177(1) of the Penal Code.
Lastly, a most welcome change would be to modernise archaic descriptions of a guilty mind of an offender with the available descriptors of the Penal Code. This would make it easier for any member of the public to understand the Penal Code and keep away from crime.
In sum, the Bill is timely in our current climate and continues the momentum generated by the amendments to the Penal Code in 2019. With the increase in penalties for certain sexual offences for the protection of the vulnerable, the clarifying of ambiguities and the simplification of language for the public to digest, these legislative amendments are essential to ensure that our Criminal Justice System remains relevant and is progressively and undoubtedly evolving to make Singapore even safer.