Straits Times: Opposition win

F.Y.I.

THIS DAY IN HISTORY

1981. Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam from the Workers’ Party wins the Anson constituency by-election. He is the first opposition member to win a seat in Singapore since 1966.

TODAY: MPs urge tougher stand on sexual offences

Changes to give greater protection to women and children, but MPs want more

LEONG WEE KEAT
weekeat@mediacorp.com.sg

FURTHER protection extended to the vulnerable, under proposed changes in the Penal Code, received the thumbs up from Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday. But they asked for the umbrella to be further extended.

MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Indranee Rajah and Nominated MPs Eunice Olsen and Siew Kum Hong argued for the removal of marital immunity from rape for men.

Under the proposed changes made by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), husbands can no longer plead marital immunity in six circumstances if they are charged with raping their spouses.

Some of the circumstances include if a couple is waiting for their divorce to be finalised or if a woman has taken out a court injunction to restrain her husband from having sex with her.

Describing this as a calibrated approach, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Law Ho Peng Kee said total abolition of marital immunity would change the complexion of marriage drastically with negative impact on the marital relationship.

Ms Indranee, who acknowledged that “certain inroads have been made”, said violence against women would have already occurred before any of the six circumstances took place. “Removing marital immunity altogether would send a strong signal that sexual relationships should be based on mutual consent,” she said.

Ms Olsen also pointed out an apparent contradiction in the MHA’s reasoning of preserving and respecting intimacy in a marriage, when explaining the rationale to retain marital immunity for men.

Citing one proposed amendment to repeal an offence to entice, take away or detain a married woman with the intention of having illicit intercourse with her, Ms Olsen asked: “Why is one law, which was meant to symbolise the state’s respect for marriages, repealed while another purporting to do the same is kept?”

Arguing that marriage does not grant immunity to the husband or wife from the rule of law, Ms Olsen said the proposed changes gave the impression that “the woman has a right to protect her purse, but not her body; or at least, not when it comes to rape”.

Mr Siew said the MHA’s explanation of “conjugal rights” suggested a husband “had some sort of right to sex with his wife”.

He added: “This seems to be derived from the archaic view that a woman, by marrying a man, has irrevocably consented to sex with him.”

Another proposed sexual offence to come under the microscope was sexual grooming, where an adult befriends and establishes emotional control over a child, paving the way for sexual abuse or rape.

MP for Bukit Panjang Teo Ho Pin asked why there is a need for the adult and the child to meet twice before an offence could be made out.

Besides the spotlight on sexual offences, concerns were also raised over increases in maximum prison sentences.

Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim pointed out proposed increases in maximum jail terms for 110 offences. The jail term for an assault on a MP or a minister, for instance, could be quadrupled from a maximum of seven years to life imprisonment.

While she accepted that fines have to be increased due to inflation, Ms Lim was puzzled over the increase in jail terms – given that the courts have more discretionary punishments now. She said: “The loss of liberty 20 years ago does not cost less today.”

Posted in 2007 10. Comments Off on TODAY: MPs urge tougher stand on sexual offences

Straits Times: Upping of jail sentences: Caution urged

CHANGES TO THE PENAL CODE

MEMBERS of the House yesterday called for caution when it comes to upping jail time for offences.

Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong and Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim both expressed disquiet at the doubling and even quadrupling of some jail terms in the revised Penal Code.

For instance, the maximum jail term for unlawful assembly will be raised from six months to two years.

The increase in maximum fines is understandable since fines were last revised in 1952. But taking away a person’s liberty is a serious matter, they said.

Both questioned the need for the increase in jail terms.

All in, 56 offences will have their maximum fines raised, and 110 will have their maximum jail time increased.

The Government says the changes will give the courts greater sentencing discretion, and reflect crime trends, and judges may not necessarily impose the maximum sentence either.

But Ms Lim and Mr Siew, both trained lawyers, warned that once maximum sentences go up, accused individuals, even if innocent, may face pressure to plead guilty. This usually attracts a discount in sentences as it is supposed to indicate some remorse.

Ms Lim gave the example of a wrongly accused person who might have fought the charges in court if the penalty was six months but is less likely to risk it if he faces up to two years’ jail.

She reminded Parliament how it had to backtrack in 2004 with excessive penalties for harbouring illegal immigrants. Some of those who felt the full lash were elderly landlords and pastors.

Yesterday, Mr Siew called on the Ministry of Home Affairs to disclose the factors considered with each increase in maximum sentence.

“To my mind, it is dangerous to increase the maximum sentences of so many offences without proper justification. It pays insufficient respect to the fundamental importance of a person’s liberty,” he said.

In the same vein, Ms Lim said the proposed changes should be sent to a select committee for a comprehensive review before the new Bill is passed.

The committee, comprising MPs familiar with the administration of criminal justice and social affairs, should scrutinise each clause to see if each change is justifiable and what else should be changed.

The MPs should also hear opinion from legal experts on whether the wording of the provisions needs to be tweaked, she said.

Plus, public feedback should be put on record as reflection of a vibrant public discourse, she said.

This is vital as the Penal Code is an important part of Singapore, she added.

“The Penal Code is our main criminal law, an expression of society’s barometer of what is criminal and what is not, the relative seriousness of offences and how citizens are to be punished,” she said.

SELINA LUM & LIM WEI CHEAN

Straits Times: We don’t need outside interference, says Sylvia Lim

INTERNATIONAL BAR ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE

BY LEE SIEW HUA


ST PHOTO: SHAHRIYA YAHAYA
THE PANEL: Speakers at the symposium included (from left) NUS professor Simon Tay, Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim, ex-IBA president Francis Neate and Malaysian Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan.

WORKERS’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim said Singapore is capable of dealing with rule of law issues on its own and does not need outside interference.

Ms Lim, a law lecturer, was a panellist at a Rule of Law Symposium that ended the week-long International Bar Association (IBA) conference.

She was making a point about checks on executive power when she observed that much as she desired political reforms, these have to be pushed within the boundaries of the law. The election outcome must be respected.

And while the IBA and other global conferences are useful for Singapore to measure itself against international benchmarks on issues like rule of law, no external help is needed, she indicated, saying:

“We Singaporeans are quite capable of deciding what kind of country we want…I don’t think we need anyone outside to canvass our agenda for us.”

She had prefaced her speech by saying she wished to “draw a balance” between the rule-of-law positions held by Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar and Singapore Democratic Party politicians, who had questioned Singapore’s rule of law.

Like her, National University of Singapore law lecturer Simon Tay also touched on interference.

In his comments on the brightening prospects for the rule of law in South-east Asia, on the same panel, he said: “The international community has a very influential role.

“But I think for Singaporeans and the region, if that influence turns to interference, it will be resented and resisted, not only by the Government and the state, but also really by many of the people.”

International standards or the international community is often “a code word for the US or the West”, he said, adding: “It will take time for Asians and others to put up their own normative ideas of what we think of as content of law.”

Nigerian lawyer Funmi Oluyede said that while rights are universal, cultures and traditions are different. “The mistake the West makes is in foisting what works in their society on ours.”

Straits Times: S’pore opposition parties condemn crackdown

THREE Singapore opposition parties have condemned the violence in Myanmar and called on the international community to help put a stop to the crisis.

The Singapore People’s Party, in a statement signed by secretary-general Chiam See Tong, the MP for Potong Pasir, called on Myanmar’s ruling military junta to restore democracy.

“We call on all Asean nations to distance themselves from the Myanmar military junta unless they stop their dictatorial rule and (re-install) their parliament and comply with the ideals of Asean,” it said.

The Workers’ Party, in a separate statement, also condemned the use of violence by Myanmar’s military.

“Whatever the ‘peace’ that will be achieved by the present crackdown, the yearnings of the people to be free from more than four decades of military rule will not go away,” said party chairman and Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim in the statement.

She called on the international community, including Singapore, to “use all influence and means at its disposal to stop the continued repression of the Myanmar people and to free all political detainees”.

Meanwhile, the National Solidarity Party said it “unreservedly” condemned the killing of civilians in Myanmar and urged other countries to do what they could to “prevent any further bloodletting and help Myanmar to set a timetable towards a stable and peaceful transition to democracy”.

YEO GHIM LAY