Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Criminal Law Reform Bill (Bill No. 6/2019)
Sir, I stand in support of the sweeping changes introduced by this Bill to ensure that our criminal laws and regime are well-placed to tackle new crime trends and are aligned with the societal norms of our times.
I would like to start by commending the Government’s decision to provide for a longer three-month period between first and second readings of this Bill. This allows both parliamentarians and the public to better understand and seek clarifications on such a crucial and comprehensive Bill. I hope that this practice would be similarly adopted for other Bills, which are equally important and extensive.
I would also like to commend the progressive reforms this Bill introduces.
Inclusion of civil society voices on law review committees
Another applaudable aspect of this Bill is the Penal Code Review Committee’s extensive efforts to obtain public input in this review. More than 700 stakeholders participated in engagement sessions, and more than 60 individuals and organisations provided written feedback.
The Penal Code Review Committee included leading practitioners and thought leaders from academia and the private and public sectors.
To further strengthen this commendable effort at engaging the public, would the Government also consider including civil society groups on future review committees for any legislation?
Civil society voices could have been especially value-adding and beneficial to the review process, given that many of these groups provide direct services and have expertise in the different issue-areas subjected to review.
In fact, these groups may have more experience dealing with certain groups of victims that avoid the authorities or are less inclined to report crimes, and can provide valuable insight on these blind spots.
I hope that it will become a standard practice for civil society to be included in committees spearheading legislative review rather than just at the consultation stage.
Decriminalising attempted suicide
Next, the Bill takes the progressive step of abolishing the offence of attempted suicide. This recognises that suicide attempts stem from deep-seated issues, and a punitive approach may not be appropriate or sufficient in addressing them.
Beyond legislative reform, we can go further in addressing the needs of those who attempt suicide by ensuring that the authorities have the skills and resources to respond appropriately when these cases arise.
Police officers are deployed when an attempted suicide case is reported. Police officers are trained in responding to emergency situations, but may not have sufficient training in handling the complex socio-emotional issues associated with attempted suicide cases.
There is considerable value in having trained professionals who can be on the scene to do any assessments of mental health or provide psychological interventions where necessary. Similar trials have been conducted in the United Kingdom.
I have four recommendations to make here.
First, will the Ministry look into improving the quality of response to attempted suicide by setting up a “specialist team with psychological first aid training” that can be deployed when attempted suicide is reported?
Second, given that it may take time to train a specialist team, will the Minister consider deploying social workers together with police officers when responding to attempted suicide cases? This would ensure that there are experts on the scene who are able to handle all aspects of the situation.
Third, will the Ministry consider making it mandatory for front-line police officers to undergo psychological first aid training? This is will ensure that the process is not as distressing for people who attempt suicide.
Finally, will the Ministry look into expanding the functions under the existing MyResponder app by SCDF for responding to attempted suicide cases?
The MyResponder app works by notifying Community First Responders, who are members of the public trained in CPR or AED procedures of nearby fire and medical cases. The app could similarly notify trained social workers or counsellors who are available and in close proximity to the scene of attempted suicides so that they can assist the police with negotiation efforts.
Marital immunity for rape
Next, the Bill repeals the marital immunity for rape, something which I and many members of this house have spoken up about and which was strongly supported by the public and representatives from the religious, legal, and social sector during the public consultation process. Rape is wrong in any context.
Can the Minister confirm if marital immunity for rape is completely removed? Currently, Section 376A penalises acts of sexual penetration against minors under the age of 16 but does not apply when there is spousal consent. Similarly, Section 375(1) provides that penile-vaginal penetration of a girl under the age of 14 is rape but does not apply when there is spousal consent. The position is the same under the new Section 375(1A) for oral or anal penetration.
Section 376A(5) states that it is not an offence for a man to penetrate his wife if his wife is 13 years old and above. This means it is possible for a child between 13 and 16 who is in a marriage to give spousal consent to sex even though it would otherwise be considered as rape.
Sir, the age of the child should be the only factor here and not whether the she is married to the person.
Increasing the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR)
One other positive change I would like to highlight is the raising of the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR) from 7 years of age to 10 years of age, where children below this threshold are considered incapable of crime.
While this is a step in the right direction, would the Government consider further raising this Minimum Age to 12 year of age, in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)?
Paragraph 32 of the CRC recommends that states increase the MARC to the age of 12 years old.
Some have argued that logical thinking and problem solving skills only develop between 11-15 years old. Some also suggest that intellectual abilities reach adult levels at 17 years old.
Children with underdeveloped logical thinking, problem solving and intellectual abilities are more likely to exhibit risky and potentially criminal behaviour.
While this change puts us on par with the laws in England and Hong Kong, Sir, I believe that Singapore could benefit from setting a positive precedent for other countries by meeting the internationally acceptable level of 12 years old.
Sir, notwithstanding my above clarifications, I stand in support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here
Watch the response by MHA here