Law Minister K. Shanmugam is in favour of imposing the death penalty on criminals who sexually assault women or abuse children, and the victim dies.
The Business Times yesterday quoted him as saying: "My thinking is that there should be a default death sentence for those who rape or sexually assault women, resulting in the victim's death, and for those who hurt a child and the child ends up dead. "The accused in such cases should face the death penalty, unless he can prove why there shouldn't be such a penalty." He told the paper that his view went further than what has been proposed by a committee, set up by his ministry and currently reviewing Singapore's law on homicide.
Chaired by Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah, it is considering creating a set of laws to deal with offenders who cause death as a result of violent crimes such as rape, crimes committed against young people and those committed by gangs. Mr Shanmugam is in Mexico where he will meet Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jose Antonio Meade. His remarks reported yesterday drew a range of responses.
Mr Amarick Gill, a criminal lawyer of 15 years, said that while he was personally opposed to the death penalty, there was reason to get tough on such offenders as their crimes can be termed "murder plus".
"Such acts are most offensive and when they lead to death, they are clearly more atrocious than murder, as though two crimes had been committed on the victim," he told The Sunday Times.
But Mr Gill, who works at Trident Law, was against having a default death penalty. Rather, he felt the courts should have the discretion to decide on penalties. "I feel that it would be too onerous a burden for an accused to prove (that he did not deserve death) if this was tabled into law," he said.
Ms Gloria James-Civetta, a lawyer of 18 years, was against having such a law, saying it "seems to be very harsh". Having a default death penalty would also go against recent changes in homicide laws here, which have "reflected a second chance approach for the accused".
Singapore could instead take the cue from new rape laws in India, which provide for but do not make compulsory the death sentence in cases of repeat offenders or rape attacks that lead to death, she added.
India's new laws were introduced after several violent rape crimes including the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old student in 2012 hogged international headlines. She was brought to Singapore for treatment, and after her death here, Mr Shanmugam called it a "heartbreaking case" on Facebook.
He wrote then: "Many would agree that this is a type of case where, if the injuries inflicted were of a nature sufficient to cause death, then the abusers should face the death penalty." His comments sparked hundreds of responses, with some supporting his stance and others saying the punishment would be unjustifiable.
After a steady rise in the middle of the past decade, reported rape cases here have fallen in recent years - from 202 in 2009 to 132 in 2012.
The programmes and communications senior manager of women's group Aware, Ms Jolene Tan, said most rapes here are not accompanied by "fatal violence".
"The idea that rape typically involves a violent ambush by strangers is a myth," she said, explaining that victims and perpetrators often know each other.
"We should focus on addressing the stigma that keeps victims from reporting, by making the police and legal processes quicker, more supportive and less intimidating, and battling victim-blaming attitudes in society," she said.
This article was published on May 18 in The Straits Times.
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