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'No two cases are exactly alike': Attorney-General on debate over sexual misconduct in universities

SINGAPORE — No two cases are exactly alike, said Attorney-General Lucien Wong in a speech on Monday (Jan 6) as he addressed the recent debate over the issue of sexual misconduct on university campuses.

Attorney-General Lucien Wong speaking at the Opening of the Legal Year 2020 event on Jan 6.

Attorney-General Lucien Wong speaking at the Opening of the Legal Year 2020 event on Jan 6.

SINGAPORE — No two cases are exactly alike, said Attorney-General Lucien Wong in a speech on Monday (Jan 6) as he addressed the recent debate over the issue of sexual misconduct on university campuses.

"In a world of instant news and connectivity, controversial incidents can ignite public unhappiness quickly and turn into flashpoints," said Mr Wong in his speech to a crowd of about 400 people at the Opening of the Legal Year 2020 event.

Decisions by the public prosecutor are scrutinised closely by the public, he said, particularly in the area of criminal justice.

"To illustrate, there has been a lot of recent debate over the issue of sexual misconduct on university campuses," said Mr Wong. 

He said he could understand how disparity in the outcomes of such cases "may touch a raw nerve if people feel that we had given preferential treatment to a particular offender, or that we had simply been too lenient". 

"The simple reality is that no two cases are exactly alike," he said. 

"While I acknowledge the importance of being tough on such offences, my prosecutors and I are also duty-bound to consider all relevant evidence and mitigating factors, such as whether the offender came clean on his own initiative, or whether the offence arose from a mental condition that can be treated."

In September, National University of Singapore student Terence Siow Kai Yuan was sentenced to probation for molesting a woman at a train station.

The case drew outrage, with more than 90,000 people signing a petition titled: Say NO to Favorable Sentences for "Educated" Sex Offenders.

The prosecution will be appealing against the sentence, with the prosecutor stressing that the case remains a serious one involving sexual contact.

THE ROLE OF PUBLIC OPINION

Mr Wong said he accepts that there will be cases where people disagree with prosecutorial decisions, adding that "we cannot totally ignore public opinion when exercising our prosecutorial functions".

"After all, the public has an instinctive sense of fairness and justice — public opinion can therefore be a common sense check on whether a decision is so removed from logic or acceptable moral standards that it should be relooked." 

He said public opinion is also a useful indicator of the effect of certain types of offences on the community, which in turn affects the need for general deterrence.

However, he stressed that prosecutorial decisions "will not be made on the basis of public opinion".

"If a decision is grounded on facts, law, and precedent, the fact that it is unpopular does not make it any less right," he said. 

"We will not take action against an accused person if the legal elements of an offence are not made out, even if he or she had done something to provoke a strong reaction."

He said the prosecution would also not pursue a sentence disproportionate to the offence "simply for the sake of quelling public outrage".

He said that the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) needs to be vigilant and work constantly "to dispel any perceptions that some segments of society are treated more favourably than others".

He said the prosecution would continue to explain more clearly the basis of some of its decisions, "while also helping the public to understand that sometimes, the rule of law requires us to act contrary to the wishes of the majority". CNA

For more stories like this, visit cna.asia

Related topics

court crime Terence Siow Kai Yuan molestation sexual misconduct voyeurism

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