Penalties for violent cases to be reviewed, says Shanmugam following public outcry over dentistry student’s sentence
SINGAPORE — Singapore will review the penalty framework for violent offences and the extent to which the offender’s educational background and other factors are relevant to the punishment, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said on Tuesday (July 21).
- Mr K Shanmugam noted the “strong feelings” that have emerged over Yin Zi Qin's sentence
- He said that there are “very high” legal protections for women in Singapore
- A review by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Law will look at existing penalties
- It will also look at how offenders’ backgrounds should be relevant to sentencing
SINGAPORE — Singapore will review the penalty framework for violent offences and the extent to which the offender’s educational background, and other factors, are relevant to the punishment, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said on Tuesday (July 21).
His comments, made during a media briefing via a video conference, came in the midst of widespread criticism of a court's sentencing outcome for Yin Zi Qin. The 23-year-old dentistry student from the National University of Singapore (NUS) was convicted of voluntarily causing hurt to an ex-girlfriend, 21.
Last Friday, Yin was handed a 12-day short-detention order, a five-month day-reporting order, as well as 80 hours of community service. He will not have a criminal record if the sentence is successfully completed.
One charge of criminal trespass was taken into consideration for his sentencing.
Yin tried to choke his victim after she rejected his proposal to resume their relationship, and at one point pressed his thumb into her eye so hard it bled.
In the days since the court's decision, there have been two online petitions related to the case, one calling for Yin’s expulsion from NUS that has collected more than 15,000 signatures.
The People’s Action Party’s Women’s Wing put out a statement on Tuesday expressing its dismay over what it said was a disproportionate sentence for Yin.
Similarly, The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) said in a statement on Tuesday that it was surprised and disconcerted at the "inappropriately light" sentence for Yin and called for more information to be shared on the case, as well as a review.
"We would like more clarity on how and why this particular decision was made, so that the public can understand the implications for future cases. For example, was the choice of a community sentence made by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) or the courts?" Aware said in a post on Facebook.
"We suggest a review of each stage of the law enforcement process (the police, the AGC and the courts), to put into place measures that ensure the appropriateness and fairness of outcomes. This would include proper training of personnel at all levels."
Yin has been suspended from NUS and barred from entering its campus, pending disciplinary proceedings, the university said on Monday.
On Tuesday, Mr Shanmugam noted the “strong feelings” that have emerged about Yin’s sentence.
“I entirely understand their feelings. My own officers in Home Affairs — men as well as women — have very strong feelings, too, and we need to deal with this as a matter of policy.”
The review of the penalty framework by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Law will cover three areas, he said.
The penalties for such cases
The extent to which the offender’s educational background and other factors should be relevant
The relative penalties between such offences and other offences
The two ministries will consult with stakeholders, including the Ministry for Social and Family Development, in its review, Mr Shanmugam said.
He did not specify whether the review will look into the penalty for charges relating to voluntarily causing hurt or violence against women in general, but he said that the penalties for voluntarily causing hurt — which was the offence Yin committed — are already stiff.
The offence carries a jail term of up to two years, a fine of up to S$5,000, or both.
Mr Shanmugam also declined to comment specifically on Yin’s case when asked, adding that it is natural for people unhappy about the case to look at the courts and the judges.
“But the judges decide based on what is presented to them. I think courts are not the issue. Courts are independent. When we disagree, the approach should be to look at the legal policy framework, which the Government can change,” Mr Shanmugam said.
Noting that existing laws already protect the vulnerable and the weak and that the penalties are stiff, Mr Shanmugam said that there are “very high” legal protections for women in Singapore.
“We have to continue to make sure that is so, both in terms of the penalty framework and the application,” he said.
He noted, for example, how a new law against voyeurism was introduced last year and how the courts came up with a new sentencing framework earlier this year to assess how likely offenders are to reform.
“We have done quite a lot — we've changed the laws, the penalties. But we've got to go back and see whether there are any gaps.
“We also have to look at the framework of how they are applied, and what government policy should be made clear when, for example, the prosecution takes a matter to court.." he added.
In a separate interview with the media on Tuesday, Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, said it was encouraging that young people have spoken out about Yin’s case, as they have about other recent court cases.
“I think that our youths have been quite prepared to speak their minds on these issues, and it boils down to whether or not outcomes in these cases have been able to keep up with evolving norms and expectations in society,” she said.
In May last year, Yin choked his victim after she broke up with him and then refused to reconcile.
Yin, who entered the victim’s house with an access card she had given him previously, also pressed his thumb against her left eye, causing it to bleed.
She struggled but blacked out and found herself on the floor when she regained consciousness shortly after.
Yin later apologised and left after the victim told him to leave. As he was leaving, he heard the victim’s mother asking her who had hit her.
He then returned to her bedroom to seek her parents’ forgiveness.
She was taken to the hospital and had a blurred vision and abrasions on her neck. There was temporary impairment to her vision and she also suffered from a prolonged eye infection.
The prosecution had asked for a 14-day short detention order coupled with a community service order and a day reporting order.
A short detention order requires the offender to be detained in prison for a period not exceeding 14 days, while a day-reporting order requires the offender to report to a centre for monitoring and counselling.
The defence had sought a day-reporting order and a community-service order. Alternatively, they sought a short-detention order not exceeding one day.
District Judge Marvin Bay said during a court hearing on the case that Yin was not suitable for probation but that his relative youth, rehabilitative prospects and lack of previous convictions made community-based sentences a viable option.
The judge also said he was satisfied that Yin "is not at high risk of reoffending".
In his mitigation plea, Yin’s defence lawyer noted that the victim’s stepfather had retaliated, punching and slapping Yin many times on his face and using a cigarette butt to burn his face, near his right eye.
The lawyer also said that Yin voluntarily attended weekly counselling for eight months after the assault and that his actions were out of character. He added that many people had come forward to write character testimonials for Yin, including his professors and dentistry coursemates.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the offence of voluntarily causing hurt carries a jail term of up to three years, a fine of up to S$5,000, or both. The Ministry of Home Affairs has clarified that the offence carries a jail term of up to two years, a fine of up to S$5,000, or both.