The Singapore Parliament on 6th May 2019 passed the Criminal Law Reform Bill amending the Penal Code. The Bill notes in its purpose to “amend the Penal Code and certain other Acts, to update the criminal offences, keep up with technological changes and emerging crime trends, enhance protection for minors and vulnerable victims, harmonise the criminal laws and update the sentencing framework.” It is noted that the key changes suggested by the Bill includes many amendments and insertions of provisions in the Penal Code regarding sexual offences.
This article traces some of the amendments and new offences created by the Bill. It also suggests what the amendments and new offences mean, and what can be done.
|Summary Table of|
Current Penal Code Penalties and Amendments and Insertions
|Subject Matter||Current Penal Code||Proposed Amendments or Insertions from Criminal Law Reform Bill|
|Regarding Sexual Offences|
|Insult of Modesty||Penal Code, Section 509, “Insult of Modesty”: Criminalises a person for intending to insult the modesty of a woman by uttering any word, sound, gesture, exhibiting objects, or intending that such word or sounds shall be heard, or gesture or object to be seen by such a woman. The penalty is a maximum of 1 year imprisonment, or with a fine or with both.||The Criminal Law Reform Bill repeals Section 509 of the Penal Code for “Insult of Modesty”.|
Section 377BA is the re-enactment of Section 509 of the Penal Code to make it gender-neutral so that it applies to both men and women by stating “modesty of any person”. All other elements and penalities of the offence are the same as Section 509.
|Threatening the Distribution of Intimate Videos (eg: “Revenge Porn”)||(Previously no such offence in the Penal Code)||The Criminal Law Reform Bill inserts Section 377BE criminalising distributing or threatening to distribute intimate images or recordings of another person without consent, knowing or having reason to believe that it will or is likely to cause the victim humiliation, distress or alarm.|
If the victim is below 14 years old, imprisonment is mandatory. Otherwise conviction could be imprisonment for a maximum of 5 years, or with a fine, or caning, or in combination.
|Procurement of sexual activity based on deception or false representation relating to use of contraceptive device or presence of sexually transmitted disease|
(Applies to ‘stealthing’ where men remove a condom before or during sex without knowledge of the partner/partners who have STDs and does not inform of it, which compromises the victim’s consent)
|(There were previously no offences in the Penal Code)||The Criminal Law Reform Bill inserts Section 376H to create a new offence of procurement of sexual activity by deception or false representation relating to the use of a sexually protective device such as a contraceptive device or the presence of a sexually transmitted disease.|
|Voyeurism||(There were previously no offences in the Penal Code)||The Criminal Law Reform Bill inserts: |
Section 377BB introducing a new offence of voyeurism.
Section 377BC introduces a new offence of distribution of voyeuristic images or recordings.
Section 377BD introduces a new offence of possession of or gaining access to voyeuristic or intimate images or recordings.
|Engaging in sexual activity before a minor below 16 years of age||(There were previously no offences in the Penal Code)||The Criminal Law Reform Bill inserts:|
Section 376ED which is an offence of engaging in sexual activity before a minor below 16 years of age, or causing a minor below 16 years of age to look at a sexual image. This offence does not apply to a consensual act by a person in relation to a minor who is his or her spouse.
|Sexual grooming of a minor under 16||Section 376E of the Penal Code for “Sexual Grooming of a Minor Under 16” criminalises the act of communicating a person under 16 years old on two or more previous occasions, when he intentionally meets that person and at that time, intends to commit a relevant offence (sexual offences), and the person does not reasonably believe that the other person is above the age of 16 years old.||The Criminal Law Reform Bill amends Section 376E, so that the number of instances of prior contact is reduced from 2 to 1.|
It is now extended to cover the situation where the minor travels to the meeting initiated or agreed to by the offender.
The punishment for offences will be tiered with enhanced punishments for the offences against minors below 14 years of age.
|Exploitative Sexual Grooming of a minor between 16 years old and 18 years old||(There were previously no offences in the Penal Code)|
Note: Age of consent is 16 years old. Current laws do not fully protect minors aged 16 and 18 from sexual exploitation including the practice of grooming.
|The Criminal Law Reform Bill inserts Section 376EA of exploitative sexual grooming of a minor who is at least 16 but not 18 years old.|
The difference between this section and Section 376E of the Penal Code for “Sexual Grooming of Minor Under 16”, is the additional requirement that the offender must be in an exploitative relationship with the minor.
|Offences relating to material that depicts child abuse||(There were previously no offences in the Penal Code)||The Criminal Law Reform Bill introduced the following new sections:|
Section 377BG is a new offence of using or involving a child below 16 years of age in the production of child abuse material.
Section 377BH is a new offence of producing child abuse material.
Section 377BI is a new offence of distributing or selling child abuse material.
Section 377BJ is a new offence of advertising or seeking child abuse material.
Section 377BK is a new offence of possession of or gaining access to child abuse material.
Section 377BL is a new offence of exploitation by abusive material of a minor who is at least 16 but not 18 years old where the offender and the minor are in an exploitative relationship.
|Marital immunity for rape||Section 375 of the Penal Code for “Rape”; and|
Section 376A of the Penal Code for “Sexual Penetration of Minor Under 16”
state that no man will be guilty for rape against his wife who is above 13 years of age except when his wife was living apart from him (under interim judgment of divorce or nullity, judicial separation or separation), and the proceedings have not been concluded.
|Section 110 and Section 112 of the Criminal Law Reform Bill abolishes the marital immunity to rape. Under such changes, a failure of a husband to receive consent for sex will amount to rape under the changes|
|Definition of “Rape”||Section 375 of the Penal Code for “Rape”, defines rape has occurred when any man penetrates the vagina of a woman with his penis without her consent.||The Criminal Law Reform Bill amends Section 375 of the Penal Code for “Rape” to extend the scope of rape to acts involving penile penetration of a woman’s or a man’s anus or mouth.|
|Regarding ‘Vulnerable Victims’|
|Causing death of child below 14 years of age, domestic worker, or vulnerable person by sustained abuse||(No such offences in the Penal Code)||Section 83 of the Criminal Law Reform Bill inserts new sections 304B and 304C:|
The above mentioned are new offences criminalising causing or allowing the death of children under 14, domestic worker, or vulnerable person by sustained abuse.
“Sustained abuse” was defined as: Course of conduct consisting of voluntarily causing hurt, or knowingly causing neglect or both on 2 or more occasions, or a single occasion if the conduct is protracted.
If guilty, an accused can be jailed up to 20 years, and fined or caned.
|Attempted suicide||Section 309 of the Penal Code criminalises the attempt to commit suicide with imprisonment for a maximum of one year, or with fine, or both.||The Criminal Law Reform Bill repeals Section 309 of the Penal Code|
Attempted suicide will be decriminalised, as the threat of prosecution, and the labelling of persons who attempt suicide as offenders may worsen their emotional state, and increase the stigma they face.
Frequently Asked Questions: What do the amendments mean for me?
1. What happens if I commit the offence before the sections were amended, or inserted, will I be punished for the offence?
This question relates to the retrospective effect of criminal law. The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore states in Section 11(1) that no person will be punished for an act or omission which was not punishable by law when it was done or made.
In regard to amendment of provisions with harsher penalties, the same section states that no person will suffer greater punishment for an offence that was prescribed by law at the time it was committed.
2. When do the amendments and new offences come into operation?
The Parliament on 6th May 2019 passed the Criminal Law Reform Bill. Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs has stated that almost all the provisions will come into force in early 2020.
3. What should I do?
Understand the New Amendments
The Criminal Law Reform Bill tackled proposals relating to emerging crime trends related to technology as current laws do not acknowledge emerging trends of the uses of technology to further criminal intention. This lack of laws criminalising such acts has dealt been dealt with in a piecemeal (eg. insulting the modesty of a woman, making obscene films under the Films Act, have been relied upon to prosecute individuals for acts such as voyeurism). As such, judgments for such trials are unclear.
New laws will give more clarity on offences. It is useful to educate oneself on the new offences to understand what one could potentially be culpable for if one is currently committing such acts (eg: as stated above, the production of child abuse material is also criminalised under the amendments).
Understand the Government’s Stance and Trends
The government is trying to instil more severe punishments especially for sexual offences by lowering the number of instances an act must be completed in order for the elements of the offence to be satisfied, widening the scope of definitions in the offences for more situations to be criminalised, by proposing more offences to protect especially vulnerable groups of victims, and to expand the scope of protection with new offences.
More information on the government’s stance regarding the Criminal Law Reform Bill can be found below: –
- The First Reading Opening of Criminal Law Reform Bill and Government’s Response to Feedback on it can be found at: https://www.mha.gov.sg/newsroom/press-release/news/first-reading-of-criminal-law-reform-bill-and-the-government-response-to-feedback-on-it
- The Second Reading Opening Speech by Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health can be found at: https://www.mha.gov.sg/newsroom/in-parliament/parliamentary-speeches/news/criminal-law-reform-bill-second-reading-opening-speech-speech-by-mr-amrin-amin-senior-parliamentary-secretary-ministry-of-home-affairs-and-ministry-of-health]
Think Twice Before Committing a Crime
If you have already committed some of the above mentioned acts which have not been criminalised yet, or have ever harboured an intention to do so, think twice before committing it. It is understood that the government’s stance is to enforce harsher penalties on offenders especially for sexual offences, therefore it is not likely that judges who interpret the new offences will take a narrow approach to interpret laws when deciding cases before them.
Interpretation of the Amendments (Definitions and Penalties)
There will not be cases prosecuted under the new amendments and offences when they are just enacted. As such, there will not be past case judgements regarding prosecution under the same. If you are charged under the new provisions, criminal lawyers will be able to advise you only through past judgments from similar provisions from the old version of the Penal Code, explanatory statements in the Criminal Law Reform Bill, and parliamentary debates (hansard), regarding how legislation will be interpreted, and applied, and how penalties may be enforced.
For more information on how the changes in the Penal Code may affect you, it is important that you get specific legal advice to assess your specific situation. Contact our dedicated team of criminal lawyers to evaluate your circumstances and give you legal advice.