Practice of naming sex crime accused before conviction to stay: Shanmugam

Law Minister K Shanmugam speaking in Parliament on 10 May. (PHOTO: Ministry of Communications and Information)
Law Minister K Shanmugam speaking in Parliament on 10 May. (PHOTO: Ministry of Communications and Information)

SINGAPORE — The government will maintain its approach of naming persons accused of sex crimes prior to conviction, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Monday (10 May).

Speaking in Parliament, Shanmugam was replying to a question by Nominated Member of Parliament Dr Tan Yia Swam on how news reports of ongoing trials of sex crimes are regulated, and what protection is in place regarding the reputations of medical professionals undergoing trial for sex crimes.

The Law Ministry had previously considered whether to withhold the publication of names of accused persons until they are convicted, Shanmugam said. But it has decided to keep the status quo of naming such accused persons as this approach allows unidentified victims of serial offenders to step forward and seek help, he added.

Two approaches were considered: to protect the identity of accused persons until they are convicted with some rules to grant anonymity to them in specific types of cases, or to have open court proceedings where their details are not anonymised.

"The downside in this second approach is that the reputation of accused persons is often irreparably damaged by the publicity from media coverage of an ongoing criminal trial, even if they are acquitted at the end of the day," Shanmugam said.

Regardless of the approach, anonymity is given if there is public interest involved in certain circumstances, such as when the information relates to national security. Identities of accused persons in sexual crimes are also anonymised if they might lead to the identification of victims.

The reason for doing so is to "protect those vulnerable victims and children from being identified and give them a better life", said Shanmugam.

For now, the approach of allowing public trials of accused persons and publicly announced verdicts will stay, he added.

"But I emphasise our position on this issue is not set in concrete. We can also see the merits of shifting to some version of the first approach. So we will keep reviewing this while we are maintaining status quo."

There are "pros and cons with both approaches...we will keep our position under review,” Shanmugam said.

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