Proposal to decriminalise attempted suicide tabled in Parliament as part of Penal Code changes

(Getty Images file photo)

The proposed move to decriminalise attempted suicide was among the sweeping amendments in the Criminal Law Reform Bill tabled in Parliament on Monday (11 February).

The recommendations also included better protection for vulnerable victims and repealing marital immunity for rape, which were part of a report submitted by the Penal Code Review Committee (PCRC) to Minister for Home Affairs and for Law K Shanmugam in August last year.

Formed in July 2016, the PCRC is co-chaired by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Education and Finance Indranee Rajah and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Home Affairs Amrin Amin.

As part of the report, the PCRC held engagement sessions with more than 700 stakeholders from the legal, social, religious, financial and education sectors. More than 60 individuals and organisations also submitted written feedback on the report.

The government has considered the recommendations and feedback received as well as agreed with most of the recommendations, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in a press release.

Decriminalisation of attempted suicide; definition of ‘rape’

The repeal of attempted suicide does not mean that the government has shifted its position on the sanctity of life, said the MHA.

“This is reflected through the continued criminalisation of the abetment of attempted suicide, as well as amendments to other legislation to provide the police with the powers to intervene to prevent loss of life or injury in cases of attempted suicide,” added the MHA.

The government also agreed with the committee’s recommendation to repeal marital immunity for rape, which “reflects society’s view that marriage is a partnership between equals”.

It will also expand the definition of rape to include both non-consensual penile-anal and penile-oral penetration.

The minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) will also be raised from seven to ten years old, putting Singapore “on par with jurisdictions such as England, Wales and Hong Kong”.

“In Singapore, there is a marked increase in the number of juveniles offending from the age of ten, which might require police to intervene,” the MHA said.

The government will also develop a suitable rehabilitation framework to manage children between 7 and 10 years of age who commit offences. The amendments to raise the MACR will come into force when this framework is ready.

Enhanced protection for vulnerable victims

The government also accepts the PCRC’s proposal to enhance punishments for offences committed against vulnerable victims, namely children, persons with mental or physical disabilities, and domestic workers.

Persons who commit offences under the Penal Code against such persons may be punished with up to twice the maximum punishments provided for the offence.

In addition, the government will recognise two new categories of vulnerable victims who will receive enhanced protection under the law, including those in a “close relationship” with the offender such as persons who are living in the same household and who have frequent contact with each other; and people who are in “intimate relationships such as persons who share the care and support of a child or are financially dependent on each other.

Offenders who commit a specified list of offences involving hurt or violence against these persons may be punished with up to twice the maximum punishment for these offences, the press release added.

For elderly persons who are abused by caregivers or family members, enhanced punishments may apply if their abusers are in a close relationship with them such as if they live with the elderly persons).

The government also accepts the committee’s recommendations to introduce new offences relating to child abuse material, by criminalising child abuse material depicting actual children, or materials featuring images which are indistinguishable from actual children.

The distribution and sale of fictional child abuse material will continue to be criminalised as “obscene material” in the Penal Code, and will be subject to enhanced penalties.

The government has also decided to criminalise the possession, production, sale, and distribution of child sex dolls, said the MHA.

Definition of ‘consent’; ‘cyber-flashing’

The government agreed with the PCRC’s recommendation not to adopt a positive definition of “consent” and a new section will be introduced in the Penal Code “to clarify the types of misconceptions of fact that negate consent in the context of sexual offences”.

Misconceptions of fact that relate to the nature of the act, purpose of the act, and identity of the person doing the act will be considered as capable of negating consent.

In addition, the Bill introduces a new offence criminalising the procurement of sexual activity where consent is obtained by deception or false representation regarding the use or manner of use of a sexually protective device, or whether one is suffering from a sexually transmitted disease.

The government has also taken in feedback by representatives from the legal sector to criminalise “cyber-flashing”, said the MHA.

This would cover situations where images of genitalia are sent to recipients without their consent, and with the intention to cause humiliation, distress or alarm.

The last major review of the Penal Code was carried out in 2007.

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