20 January 2018
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More safeguards sought for sexual, child abuse victims

Straits Times
30 Dec 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Proposed changes allow video statements to minimise trauma

Major reforms are tipped next year in areas surrounding the way evidence is given in court for traumatic cases such as child abuse.

New draft legislation includes providing safeguards for sexual and child abuse victims against mental trauma during testimony, as well as allowing for landmark moves such as video recording of interviews with crime suspects.

These issues, which drew keen interest during a consultation exercise conducted by the Law Ministry, are contained in proposed Bills of changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act.

The changes would allow video-recorded statements of vulnerable victims, such as those of serious sexual offences, to be used in place of oral evidence-in-chief to minimise the trauma of the victims repeatedly recounting their ordeal.

Such concerns for the young and the vulnerable were also echoed in the courts during the year.

"The law has always taken a strong stance on crimes against vulnerable victims.

"Our courts condemn such offences by considering the victim's vulnerability to be an aggravating factor which is relevant for sentencing purposes," wrote Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on behalf of the Court of Appeal last month, in raising the jail term of a woman who abused her four-year-old child to death in 2014.

The court had then called for more powers from Parliament to deal with such offences against vulnerable victims and young persons by enhancing the punishment to 11/2 times the prescribed maximum penalty.

Chief Justice Menon noted many cases of violence against children and young persons that led to serious injury or death resulted in charges of causing grievous hurt, not culpable homicide, which can carry a higher maximum penalty.

Just why seemingly less serious charges were brought against offenders for crimes against the vulnerable vexed many, particularly in two widely publicised cases.

The public outcry prompted the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) to explain the prosecutorial decisions made.

In one case, martial arts instructor Joshua Robinson, 39, was jailed for four years for having consensual sex with two 15-year-old girls, making obscene films and showing an obscene clip to a six-year-old girl.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam noted the "public disquiet" over the case, which triggered an online petition with 26,000 signatures of people seeking heavier punishments for Robinson.

The AGC said it had not appealed for a heavier sentence as the victims had consented to the sexual acts and Robinson could not be charged with rape and outrage of modesty. There was no sexual assault. The AGC said the decided charge was the most serious the prosecution could have brought.

In the second case, the AGC explained why murder charges were not brought against a couple who abused to death a flatmate with intellectual disabilities.

It said the evidence could only sustain charges of voluntarily causing grievous hurt - which the law defines as including death - with a dangerous weapon.

The AGC said it understood why the public was shocked and moved by victim Annie Ee's suffering and the circumstances of her death but stressed the integrity of the legal system requires that all parties, including the accused, are treated fairly.

The AGC noted on its website: "We do understand that there may be a desire to understand in some detail our decisions in certain cases.

"As we have noted before, we may issue statements to explain our position in a specific case, and to address misconceptions that may arise... about the law and the legal process."


ADDRESSING MISCONCEPTIONS

We do understand that there may be a desire to understand in some detail our decisions in certain cases. As we have noted before, we may issue statements to explain our position in a specific case, and to address misconceptions that may arise... about the law and the legal process.

THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL'S CHAMBERS, on why it may issue statements on its position in certain cases.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.