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Forum: Review mandatory reporting law

Forum: Review mandatory reporting law

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 07 Nov 2020

Mandatory reporting helps facilitate law enforcement but can also compound the feelings of helplessness that often afflict sexual assault survivors.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) found itself in a conundrum in the recent case concerning former Tembusu College don Jeremy Fernando (Police report made without our consent, say victims, Nov 1).

NUS made a police report about Dr Fernando's actions, despite both victims having declined to file their own reports. NUS has since explained that it was legally obligated to do so under Section 424 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Recognising that this may discourage future victims from speaking up, NUS dean of students Leong Ching stated that the decision was "one of the most difficult dilemmas" the university faced.

NUS is not alone in facing such a tricky situation. Other institutes of higher learning, schools, pastoral care services, support service organisations and companies have been in a similar situation - deciding whether to report when the victim does not want to.

Reporting is mandated "in the absence of reasonable excuse" and it is unclear if victims not wanting the organisation to report constitutes "reasonable excuse".

Mandatory reporting can compound the feelings of helplessness that often afflict sexual assault survivors.

It can also have the unintended effect of deterring such victims from seeking help in the first place, for fear that they may be drawn into a police investigation against their wishes.

We wholeheartedly agree with Professor Chan Wing Cheong that Section 424 should be reviewed (Clarity needed in legal duty to report crimes, Oct 28).

Mandatory reporting laws facilitate law enforcement as they deter the concealment of knowledge relating to offences. So these laws can be helpful.

One way forward is the approach taken by New South Wales where the law limits the mandatory reporting obligation to situations where a party knows that they have information that might be of material assistance in securing the conviction of the offender.

It also helpfully elaborates that "reasonable excuse" includes situations where adult victims do not want a police report to be made.

Further, special permission must be obtained to prosecute the following professionals for not reporting: legal and medical practitioners, social workers and clergy.

The Association of Women for Action and Research once again asks that the state review Section 424 of the Criminal Procedure Code, and hopes the Government will do this soon.

Corinna Lim

Executive Director

Association of Women for Action and Research

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


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