CNA: Penal Code to get most comprehensive review (Oct 22)

Monday, October 22, 2007

SINGAPORE: Parliament looks set to pass wide-ranging changes to the Penal Code in the most comprehensive review since 1984.

The laws were refined after consultations with the public and legal sector over a period of two to three years.

The changes are aimed at better protecting the more vulnerable in society and to take into account technological advancements and crime trends.

The Penal Code Amendment Bill was read the second time in Parliament on Monday.

The day's session started with Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong submitting a much-publicised petition to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code that criminalises sex between men.

Over the past days, activists have called for the abolishment of Section 377A, which they deem as discriminatory.

To facilitate discussion, the House Leader moved to suspend a standing order which requires a petition to be referred to the Public Petitions Committee and its content not discussed until the committee has met.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan, who is the House Leader, said: "This motion will enable Members to air their views and raise their concerns on the matters raised in the petition during the debate on the second reading of the Penal Code Amendment Bill.

"Matters in the petition can therefore be thoroughly and properly debated and discussed and decided by Parliament."

Presenting his views, Mr Siew said Section 377A is unconstitutional and should be repealed, even though the government has said it will not enforce the law actively. He also spoke against the retention of Section 377A, just because the majority of Singaporeans disapprove of homosexuality.

Part of his argument stemmed from the fact that Section 377 will be abolished to legalise private, consensual anal and oral sex between heterosexual adults.

So why differentiate for adult males? Mr Siew asked.

"It is not harm that results from such acts being performed between adult men, but the moral disgust, that the majority says it feels. But there is a very good reason why the criminal law should not reflect public morality, and that is because doing so can lead to the discriminatory oppression of minorities," he said.

In his speech on amending the Penal Code, Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee said that public feedback on Section 377A has been emotional, divided and strongly expressed, with the majority calling for its retention.

Associate Professor Ho said: "Neither side is going to persuade or convince the other of its position. We should live and let live, and let the situation evolve in tandem with the values of our society.

"Whilst homosexuals have a place in society and, in recent years, more social space, repealing Section 377A will be very contentious and may send a wrong signal that the government is encouraging and endorsing the homosexual lifestyle as part of our mainstream way of life."

Moving on to the other amendments to the Penal Code, the law will be tightened to prevent the use of electronic means and media to commit crime.

This includes the sale of obscene objects through the Internet, making statements with the intention of wounding the racial or religious feelings of others or sending SMS messages inciting violence.

Amendments were also introduced to curb sex tourism and child prostitution. Under the new law, it will be an offence to engage in commercial sex with minors under 18 years old in other countries.

Another change is to criminalise sexual activity with persons who has mental disability, where consent has been obtained through inducement, deception or threat.

Eleven MPs spoke on the amendments.

Parliament will continue the debate on Tuesday. - CNA/ir