ST: Laws don't always reflect moral position: Hri Kumar (Oct 23)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Oct 23, 2007
Laws don't always reflect moral position: Hri Kumar
By Yeo Ghim Lay

IT IS 'inconsistent' to argue that retaining Section 377A of the Penal Code is in line with society's powerful emphasis on family values, when adultery and other acts far more damaging to the family are no longer crimes, said Mr Hri Kumar (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC).

'Further, it is not always true that laws always reflect society's or the moral position,' he said, noting that marital rape is a good example as no Member of the House will find it acceptable for a man to force himself on a woman under any circumstances.

'But we do not completely outlaw marital rape,' he said.

Making it clear he was approaching the issue from a lawyer's perspective and not engaging in a moral debate, he noted that most Singaporeans he has spoken to do not want the law repealed.

But what he finds 'difficult' is that Section 377A in some respect falls short of 'what a good law is or should be'.

All laws must be clear, consistent and concrete, said Mr Kumar, a director in law firm Drew & Napier.

He pointed out a lack of clarity, as the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has said it will not be proactive in enforcing Section 377A.

'Does it not hurt our credibility that we have laws that are toothless?' he said.

Mr Kumar also made the point that it is 'virtually impossible' to enforce the law, saying there were only eight convictions under Section 377A from 1988 to 2003.

And now that the MHA has said it will not actively go after offenders, more prosecutions are unlikely, he said.

He also said that while he respects the right of religious groups to express their views, 'we must remind ourselves that we are a secular state where everyone is equal in the eyes of the law'.

He took issue with the notion that Section 377A reflects Singapore's Asian values when the law was inherited from British law.

Also, it would be 'stretching logic' to suggest that a repeal would lead to a sudden rise in homosexual activity.

He urged the House to look at the issue from another angle: If the MPs were debating whether to include Section 377A in the Penal Code, would they do it?

'I'm not sure we would because we would hesitate about passing laws to deal with private acts in the bedroom,' he said.