Home Affairs Ministry to review penalty framework in wake of sentencing of dentistry student

SINGAPORE – The Home Affairs Ministry will review the penalty framework in cases similar to the recent one involving a dentistry student who tried to strangle his former girlfriend and put his thumb into her eye after she rejected him.

The review will, among other things, look at the extent to which an offender’s background, including educational status, should be a relevant factor in what penalties should be applied.

This was disclosed by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam in an interview on Tuesday (July 21), in the wake of public disquiet over the student’s sentence.

National University of Singapore (NUS) student Yin Zi Qin, 23, was sentenced last Friday to a short detention order of 12 days, and 80 hours of community service, for attacking his former girlfriend at her house on May 9 last year.

He was also given a day reporting order of five months, which means he will have to report to a centre for monitoring and counselling, and undergo rehabilitation.

He will not have a criminal record upon his release.

Many people, including the People’s Action Party Women’s Wing and the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), have criticised the outcome of the case, believing that Yin’s punishment was disproportionate to his offence.

Yin has since been suspended from NUS and is not allowed on campus.

During the interview, Mr Shanmugam said he “entirely understands” the strong feelings on the punishment, adding that women MPs and his own officers have spoken to him about it.

He said the review would cover three areas: the penalties for such cases in general; the extent to which an offender’s background, among other factors, should be relevant in penalties; and how punishments for such offences stack up against punishments for other offences like theft.

He also said that he preferred not to comment on the specifics of Yin’s case.

“I think it’s natural when people are unhappy, they look at the courts and the judges,” said Mr Shanmugam.

However, the courts are “not the issue” here as judges decide based on what is presented to them, he said.

“When we disagree, the approach should be to look at the legal policy framework, which the Government can change, and which is what we will do,” he said.

He added that the penalties for such cases are stiff at present, but the ministry will also review that.

For voluntarily causing hurt, Yin could have been jailed for up to two years, and fined up to $5,000.

During sentencing, District Judge Marvin Bay said he was satisfied that Yin was not at high risk of reoffending, and said his relative youth, rehabilitative prospects and lack of antecedents made community-based sentences a viable one, rather than a conventional sentence of imprisonment.

The judge noted that the victim did not suffer permanent injury to her eye, but had suffered some degree of psychological harm. She suffered from insomnia and was haunted by nightmares of Yin breaking into her house and assaulting her, said the judge.

The prosecution had initially asked for a fine to be imposed, but eventually sought a short detention order of 14 days.

In mitigation, Yin’s defence counsel said that his client had voluntarily returned to the victim’s house to seek forgiveness from her and her parents after the attack.

Yin was subsequently punched and slapped several times by the victim’s stepfather, who also burnt his face with a cigarette butt. The Straits Times understands that the stepfather was given a warning by the police.

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