Friday, December 29, 2017

Review age limit for caning sentences

[I've been sitting on this for a whole year. Time to "publish" it.]

Today Voices

Liew Kai Khiun
January 6, 2017

I refer to the report “Ex-teacher, 66, jailed for molesting girl, 7”; Jan 4). It is always saddening to read about child victims of molestation, especially by teachers.

What angers me is that by dint of the culprit’s age, he was spared the caning punishment and given an extra six weeks of jail in lieu.

Besides serving as a deterrence, the purpose of judicial caning in Singapore has evolved since its codification in 1871 into an additional punishment to underscore the enormity of the crimes committed, particularly those involving bodily harm.



The age limit of 50 years for caning was set at a time when life expectancy was lower, probably around 60 years. With advancements in health, however, people are now living longer, healthier and into their 80s.

Unfortunately for many, wisdom does not come with age.

As with most developed societies, Singapore does see violent crimes committed by those we consider as “elderly”.

To serve justice, the authorities should review the age limit for caning, for a more discretionary model based on the individual’s general health. Being old is no excuse for being spared the rod.


[On the one hand, one could argue, that if you do not want to be caned, then you should not commit the crime. If you did, then you deserve the punishment. And if the punishment is caning, then just you should not be able to escape the can just because you are over 50. The writer suggests that if you are older, you should be wiser, and more matured, and better able to exercise sound moral judgments. So you are in fact be held MORE accountable for your crime.

Moreover, the example that sparked this proposal to raise the age is particularly heinous and distressing - the molestation of a 7 year old by an ex-teacher during "enrichment classes".

However, there are questions which are unanswered by this proposal. First, how high should the age limit be raised? In this specific case, the perpetrator was 66 years old. So, is the proposal to raise the age limit to 66? Why 66? Because the perp in this case was 66? What is the legal, medical, or other relevant basis for this proposal? It cannot be simply to "get" this particular child molester (even if that is what we really want.)

Secondly, the law cannot be applied retroactively. So if the intent is to "get" this child molester, a change in the law NOW will not affect his sentence, anyway. 

Thirdly, to be fair, the writer's proposal is for a "discretionary model based on the individual's (perp's) general health. Even today, convicts of crimes sentenced to caning have provided medical assessment stating that they are medically unfit to be caned. And even the prison carrying out this corporal punishment would conduct a medical assessment before carrying out this sentence. So, this "based on general health" proposal is not novel. In other words, the writer could have just said, "raise or remove the age limit" and the medical assessment would still be part of the administrative process. So what does this mean? It means in effect that everyone sentenced to caning is medically assessed. And it may well be that those above 50 will be more likely to have medical conditions that render them unfit for caning. Which means that if the age limit was raised or removed, offenders over 50 would face a caning sentence, and a medical assessment, and may still escape caning.

Which brings us to the 4th question: Which offences should have the age limit raised or remove, or ALL offences currently liable for caning should have the age limit raised or removed? What offences are we talking about? Besides the offences you might expect - Robbery, Rape, Murder, Extortion, there are also drug offences, immigration offences (including hiring illegal immigrants), and rioting. 


Is it in the interest of justice to cane all of these offenders? There is a lot to discuss.

Speaking of murder or other crimes with the death penalty, little known fact: If you have been sentenced to Death, you won't be caned. So, waiting for another letter along the lines of "what angers me is that by dint of being sentenced to death, he was spared the caning".

Why are Singaporeans so insistent on their pound of flesh? That probably has a complicated answer.

But I do not wish to argue for or defend child molesters. 


Even old child molesters. 

But I have questions to which I do not expect answers. Firstly, he's 66 years old, and an ex-teacher. In his profession, he would have numerous opportunities to commit such crimes. Did he commit those crimes in the past? What does it mean if he had? What does it mean if he did not and this criminal and heinous behaviour was a recent development? (IOW, was there some mental deterioration or some medical or physiological explanation?)

Secondly, what is going to happen to him in prison? It is a well-known "fact" or "rumour" that sex offenders, and particularly child molesters and child rapists suffer even more in prison because there is a pecking order in prison, and child molesters and rapists are right at the bottom. That means their lives are made even more miserable in prison by the other prisoners who despised these criminals. Will this happen to him in Prison? I hope so, but that's because I also have the very human urge for justice.

Is that better justice? Is Justice a variable measure, where you can have less justice and more or better justice? Or is is binary, you either have justice, or you have injustice. There is no such thing as "lesser justice" (that's injustice), and therefore no such thing is "better justice" (that is either "justice" or still "injustice")?

I do not know. The more I know, the more I realise I do not know.

Because regardless of what his sentence is, the 7 year old girl has had a terrible and terrifying experience, and will take this with her for life. There is no way to "reset" the situation for her and make it right for her. "Justice" as meted out by the criminal justice system however you define it, will do nothing for her.

Which means, this attempt to "get" this offender is simply vengeance. Which the writer alludes to: "What angers me [was]... he was spared the [cane]". Vengeance is a personal desire to attain justice. Which is often unattainable, and at best elusive.

The Law is objective, unemotional, and above vengeance.]


2 comments:

Unknown said...

What angers me is, why cant they give the punishment of caning to Females.? Why Females are spared from caning. Yet an another thing to discuss.

El Lobo Loco said...

All comments are moderated. And I had a choice of deciding whether to publish the comment by... I shall call him the anonymous vengeful misogynist.

He did not get the point.