Law Society wants homosexuality decriminalised

The Straits Times
5 April 2007

PROPOSED CHANGES TO PENAL CODE

Law Society: Give judges leeway to set aside death penalty
It also wants homosexual acts among consenting men decriminalised

By K.C. Vijayan

THE Law Society wants the mandatory death penalty for crimes such as murder, drug trafficking and firearms-related offences scrapped. Instead, it wants judges to be given the discretion to either sentence offenders to death or to a jail term.

This is a key plank in the Law Society’s response to proposed changes to the Penal Code by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

Currently, the death penalty is mandatory in capital punishment cases, and judges have no choice but to impose it if a person is found guilty.

The Law Society also made several other proposals, including one to decriminalise homosexual acts among consenting men, in a 55-page report which was drafted by an ad-hoc committee of 16 lawyers and academics, and endorsed by its council.

The society’s views, submitted to the MHA on Friday, were drawn up after Senior Minister of State (Home Affairs and Law) Ho Peng Kee invited it to study the proposed changes in November last year.

The report was posted on its website on Tuesday.

In arguing for discretion to be given to judges in capital punishment cases, the society pointed to a new law mooted by the ministry.

The proposed law deals with hostage-takers who hold the government or others to ransom.

A person convicted of breaking this law will face either the death penalty or a jail term extending to life and caning or a fine, the ministry proposed.

Noting that judges in such cases were allowed discretion in sentencing, the Law Society proposed that this be extended to all capital offences.

It said that changing the mandatory death penalty for capital offences will not reduce the deterrent element.

‘This flexibility in sentencing humanises the law and reflects the evolving standards of decency in Singapore society,’ said the report.

Turning to sexual offences – in particular, Section 377 of the Penal Code, which deals with sexual acts ‘against the order of nature’ – the society said the MHA’s proposal to retain homosexuality as an offence in Section 377A ‘cannot be justified’.

It described the retention as ‘out of step with legal norms in the modern law’.

The society stressed that it was not arguing that homosexuality is morally acceptable, and said a ‘significant minority’ wanted the provision to remain, but the majority view prevailed.

The MHA’s approach is that homosexuality is not widely accepted here. Having said that, the ministry has said it will not be ‘proactive’ in enforcing this law against consensual acts that take place in private.

But the society sees this as an admission that the section is ‘out-of-step’ and ‘runs the risk of bringing the law into disrepute’. It suggests a complete review, and a new chapter in the Penal Code on sexual offences.

The society, expressing its gratitude that the MHA consulted both the public and it, also urged that a commission be set up to review the reforms.

Contacted yesterday, an MHA spokesman said all views received were being studied.

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