Saturday, 18 January 2014

New homicide laws likely to deal with violent crimes

Courts can then differentiate between offenders of varying culpabilities
By K.c. Vijayan Senior Law Correspondent And Ian Poh, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2014

OFFENDERS who cause death as a result of violent crimes such as rape, or crimes committed by youth gangs, may be dealt with under a new set of homicide laws specially crafted to deal with them.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam said these were issues being studied by a committee tasked with reviewing these laws. Additionally, the committee is also looking at how mentally disabled offenders should be dealt with.

Mr Shanmugam was speaking at the 2014 Criminal Law Conference held at the Supreme Court Auditorium yesterday.

The event was attended by over 500 members of the legal fraternity, including Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Attorney-General Steven Chong and invited speakers from abroad.

The spectrum of homicide offences, if introduced, would enable the courts to differentiate between offenders of varying culpabilities and also address public order concerns.

Among the reforms being considered is an offence dealing with deaths caused during a violent group crime such as a gang fight, and refining the definition of murder under the law.

Mr Shanmugam said that there are discussions on how murder committed in the course of rape and violent sexual offences, as well as against very young people, should be viewed.

He said: "We've had a few very bad cases in the last few years. The committee is looking into that as well, as to whether to treat that as a further aggravation."

The committee to review homicide law and treatment of mentally disabled offenders was set up last year. It is chaired by Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah.

Lawyers at the conference welcomed the committee's scope of work but flagged some areas that could be looked into.

Criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam said that the way an "intention" to kill is defined under the law should be expanded.

Litigator Anthony Wong said: "It may be worth exploring how the concept of mercy may be legislated into our homicide offences, similar to how it has been with the drug trafficking offence."

The latest move is in tandem with other recent developments where substantial and "decisive" changes have been made to the criminal justice system, Mr Shanmugam said.

"I set out the four fundamental principles which underpin our approach to the criminal justice system. They may be encapsulated in four phrases - protect society, do due process, effective law enforcement and rehabilitation and reformation," he explained. "Everything we have done, everything we will do, will reflect and take off from these touch points."

At the same conference, Chief Justice Menon called on criminal lawyers to "modernise" their skill sets to deal with the demands of modern trends such as globalisation and the use of modern science in evidence. He noted that crime in a globalised world was no longer confined to specific jurisdictions, but can instead be committed in several places at once or have effects elsewhere.

Recent changes to the system
By Ian Poh, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2014

CHANGES made to the criminal justice system in the past five years involve crime prevention, court processes and rehabilitation of offenders, said the Law Ministry. They include:
- Efforts to target at-risk youth, including early intervention programmes by the Home Affairs Ministry and an Inter-Ministerial Committee chaired by Senior Minister of State Masagos Zulkifli.
- Increasing access to justice by expanding Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, setting up a Community Justice Centre and starting a law school at SIM University.
- Changes to trial processes, such as a Criminal Case Resolution scheme to help prosecutors and defence counsel resolve cases early on, and a Code of Practice launched by the Attorney-General's Chambers and Law Society to encourage best practices in criminal proceedings.

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