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     FrontPage Edition: Wed 24 October 2007

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The Penal Code (Amendment) Bill passed


Second Reading Speech of The Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, by Senior Minister of State A/P Ho Peng Kee on 22 October 2007

Preamble on the background and review process of the Penal Code
Mr Speaker Sir, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
The Penal Code is the primary criminal statute in Singapore with more than 500 provisions. It is a key part of the corpus of Singapore’s laws which have served us well in keeping our law and order situation under control all these years.
As a major criminal law statute, its provisions reflect our society’s norms and values. This review is the most comprehensive undertaken since 1984, when we amended the Penal Code to introduce mandatory minimum punishment for several serious offences.
Now, we are amending the Code so that it remains effective in a dynamic and changing environment that remains challenging.
Working closely with the Attorney General’s Chambers, Ministry of Law and other government agencies, we updated the Code’s provisions to reflect present realities, addressing the changing nature of crime and ensuring that there is adequate protection for the more vulnerable members of our society such as our young and mentally disabled.
Stretching over two to three years, the process was a measured and deliberate one, taking into account, where applicable, legislative changes in other jurisdictions. In amending some provisions, we also took into account comments made by the Judges in their judgements.
Consultation process
The amendments now before the House have been refined through a robust process of public consultation, with inputs from members of the public, professional organizations as well as stakeholders of our criminal justice system.
During the consultation period, we received about 300 responses through multiple points of engagement, such as the REACH e-portal, letters and articles to the media, email messages and as well as input at three focus group discussions with people from different walks of life. And thereafter, continued to receive more feedback.
In addition, institutions such as the Law Society, the Subordinate Courts and Singapore Academy of Law gave valuable input. It is heartening that Singaporeans took an active interest in this review. I say “thank you” to them for contributing time and effort to make this consultation exercise a very meaningful one.
We carefully considered every feedback received, holding discussions with the relevant agencies to explore the ideas, suggestions and views that surfaced.
Indeed, as rightly pointed out by some contributors, this is a valuable process which has helped to further refine and improve the proposed amendments.
About 30 provisions were further amended as a result of suggestions received. In all, this review will see 77 provisions expanded, updated or clarified, 4 provisions repealed, and 21 new offences enacted to address identified gaps in the law, strengthen enforcement capability and to accord better protection to vulnerable persons.
In addition, we have undertaken a comprehensive and holistic review of all the penalties set out in the Code.
Let me now cover the key features of the Bill.
Key Features
Penal Code will be Updated to Reflect Current Realities and Crime Trends
Keeping pace with technology
There has been a wave of technological advancements since the Penal Code was last substantially amended in 1984. Increased use of the Internet, mobile phone and credit card has changed our lives dramatically.
Unfortunately, there is a darker side to this phenomenon as law-breakers, criminals and terrorists also leverage on these tools to further their objectives. It is therefore critical for us to update the Penal Code to ensure that the scope of its provisions take into account these developments.
With Singapore’s reputation as a financial hub and the increased use of electronic payment, including credit cards, it is vital that we take firm measures to tackle credit card fraud.
We will therefore amend section 30 to put beyond doubt that the term “valuable security” is deemed to include credit cards, charge cards, stored value cards, automated teller machine (ATM) cards, and such other cards which have money or money’s worth, or other financial rights attached.
Following feedback from the Subordinate Courts and the Singapore Academy of Law, MHA has decided to remove the term “privileges” from the new definition of “valuable security”, so as to exclude reward cards and discount cards as this would unnecessarily widen the scope of the offence.
In addition, a new section 31A defining “die” and “instrument” will be introduced to deal more effectively with card-based fraud. New sections 473A, 473B and 473C which relate to the making or possessing of equipment to make a false instrument have also been introduced to deal more holistically with credit card fraud.
In addition, these amendments recognize the fact that with the pervasive use of IT and the Internet, the world no longer operates solely in a “brick and mortar” and “paper” environment. Many of our messages are transmitted through the electronic medium, such as through emails, SMS messages and, for some, blogging.
It is therefore the right thing to do to enhance the coverage of relevant Penal Code provisions to cover the various electronic means and media which can be used to perpetrate crime.
Hence, 18 provisions[1] will be amended to reflect this development, by adding the term “electronic record” or expanding the definition of “document”.
In particular, the sale of any obscene object by a person through the Internet, the making of statements on a person’s blog with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious or racial feelings of any person, or the sending of an SMS message that contains an incitement to violence or that counsels disobedience to the law would be criminalised under amended sections 292 (Sale of obscene books etc.), 298 (Uttering words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious or racial feelings of any person) and section 151A, now renumbered section 267C respectively.
Let me assure Members, however, that Police has no intention to monitor what takes place online such as the Internet. Neither should netizens, bloggers and the many of us who regularly send SMS messages worry that these provisions will inhibit our use of these communication channels.
Law-abiding users should have no fear. Indeed, the underlying offences remain unchanged in substance although the means of transmission have now widened.
In addition, to enable us to better deal with white collar crimes involving electronic or digital records and documents, we will update the relevant provisions to incorporate acts committed via the Internet and digital forms of document.
This way, Police can more effectively deal with forgery offences involving, for example, the falsification of electronic records and documents, fabrication of email messages and use of forged electronic certificates. As of now, these pose challenges to the Police in terms of establishing an offence under the Penal Code.

Source: News 22 Oct 2007

Related Article:
- Summary of key amendments to the Penal Code

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