In 2014, convicted drug trafficker Yong Vui Kong appealed against his sentence of 15 strokes of the cane, on grounds including the argument that caning in Singapore is discriminatory as it is not used on men over 50 and women.
The Court of Appeal ruled in 2015 that the use of age as a convenient proxy to screen out those likely to be unfit for caning is reasonable, as is the exclusion of women, given their physiological differences from men.
The court also noted that there has been “clear legislative effort to inject parity” into the sentencing regime in other ways.
In 2010, amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code gave the courts discretion to impose a jail term of up to 12 months in lieu of caning, in cases where a person is exempted from caning.
Caning is applicable to more than 30 offences in Singapore, and is compulsory for crimes such as vandalism, robbery and drug trafficking.
Calls for review
Lawyers The Sunday Times spoke to were generally in agreement that there was no need to widen the scope of caning to include women, or to adjust the age limit for caning for other serious crimes such as robbery or possession of firearms, as the current punishment regime for those crimes is sufficient.
A number of experts, including Mr Paul Cheong Yuen, a senior lecturer at the Singapore University of Social Sciences’ law school, felt that the time was ripe to debate the age exemption in the caning of rapists, as abhorrent crimes warrant severe punitive measures that express society’s condemnation of such offences.
Instead of raising the age limit for caning rapists – which kicks the can down the road to another age marker – he suggested that the age exclusion be removed entirely.
His view echoed Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam’s response to Mr Murali in 2021 that raising the age limit may not solve the problem.
“When you shift the line, the problem may also shift,” said Mr Shanmugam, adding that the Government has been cautious about expanding the categories of people who can be caned.
Law Society of Singapore president Adrian Tan had also expressed support for the removal of the age limit.
“If you’re fit enough to rape, you should be fit enough to be caned,” he said in a LinkedIn post.
“For violent crimes, such as rape, people feel that an appropriately violent punishment must be inflicted on the wrongdoer. Otherwise, the punishment is inadequate, and society and victims won’t feel that justice is done.”