Ministry of Home Affairs to review legal policy framework for certain criminal offences

Sentences meted out to NUS dentistry student seen by community as “too light”

1. Introduction

Yin Zi Qin (“Yin”), a second-year dentistry student of the National University of Singapore (“NUS”) was given community-based sentences after pleading guilty to a charge of voluntarily causing hurt, and a charge of criminal trespass taken into consideration. The courts handed the student a detention order for 12 days, a day reporting order for five months with counselling, and an order to complete 80 hours of community service. District Judge Marvin Bay said that he was satisfied that Yin did not have a high risk of reoffending, though he noted the psychological harm that Yin had caused to the victim and the anxiety that the victim’s family had to go through. District Judge Bay added that community-based sentences were viable because of Yin’s relative youth, rehabilitative prospects, and lack of previous convictions.

The Prosecution had initially sought a fine, but did not object to the community-based sentences. It will also not be appealing the sentences.

According to the university, Yin is currently serving a suspension, and is not allowed on campus, pending disciplinary proceedings by NUS.

2. Background to the offences

At the time of the offence, Yin was dating the victim for almost two years. When the victim broke up with him over WhatsApp, Yin entered her home with an access card she had previously given to him. Yin had caused hurt to his ex-girlfriend by placing his hands on the victim’s neck and tried to strangle her. Yin released his grip after the struggle and pressed his thumb against her eye, causing it to bleed. This led to an eye infection which took five months to resolve. The victim reported that she did not suffer any permanent injuries.

In mitigation, it was highlighted that Yin had voluntarily returned to the victim’s house and apologised to the victim’s parents. He was punched and slapped by the victim’s stepfather, who also burned his face with a cigarette. The stepfather was later given a warning by the police.

3. MHA to review legal policy framework

Following widespread comments on social media that the sentences meted out to Yin were too lenient (especially as he would not have a criminal record), Ministry of Home Affairs (“MHA”) and Law Minister K Shanmugam (“Shanmugam”), spoke to the media via Zoom and said that the MHA will conduct a review on three areas:

– The penalties to be applied for similar cases in the future;

– The relevance of factors such as an educational background in sentencing; and

– The relativity in punishment between different offences.

He also said that the courts are not the issue, and that they are independent.

Other political parties and non-governmental organisations also weighed in with official statements.

4. Similar cases

Yin’s case follows a number of other cases, also involving NUS students, which caused public disquiet over the perception that the sentences meted out were too lenient. A recent example is that of Terence Siow, whose sentence of probation for molest was overturned on appeal by the Chief Justice.

In response to queries from The New Paper, our partner, Chooi Jing Yen gave some thoughts on Yin’s case:-

Yin’s sentences are forward-looking.

He still has to go to prison, albeit for a short time. That is in the hope of forming a deep impression on his mind so he really doesn’t offend again.

We don’t want to unduly stigmatise him for the rest of his life.

What the judge had said is that (Yin) had rehabilitative potential and that’s going to be present in cases whenever we deal with younger offenders. (Yin) just happened to be an NUS student.