The explanation by the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) on the case of Joshua Robinson has clarified the authorities’ decision not to appeal the sentence meted out to Robinson.
The AGC’s statement comes after public outcry over the perceived lenient punishment of 4 years jail for the 39-year old American mixed martial arts instructor who had had planned and lured two 15-year old girls into having sex with him, and had shown an obscene video to a 6-year old girl.
Robinson was charged with and found guilty of sexual penetration of a minor under 16, making an obscene film, possession of obscene films, and exhibiting an obscene object to a young person.
After the sentence was reported in the news, members of the public were enraged and took to social media to ask for the AGC to appeal for a higher sentence, with some calling for caning to be part of that punishment for the “sexual assault” of the girls.
The father of the 6-year old girl had also expressed his disgust at the light sentence.
The AGC has now explained that some of these calls were misguided, based on the facts of the case, and the AGC is right.
Let’s look at the case one issue at a time.
One of the prosecution’s main concerns was, apparently, the trauma that the young victims may go through if they had to testify and be cross-examined by defence lawyers in court. To avoid them having to go through this, the prosecution had discussed what was effectively a plea bargain with Robinson’s lawyers.
“In arriving at this sentencing position, the Prosecution took into account, among other things, the fact that by securing a guilty plea, the three young victims would be spared the trauma of having to testify and be cross-examined in a trial,” the AGC said.
It is a fact that in sexual crimes, the victims’ ordeals are re-lived in court if they have to face the perpetrators. So, plea bargains to save the victims from having to go through this is not an uncommon thing, and this is especially so for younger victims.
Neither sexual assault nor rape
The next issue is what crime exactly did Robinson commit? Some have described his act as “sexual assault”, others call it rape. But the AGC has explained that in fact the American did not commit either.
“Joshua Robinson did not commit ‘sexual assault’. Because the two victims were above 14 years of age when Robinson committed the sexual acts with them, the offence of statutory rape was not committed. Because the victims had consented to the sexual acts, the offences of rape and outrage of modesty were also not committed.”
Statutory rape, under Singapore’s laws, occur only when the victim is 14-years old and below. As mentioned above, the two girls with whom he has sex with were 15-year old at the time of the offence.
So, the offence which the AGC could charge Robinson with was sexual penetration of a minor under 16 years of age, which is punishable under section 376A(2).
Why no caning?
The AGC also explained why there was no caning meted out to Robinson.
The simple answer is: caning is not provided for under the law for the offences Robinson was charged with.
Here it is important to note that caning is provided for under section 376A(3) of the Penal Code, but is not provided for under section 376A(2) which Robinson was charged with and found guilty of.
For clarity, this is what the two sections of the law say:
(2) Subject to subsection (3), a person who is guilty of an offence under this section shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, or with fine, or with both.
(3) Whoever commits an offence under this section against a person (B) who is under 14 years of age shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 20 years, and shall also be liable to fine or to caning.
Note that the first section – 376A(2) – refers simply to any person who commits the offence with anyone, and this does not attract caning as punishment.
Section 376A(3), on the other hand, deals with offences involving those under 14-years old, and the perpetrator will be punished with caning.
As Robinson’s victims were not under 14-years old, Robinson therefore escapes caning.
Is the AGC selective in who it seeks higher sentences?
Some has accused the AGC of being biased towards certain nationalities when it comes to seeking sentences. It is important to note here that these are just accusations, unsubstantiated, by a few people. However, the perception should be noted, nonetheless.
With regards to this, the AGC says, “The AGC would like to assure the public that in discharging our duties, we do not differentiate between Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans.”
It also added:
“The sentences imposed in this case were broadly in line with relevant sentencing precedents. In light of the sentencing position which the Prosecution had conveyed to Robinson and the fact that his subsequent plea of guilt had spared the victims from the ordeal of a trial, the Public Prosecutor will not be appealing against the sentence.”
The Law Minister, K Shanmugam, speaking after the AGC had issued its statement, says he has asked his ministries – Law and Home Affairs – to relook the sentences for offences such as those committed by Robinson.
“I do think that the sentences for such offences committed by Robinson need to be relooked at,” Mr Shanmugam said. “That is why I have asked my ministries to study this.”
Mr Shanmugam added: “I have asked my officials to consider what approaches are necessary for offenders like Robinson to be dealt with more severely through higher penalties.”
He also revealed that “the original decision on what sentences to ask for was cleared at the highest levels – by the previous AG himself, based on precedents from previous cases.”
“So this matter had received attention at the very highest level,” he said.
As for the call for the AGC to appeal the sentence, Mr Shanmugam said he “can understand that having taken a position in court, on what the sentence should be, it is difficult for AGC to now appeal.”
“In our system, decisions on prosecution, sentence to ask for, and appeals, are all within the discretion of the AGC. We need to respect the decision of AGC,” he said.
While certainly the AG’s prosecutorial discretion is within the AG’s powers to exercise, it is also good that the public has, perhaps because of its sense of justice, questioned the light sentence for Robinson and had urged the AGC to seek a heavier sentence.
Now that the AGC has explained its case in detail, however, there is no reason to believe that it had been derelict in its duty to protect the public from predators like Robinson or to seek the appropriate punishment.
In fact, the AGC’s explanation is concise and clear.
We look forward to the ministries review of the punishment for such crimes, so that criminals like Robinson will not get away with such mere taps on the wrist.
Read the AGC”s full statement here: AGC Press Release.