Lawyer: Is it right to jail Shaw for 'honest' mistake?

SINGAPORE - In his 90-minute closing remarks, Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal (above) called his client Howard Shaw's offence "an honest and reasonable mistake".

He said the underage prostitute was neither trafficked nor coerced into prostitution and worked hand-in-glove with the agency to actively misrepresent herself as above 18.

"Here, Mr Shaw's mistake was not only a result of his personal observation of her attributes etc; the mistake also resulted from a fraudulent misrepresentation by the girl and the agency as to her age," Mr Singh told the court.

"Is it right to send anyone to jail who makes an honest and reasonable mistake as a result of a fraud or deceit perpetrated upon him? Is it even right to convict such a person in the first place?"

He added: "It is no exaggeration to describe this case as falling at or very near the extreme outer edge ofculpability.

"It is so very far removed from the type of predatory, conscious and exploitative conduct which this offence is really aimed at.

"In my respectful submission, it would be an 'absurdly draconian result' and abhorrent on these facts to send Mr Shaw (and others in like position) to jail, let alone convict him."

Below are some of the arguments presented by Mr Singh on July 30, Monday.

The law provides for a fine. Jail is not mandatory. He should be slapped with a fine.

Judge says: He relied on the representations on the Internet website and did not make any effort to check the age of the minor.

The court is mindful in the consistency in sentencing.

There is no known case where a fine or custodial discharge has been imposed.

The law provides for "reasonable mistake" for offenders under 21. Though Howard is not under 21, the law should cover him too.

Judge says: He is aware of the law. And he did not claim to be ignorant. It is not an honest and reasonable mistake.

She lied about her age. The pimp lied about her age.

Judge says: Since you have sought sex with a 18-year-old, you should have also sought to verify her age.

He was not a predator. She was.

Judge says: The court should be focused on the conduct of the accused, not the conduct of the minor.

The accused had to bear the risk of a transaction with her.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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