Vandalism Act

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Vandalism Act
Old Parliament House 4, Singapore, Jan 06.JPG
Old Parliament House, photographed in January 2006
CitationNo. 38 of 1966; now Cap. 341, 2014 Rev. Ed.
Enacted byParliament of Singapore
Enacted26 August 1966
Assented to31 August 1966[1]
Commenced16 September 1966
Legislative history
BillPunishment for Vandalism Bill
Bill citationBill No. 36/66
Bill published on17 August 1966
Introduced byWee Toon Boon (Minister of State for Defence)
First reading17 August 1966[2]
Second reading26 August 1966[3]
Third reading26 August 1966[3]

The Vandalism Act is a statute of the Parliament of Singapore that criminalizes a number of different acts done in relation to public and private property, namely, stealing, destroying or damaging public property; and, without the property owner's written consent, writing, drawing, painting, marking or inscribing on property; affixing posters, placards, etc., to the property; and suspending or displaying on or from the property any flag, banner, etc.

In addition to a fine or jail term, the Act imposes mandatory corporal punishment of between three and eight strokes of the cane for second or subsequent convictions. Caning is also imposed for first convictions for defacing property using an indelible substance; and stealing, destroying or damaging public property. The Children and Young Persons Act ("CYPA") states that the High Court may impose a caning penalty on juvenile offenders as well. In a 1968 case, the High Court held that despite the wording of this provision, a subordinate court may sentence juveniles to caning under the Vandalism Act as that Act takes precedence over the CYPA.

The 1994 conviction of 18-year-old American citizen Michael P. Fay for vandalizing cars using spray paint, and the sentence of six strokes of the cane imposed on him, provoked much controversy with both condemnation and support from Americans. Following a request by US President Bill Clinton for clemency, President Ong Teng Cheong commuted Fay's caning sentence from six to four strokes. In 2010, a Swiss national, Oliver Fricker, pleaded guilty to charges of trespassing into a Mass Rapid Transit depot and spray-painting a train with an accomplice, and was sentenced to five months' jail and three strokes of the cane. On appeal, the High Court increased his total jail term to seven months.


Vandalism was originally prohibited by the Minor Offences Act, which made it punishable by a fine of up to S$50 and/or a week in jail.[4] The Vandalism Act[5] was introduced into Parliament as the Punishment for Vandalism Bill on 17 August 1966. At the second reading of the bill on 26 August, its introducer, the Minister of State for Defence Wee Toon Boon, said that Members of Parliament were aware of the reasons for the bill

... for we have witnessed for some time the sorry spectacle of people of ill-will smearing and defacing our fair city. The writing of slogans, drawing of pictures, painting and marking or inscribing on public and private property has been rampant. Indeed, even the sides of drains have been used by anti-social and anti-national elements in the name of democracy, but their crude artistic feats in effect destroy and deface what democracy has built for the people. Singapore has also recently witnessed acts of vandalism like the theft of insulating oil from electrical power stations and the wanton damage to fountains. Damaging or destroying public property which is provided for the benefit of the people must be considered extremely serious, for it is the people themselves who ultimately pay for the services and amenities provided by the Government. However, there are, regrettably, certain irresponsible persons in the community who find a cruel joy in destroying and damaging public property. In the interests of the nation, it is therefore necessary that the minority who cause damage should be dealt with severely.[6]

Taking part in the Parliamentary debate, the Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew commented that the bill, which sought to impose a mandatory caning sentence on persons convicted for the first time of vandalism with an indelible substance, was a "departure from what is normal criminal law legislation". However, the punishment was necessary because

... we have a society which, unfortunately, I think, understands only two things – the incentive and the deterrent. We intend to use both, the carrot and the stick. ... [A] fine will not deter the type of criminal we are facing here. He is quite prepared to go to gaol, having defaced public buildings with red paint. Flaunting the values of his ideology, he is quite prepared to make a martyr of himself and go to gaol. He will not pay the fine and make a demonstration of his martyrdom. But if he knows he is going to get three of the best, I think he will lose a great deal of enthusiasm, because there is little glory attached to the rather humiliating experience of having to be caned.[7]

The bill was committed to a Committee of the whole House, read a third time and passed the same day. It was assented to by the President of Singapore on 31 August, and came into force on 16 September 1966. As of 2010, the Act had not been amended significantly since it was enacted.

Jothie Rajah of the American Bar Foundation has argued that the actual target of the law was activists from the Barisan Sosialis, an opposition party harshly suppressed at the time, which used posters and graffiti to spread its message.[4] In the 1994 case Fay Michael Peter v. Public Prosecutor,[8] the appellant's counsel made a similar argument, submitting briefly before the High Court that the original legislative intent behind the imposition of a caning penalty was to suppress violent political elements which existed in Singapore in the 1960s which had, among other things, inscribed anti-national slogans in public places. However, Chief Justice Yong Pung How took the view that it was "too simplistic" to claim that the Act was aimed mainly at punishing riotous anti-national elements: "That may have been one of the more urgent objectives at the time the Act was enacted in 1966 but a reading of the relevant Parliamentary Debates shows that the Legislature was simultaneously concerned with containing anti-social acts of hooliganism."[9]


Definition of act of vandalism[edit]

Section 2 of the Vandalism Act defines an act of vandalism as:

(a) without the written authority of an authorised officer or representative of the Government or of the government of any Commonwealth or foreign country or of any statutory body or authority or of any armed force lawfully present in Singapore in the case of public property, or without the written consent of the owner or occupier in the case of private property —
(i) writing, drawing, painting, marking or inscribing on any public property or private property any word, slogan, caricature, drawing, mark, symbol or other thing;
(ii) affixing, posting up or displaying on any public property or private property any poster, placard, advertisement, bill, notice, paper or other document;[10] or
(iii) hanging, suspending, hoisting, affixing or displaying on or from any public property or private property any flag, bunting, standard, banner or the like with any word, slogan, caricature, drawing, mark, symbol or other thing; or
(b) stealing, destroying or damaging any public property.

Public property means movable or immovable property owned by the Government of Singapore, the government of any Commonwealth or foreign country, any statutory body or authority, or any armed force lawfully present in Singapore.[11]

Offences and penalties[edit]

Stencilled graffiti on a wall at Ann Siang Road showing Mas Selamat bin Kastari who escaped from preventive detention in Singapore on 27 February 2008 but was recaptured in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, on 1 April 2009

Notwithstanding the provisions of any other written law, it is an offence under the Act to commit any act of vandalism, attempt to do any such act, or cause any such act to be done. Upon conviction, the penalty is a fine not exceeding S$2,000 or imprisonment not exceeding three years, and also corporal punishment of not less than three strokes and not more than eight strokes of the cane. However, caning will not be imposed on a first conviction if the act carried out falls within section 2(a)(i) and "the writing, drawing, mark or inscription is done with pencil, crayon, chalk or other delible substance or thing and not with paint, tar or other indelible substance or thing", or within sections 2(a)(ii) or (iii).[12]

In the Fay Michael Peter case, the appellant Michael P. Fay had earlier pleaded guilty before a district judge to two charges of vandalism by spraying red paint on two cars. Twenty other charges were taken into consideration for sentencing purposes, 16 of them charges of vandalism committed with paint. On appeal to the High Court, Fay's counsel argued that the Act, properly interpreted, showed that Parliament had not intended to punish all acts of vandalism using paint with caning, and that in each case the court had to determine if the paint used was easily removable or not before deciding whether to sentence the defendant to caning. Chief Justice Yong Pung How rejected this submission on the ground that there was no reason to deviate from the plain meaning of the words in the Act. There was no indication in the Act of any Parliamentary intention to subject all acts of vandalism committed with paint to an ad hoc test of indelibility. He said:

Conversely, to compel the courts to admit in every vandalism case involving paint, a plethora of evidence on the delibility or otherwise of the paint used in the offence, seemed to me to be throwing the floodgates open to endless and increasingly convoluted arguments about the exact scientific degree of ease with which any particular type of paint is removed: it is the sort of absurdity virtually guaranteed to thwart the legislative intent, as stated in the preamble, of providing for "exemplary punishment for acts of vandalism".[13]

The punishment imposed by the Act is expressly made subject to sections 325(1) and 330(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code,[14] which prohibit a caning sentence from being imposed on women, men considered by the court to be more than 50 years old, and men sentenced to death.[12] Caning sentences may be imposed on juveniles above the age of seven years and under 16 years,[15] as the Children and Young Persons Act specifically states that, notwithstanding the provisions of any other written law, no child or young person shall be sentenced by any court other than the High Court to corporal punishment.[16] Despite the express words reserving to the High Court the power to impose the penalty, the Court has held that caning may be imposed on a child or young person by a subordinate court as the Vandalism Act takes precedence over the Children and Young Persons Act.[17]

Other provisions[edit]

Offences under the Act are arrestable and non-bailable.[18] Thus, a person committing such an offence may be arrested without a warrant by a police officer and, in some circumstances, a private person.[19]

The Act also provides that in the case of a prosecution for dishonestly receiving stolen property under section 411 of the Penal Code, where the stolen property is public property, it shall be presumed unless the defendant is able to prove otherwise that the person who received or retained the property knew or had reason to believe that the property was stolen public property, and also that he or she received or retained it dishonestly.[20]

Notable cases[edit]

Graffiti in a pedestrian underpass in the Central Area

Michael Fay (1994)[edit]

On 3 March 1994, Michael P. Fay, an 18-year-old American citizen, pleaded guilty to two charges of vandalizing cars by spray-painting them between 17 and 18 September 1993 together with three accomplices. One of the cars belonged to Judicial Commissioner Amarjeet Singh. Fay was sentenced by a District Court to two months' imprisonment and three strokes of the cane on each charge.[21] The High Court later rejected an appeal against the sentence.[22] The caning sentence provoked much controversy in the United States, and was condemned as cruel and excessive for a non-violent offence.[23] On the other hand, a significant number of Americans supported the penalty, reasoning that American citizens who travelled abroad had to respect the laws of the countries that they visited, and that the United States was not tough enough on its own juvenile offenders.[24] Following a request by US President Bill Clinton for clemency, President Ong Teng Cheong commuted Fay's caning from six to four strokes. The sentence was carried out on 5 May 1994.[25]

SMRT train at Changi Depot (2010)[edit]

A 32-year-old Swiss national, Oliver Fricker, was charged in court on 5 June 2010 for having allegedly trespassed into the SMRT Corporation's Changi Depot, a protected place, and vandalized a Mass Rapid Transit C151 train by spray-painting graffiti on it between the night of 16 May and the early hours of 17 May. The graffiti consisted of the words "McKoy Banos", said to be the signature of two anonymous "artists" who have tagged trains around the world. A Briton, Dane Alexander Lloyd, was also named on the charge sheet, but he was not present in court and was believed to have left Singapore for Hong Kong.[26] A warrant of arrest for Lloyd has been issued by a court, and the authorities will seek to extradite him to stand trial in Singapore if there is an extradition treaty between Singapore and the country where he is found.[27] On 25 June, Fricker pleaded guilty to the charges against him and was sentenced to two months' jail for trespass and three months' jail and three strokes of the cane for vandalism, the jail terms to run consecutively.[28] Both Fricker and the prosecution appealed to the High Court against the trespass sentence. On 18 August, Justice V.K. Rajah increased the sentence to four months, calling the original sentence "manifestly inadequate", thus requiring Fricker to serve seven months' jail altogether. He also commented that "[w]hile some might regard graffiti as a stimulating and liberating activity that adds colour, spice and variety to a staid environment", such actions were "offensive to the sensibilities of the general public".[29]

Rooftop of Block 85A Toa Payoh Lorong (2014)[edit]

Five youths were charged with vandalism for spray painting a large flat wall panel on the top of the block with expletives directed against the ruling party. The youths had stolen spray cans from a parked lorry and entered the rooftop of a HDB flat to carry out the act. All five were given probation sentences.[30]

SMRT train at Bishan Depot (2014)[edit]

On 5 March 2015, two Germans, Andreas Von Knorre and Elton Hinz, were each sentenced to nine months' imprisonment and three strokes of the cane for breaking into SMRT's Bishan Depot in November 2014 and vandalising a C151 train cabin by spraypainting it.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Assents to Bills Passed", Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (26 October 1966), vol. 25, col. 342.
  2. ^ Wee Toon Boon (Minister of State for Defence), speech during the First Reading of the Punishment for Vandalism Bill, Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (17 August 1966), vol. 25, col. 190.
  3. ^ a b "Punishment for Vandalism Bill", Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (26 August 1966), vol. 25, cols. 291–305.
  4. ^ a b Jothie Rajah (2012), Authoritarian Rule of Law: Legislation, Discourse, and Legitimacy in Singapore, Cambridge; New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-1-107-01241-7.
  5. ^ No. 38 of 1966; now the Vandalism Act (Cap. 341, 1985 Rev. Ed.) ("VA").
  6. ^ Wee Toon Boon, speech during the Second Reading of the Punishment for Vandalism Bill, Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (26 August 1966), vol. 25, cols. 291–292.
  7. ^ Lee Kuan Yew (Prime Minister), speech during the Second Reading of the Punishment for Vandalism Bill, Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (26 August 1966), vol. 25, cols. 295–297.
  8. ^ Fay Michael Peter v. Public Prosecutor [1994] 1 S.L.R.(R) [Singapore Law Reports (Reissue)] 1063, High Court (Singapore).
  9. ^ Fay Michael Peter, para. 16.
  10. ^ On 5 October 2009, five Falungong practitioners were arrested by the police under the Vandalism Act for affixing 82 posters and banners about the Falungong to the wall of the Esplanade Bridge underpass: Zakir Hussain (16 October 2009), "Falungong man first to be arrested under 'move-on' law", The Straits Times.
  11. ^ VA, s. 2.
  12. ^ a b VA, s. 3.
  13. ^ Fay Michael Peter, para. 11.
  14. ^ Criminal Procedure Code 2010 (No. 15 of 2010) ("CPC") (formerly s. 231 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cap. 68 , 1985 Rev. Ed.).
  15. ^ The CPC, s. 329(4), states that caning shall be inflicted on a juvenile with a "light rattan"; under s. 2, juvenile means a person who, in the absence of legal proof to the contrary, is seven years of age or above and below the age of 16 years in the opinion of the court. No child under seven years old may be charged with an offence (Penal Code (Cap. 224, 2008 Rev. Ed.) ("PC"), s. 82), and a child above seven and under 12 years may only be found guilty of an offence if he or she has attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge the nature and consequence of his or her conduct (PC, s. 83).
  16. ^ Children and Young Persons Act (Cap. 38, 2001 Rev. Ed.) ("CYPA"), s. 37(3) (emphasis added). A child is a person below 14 years, and a young person is a person who is 14 years or above and below the age of 16 years: s. 2.
  17. ^ Ang Chin Sang v. Public Prosecutor [1968–1970] S.L.R.(R) 4 at paras. 10–12, High Court. When the decision was rendered in 1968, the relevant provision was s. 55(3) of the Children and Young Persons Ordinance (Cap. 128, 1955 Rev. Ed.), which was identical to the CYPA, s. 37(3). For criticism, see Chan Wing Cheong (1994), "Changes to the Juvenile Justice System: Children and Young Persons Act, 1993", Singapore Journal of Legal Studies: 448–456 at 452–453.
  18. ^ VA, s. 6.
  19. ^ CPC, ss. 2(1) (definition of arrestable offence), 64 (arrest by police without warrant) and 66 (arrest by private person).
  20. ^ VA, s. 7.
  21. ^ Fay Michael Peter, paras. 1–2.
  22. ^ Fay Michael Peter.
  23. ^ Andrea Stone (10 March 1994), "Whipping penalty judged too harsh – by some", USA Today, archived from the original on 19 June 2008; Philip Shenon (16 March 1994), "Singapore Journal: A flogging sentence brings a cry of pain in U.S.", The New York Times; "What US columnists say about Fay's caning", The Straits Times, 8 April 1994, archived from the original on 19 June 2008; Asad Latif (8 April 1994), "It's all invectives and not cold logic", The Straits Times, archived from the original on 19 June 2008.
  24. ^ "Travel advisory – When in Rome ... [editorial]", Los Angeles Times, 19 March 1994, archived from the original on 19 June 2008; Mike Royko (30 March 1994), "Readers get 'behind' flogging of vandal", Daily News, New York, archived from the original on 19 June 2008; David Usborne (3 April 1994), "'Joe Public' backs caning of American", The Independent on Sunday, London.
  25. ^ William Branigin (5 May 1994), "Singapore reduces American's sentence", The Washington Post; Philip Serwell; Patricia Wilson (6 May 1994), "'Mistake' says Clinton as American is caned", The Daily Telegraph, London; Philip Shenon (6 May 1994), "Singapore carries out caning of U.S. teenager", International Herald Tribune.
  26. ^ Shuli Sudderuddin (6 June 2010), "Swiss charged with trespass, vandalism", The Sunday Times, Singapore, p. 1; Surekha Yadav (5–6 June 2010), "MRT vandalism: Swiss national to face charges: Suspect could faced up to 3 years jail or a $2000 fine for vandalism and caning", Weekend Today, p. 6, archived from the original on 6 June 2010; Sujin Thomas (7 June 2010), "Briton in graffiti case may have left for Hong Kong", The Straits Times, p. 3.
  27. ^ Adam Gabbatt (8 June 2010), "Singapore wants British man extradited over vandalism: Singapore authorities want to extradite Lloyd Dane Alexander for allegedly spray-painting a subway carriage", The Guardian, London; Sujin Thomas; Manik Mehta (8 June 2010), "Arrest order out", The Straits Times; "Briton wanted in Singapore over vandalism", The Times, London, 8 June 2010; "Warrant of arrest issued for Briton: Swiss national released on $100k bail; embassy says it won't interfere", Today, 8 June 2010, archived from the original on 14 June 2010.
  28. ^ Swiss graffiti man faces Singapore caning, BBC News, 25 June 2010; Alex Kennedy (25 June 2010), Singapore sentences Swiss man to caning for spraying graffiti on subway car, The Canadian Press; Elena Chong (26 June 2010), "Swiss vandal gets 5 months, 3 strokes: Vandals ordered paint, checked MRT depot, before graffiti attack", The Straits Times, pp. A1 & A12; Elena Chong (26 June 2010), "Accused had no 'noble aim' in exposing lapses", The Straits Times, p. A12; Shaffiq Alkhatib (26–27 June 2010), "SMRT vandal gets three strokes of the cane, 5 months' jail", Weekend Today, p. 3, archived from the original on 26 June 2010.
  29. ^ Fricker Oliver v. Public Prosecutor [2010] SGHC 239, High Court; Elena Chong (19 August 2010), "Judge gives MRT vandal extra two months in jail", The Straits Times, pp. A1 & A6; Imelda Saad (19 August 2010), "Fricker should 'count himself fortunate'", Today, p. 2, archived from the original on 19 August 2010.
  30. ^ "Toa Payoh vandalism case: Teen given second chance at probation". TODAYonline.
  31. ^ Su-Lin Tan (6 March 2015), "Singapore court sentences two German vandals to nine months in prison and caning", The Sydney Morning Herald, archived from the original on 4 September 2016.


Further reading[edit]


  • Bahrampour, Firouzeh (1994–1995), "The Caning of Michael Fay: Can Singapore's Punishment Withstand the Scrutiny of International Law?", American University Journal of International Law and Policy, 10: 1075.
  • Hodson, Joel (2003), "A Case for American Studies: The Michael Fay Affair, Singapore–US Relations, and American Studies in Singapore", American Studies International, 41.
  • Hyman, Irwin A.; Cavallo, Fernando; Erbacher, Theresa A.; Spanger, Joyce (1997), "Corporal Punishment in America: Cultural Wars in Politics, Religion and Science", Children's Legal Rights Journal, 17: 36.
  • Lal, Vinay (4 June 1994), "The Flogging of Michael Fay: Culture of Authoritarianism", Economic and Political Weekly, 29 (23): 1386–1388, JSTOR 4401297.
  • Yao, Souchou (2007), "Pain, Words, Violence: The Caning of Michael Fay", Singapore: The State and the Culture of Excess, Abingdon, Oxford; New York, N.Y.: Routledge, pp. 75–96, ISBN 978-0-415-41711-2.

Books and theses[edit]