Friday, 4 Dec 2020

NUS responds to victims' complaints that it went against their wishes to lodge a police report; says it had a legal obligation to report

SINGAPORE – The National University of Singapore (NUS) said on Wednesday (Nov 4) that it had filed a police report on Oct 21 regarding allegations of sexual misconduct to fulfil its legal obligations.

Responding to recent complaints by the two female students who accused former Tembusu College don Jeremy Fernando of sexual misconduct, NUS clarified that it had tried to inform both students of its legal duty to make a police report, and managed to reach one of them.

Both students had told The Straits Times earlier that they were unhappy that NUS informed them only after it had made a police report against Dr Fernando.

At a press conference on Oct 23, NUS said it had attempted to contact both victims before the police report against Dr Fernando was made, but was unableto reach one of the victims.

In its latest statement on Wednesday, NUS said: “This may have given the impression that we had informed one student that NUS was making a police report just before we made it.

“We would like to clarify that what we had informed the student of was that NUS had a legal duty to file a police report, and would exercise this duty in accordance with NUS policy, if she chose not to do so. NUS also did not inform the student of when it would file the report.”

A spokesman said: “We did not succeed in reaching the second student. Prior to this, we had also advised the two students of the option to file their own police reports, given the serious allegations that they had made about Dr Fernando. We successfully reached out to both students after the police report was filed to update them.”

NUS had earlier said it lodged a police report, “given the seriousness of the allegations”. It had also advised the two female students to do the same, although both opted not to.

The university added that it chose to delay making the report out of consideration for the students’ mental well-being.

The spokesman said the university lodged thepolice report to protect its student body at large.

“In filing this report, NUS takes into consideration our obligations under the law, the need for transparency, and the need to protect the privacy and interests of all parties, including reasonable grounds for delay,” she said.

A police report was “imminent”, given that partial information about the matter was already public, she added, referring to allegations raised by the two female students that had been reported.

“NUS also owes a duty of care to its students at large to ensure campus safety, and weighed this in our decision to file a report without prior agreement of either student. If an allegation has been made, the police would be best placed to assess if an offence was committed,” said the spokesman.

Under Section 424 of the Criminal Procedure Code, anyone aware of the “commission or the intention of another person to commit any arrestable offence shall, in the absence of reasonable excuse”, immediately provide the authorities with information.

However, lawyers have said it is not clear that NUS was legally obliged to make a police report, as various factors could be counted as a “reasonable excuse”. These include the victim’s choice or a professional assessment of whether such an investigation would be in the victim’s interest, and whether the party making the report has enough first-hand knowledge of the offence.

NUS received a complaint about Dr Fernando on Aug 27. A second complaint was made on Sept 7.The university sacked him on Oct 7, as its internal investigations showed he “had an intimate association” with an undergraduate – a serious breach of its code of conduct for staff.

It later released a public statement on Oct 18 – the day staff and students at Tembusu College were told of his dismissal.

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