Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) (Amendment) Bill 2024

Mr Speaker,

This Bill seeks to extend the operation of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, or CLPTA, for another five years, starting from 21 October 2024. This extension is not to be taken lightly because it continues to empower the Government to detain individuals without trial.

The Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Bill was first introduced in Parliament back in 1955, as one of the measures to counter the communist threat in Singapore. However, the most concerning part of the Act, namely the section empowering the Minister to direct a person to be detained without trial, was introduced in 1958 to deal with gangsterism.

During the Second Reading of that amendment Bill, the Chief Secretary then, Mr E B David said, “It is only the exceptional gravity of the present state of gang lawlessness, which compels the Government to seek these exceptional powers for immediate use. No democratic government will lightly curtail the liberty of any individual by executive action, nor would it wish to curtail that liberty for a moment longer than is absolutely necessary. With the slowly increasing mutual confidence between the police and the public, I sincerely hope that it would not be very long before the conditions in which these gangsters can flourish will no longer obtain. The normal processes of law will, once more, be adequate to detect and punish crimes and these special powers can be thankfully surrendered.”

This Act was enacted in 1955 and if it is renewed this time, it would be its 15th renewal. Sixty-six years have passed since the introduction of the provision empowering the Executive to detain criminals without trial. While gangsterism still exists today in Singapore, the extent of lawlessness is, we believe, not as rampant as it was back in 1958 – when the executive power to detain without trial was introduced. The most important question which we face today in this House is whether the Act is still relevant, and more importantly, necessary in light of our present circumstances.

This consideration must include other pieces of criminal legislation in force and the sufficiency and efficacy of our judicial system. A balance has to be struck between personal liberty and public peace and order. Have we struck the right balance with this proposed extension?

As such, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) would like to seek several clarifications from the Minister:

1. Does the Ministry intend to continually renew this piece of legislation for as long as crime in Singapore is not completely eradicated? Otherwise, can the Ministry share with this House under what circumstances it is prepared to do away with this piece of legislation, which was intended to be temporary when it was first enacted in 1955?

2. Can the Ministry update this House regarding the steps it has taken over the years to review if our current judicial system can be strengthened to better deal with crimes of the nature that this Act is currently invoked for, without having to detain persons without trial?

3. Can the Minister clarify whether the Public Defender’s Office is authorised to represent detainees under the Act to guarantee their access to counsel?

Mr Speaker, PSP recognises that the CLTPA does play a part in bringing greater safety and security to law-abiding citizens. However, as the powers given to the Government under the CLTPA is so draconian, PSP is of the view that equally strong safeguards must be put in place to protect innocent Singaporeans against any potential abuse of these powers. We, therefore, propose to enhance the protections against possible abuse with three recommendations.

The PSP’s first proposed safeguard is to legislatively require that sitting Supreme Court Judges sit on the Advisory Committees. While we note that Minister Shanmugam said in 2018 that Advisory Committees will be chaired by sitting judges of the Supreme Court of Singapore, the Government stopped short of codifying this change. The PSP is of the view that we must codify this requirement to uphold the separation of powers, provide greater clarity for all and strengthen the perception that the Advisory Committees are independent. We believe that there is no downside to this.

The PSP’s second proposed safeguard relates to the making of DOs and PSO. Besides the Public Prosecutor’s consent, the Minister must also seek either: one, the Advisory Committee’s concurrence; or two, the concurrence of the President, acting in his discretion, before the DO or PSO is made.

The PSP’s third proposed safeguard relates to the extension of DOs or PSOs. If an Advisory Committee objects to the extension of the DO or PSO and the Government disagrees, any extension should only be granted with the President’s concurrence, acting in his discretion.

The reason why we are proposing the second and third safeguards is because the ultimate decision-maker, currently, is still Cabinet. While the Minister must hear the Advisory Committee’s views and recommendations via its written report to the President, the Minister does not need to follow those recommendations before making or renewing the DO or PSO, since the President does not have discretionary powers under the CLTPA and must follow Cabinet’s recommendations.

The PSP believes that these three proposals will strike the appropriate balance between personal liberty and public peace and order.

Mr Speaker, in conclusion, we would like to stress that the PSP does not for any moment take for granted the benefits that Singaporeans enjoy from our peace and order. We also recognise the CLTPA’s role in keeping Singapore safe.

However, we also recognise that our circumstances have changed substantially since the enactment of the CLTPA in the 1950s and that detention without trial must always be considered with utmost caution and reluctance. We should also clarify our laws and codify the current practices that are already in place.

In light of these considerations, the PSP will oppose the extension of the CLTPA, unless the safeguards are enhanced.

Thank you. For country, for people.

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