New threats 'call for review of bail system'

Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam explains that while the bail framework has worked well so far, the experience of other countries has raised concern.
Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam explains that while the bail framework has worked well so far, the experience of other countries has raised concern.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

Experience of other countries has raised concern, minister tells law conference

As threats evolve, Singapore's criminal justice system has to change as well - which is why the authorities are reviewing how bail is granted.

Speaking at the opening of the third Criminal Law Conference yesterday, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam explained that while the bail framework has worked well so far, the experience of other countries has raised concern.

He highlighted the example of a Briton, Siddhartha Dhar, who was linked to a terror group, but was granted bail while being investigated in Britain - despite having been arrested six times for terrorism-related offences.

In September 2014, shortly after being released on bail, he disappeared. Weeks later, he turned up in Syria and announced his arrival by posting online an image of himself holding a rifle.

He has now been linked to taped executions of hostages.

"We have not faced such situations," said Mr Shanmugam. "But in the context of the evolving threats, we have decided that we need to relook our laws, framework relating to bail. When we are ready, we will announce details."

He also laid out the role the public plays in combating terrorism.

"Learn what to do if you are caught in a situation where there is a shooting going on. When do you alert the police, how do you look out for suspicious activities, packages and so on. It is going to be a massive effort. We intend to go to every household and bring the message across, as to what is to be done."

During his speech at the Supreme Court auditorium, he also expanded on other possible areas of change. A pilot scheme to video-record police interviews of suspects is likely to proceed, he said, after some legislative changes.

With some of Singapore's court procedures going back to the 19th century, it was also timely to review them to see if they are still relevant and efficient.

Singapore's recidivism rates are lower than many cities', but Mr Shanmugam said: "I think we can do more. I have put in a lot of emphasis in Home Affairs to focus on the post-release phase: hand-holding, trying to find jobs for them, working with employers, making sure for a period of two to three years there is continuous contact, trying to get the families together."

He also said "the courts can be given greater flexibility in the community-based sentencing aspect" as well.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2016, with the headline 'New threats 'call for review of bail system''. Print Edition | Subscribe