Video-recorded statements, protection of vulnerable victims among 50 proposed legal changes

An aerial view of the State Courts.
An aerial view of the State Courts. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Investigators will soon have the power to conduct interviews using video recording, instead of relying only on written statements, in a first for Singapore.

And more will be done to protect victims of sexual and child abuse crimes, such as imposing a gag order from the moment an offence is reported, instead of the current practice of issuing such orders only when the case goes before the courts.

These are among the sweeping changes to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and Evidence Act proposed by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw).

Broadly, the proposals cover the powers of investigators, court procedures and evidence, and sentencing and other powers of the court.

MinLaw, in a media briefing last Friday (July 21), said the proposed amendments serve to enhance the fairness, accuracy and equity of the criminal justice system.

The old CPC was repealed and replaced in 2010 - a massive overhaul and the first time a piece of legislation has been repealed and a new one enacted in its place. The last major amendments to the Evidence Act were made in 2012.

Key among the 50 legislative changes being proposed is allowing investigators to take statements from suspects and witnesses via video recording.

 

Law enforcement agencies can decide whether to use writing or video to record statements, depending on the suitability in each case. If video is used, there is no need for written statements.

Video recording will be made compulsory for suspects of serious sexual crimes, among a list of scheduled offences.

This practice has been adopted in countries such the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Hong Kong. The Ministry of Home Affairs had raised the possibility of using video-recorded statements in 2015.

Besides video statement, the 11 other proposed changes relating to the powers of investigators include allowing a male police or Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officer to search a woman suspected of a terrorist act and strengthening the bail regime.

Court procedures will also be enhanced to better protect vulnerable victims of crime.

The 18 amendments in this area include automatically issuing gag orders on sexual and child abuse offences when a police report is lodged.

The court may also allow witnesses, including vulnerable victims and young children, to testify behind a physical screen in court to prevent the accused person from seeing them, which will help minimise the defendants' trauma.

Lawyers will also be disallowed from asking questions about a victim's sexual history or behaviour, unless given permission by the court.

The most number of proposed changes - 20 - will cover sentencing and other powers of the court.

The eligibility for community-based sentencing, which was introduced in 2010 to allow certain offenders to be rehabilitated in society, will be tweaked.

They include Mandatory Treatment Orders, Community Service Orders, Day Reporting Orders, and Short Detention Orders. Community Based Sentencing (CBS) was implemented with effect from Jan 1, 2011, with the first case observed in March 2011.

The most notable change is the expansion of coverage for Mandatory Treatment Orders (MTOs) - an alternative sentencing option for offenders suffering from mental conditions that have contributed to their committing the offence.

Under the MTO, offenders have to undergo treatment in lieu of jail time, which may aggravate their conditions.

The court will be able to hand out MTOs for certain offences punishable with a maximum of seven years' jail, up from the maximum three years at present.

Those who have served a previous jail term of up to three months or have gone through Reformative Training will also be eligible now for community sentences.

Currently, such sentences are applicable only to those who have not been jailed before, and have committed petty crimes.

From Monday, the public will be able to provide feedback on the proposed amendments.

The public consultation process will close on Aug 24, after which MinLaw will study its outcome before the changes are presented before Parliament some time later this year.