Bill to tackle terror threat up for debate in Parliament

Three-day session set to see passing of 11 new laws, including those on criminal justice

Robust debates can be expected when Parliament begins a three-day sitting from Monday, with up to 11 new laws set to be passed.

Some of the proposed legislations have roused concern among several civil society groups.

Among those likely to be debated vigorously are the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill, the Films (Amendment) Bill and the Criminal Justice Reform Bill.

Earlier this week, six local civil society groups claimed provisions in the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill could lead to abuse of power by the police and oppression of peaceful protesters.

The Home Affairs Ministry responded the following day, saying the Bill is not for day-to-day policing but has new provisions that would "allow us to better deal with today's prevailing terror threat".

The Bill makes it an offence for people to film or take photographs of what is taking place in the vicinity of a terror attack if a stop order is issued. The Government says this has to be done as such footage has undermined security operations during these attacks elsewhere.

This proposed change has also been criticised by international media watch groups, including Reporters Without Borders.

The Films (Amendment) Bill, introduced last month, incorporates feedback from the film community, which had expressed concerns about the "sweeping and invasive powers" proposed initially.

  • 11

  • The number of new laws that could be passed in the three-day sitting of Parliament, which starts on Monday.

The earlier suggestion sought to shift the enforcement and investigation of all offences under the Films Act from the police to the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

Following a public consultation in December, which garnered 134 submissions, the IMDA said the expansion of officers' powers will apply only to specific offences under the Films Act, including unlicensed public exhibition of films and obscene and prohibited films.

Some members of the House will probably seek more assurances.

The Criminal Justice Reform Bill and the Evidence (Amendment) Bill cover more than 50 changes to the criminal justice process, from investigation and court processes to sentencing.

The proposed changes are part of the Government's efforts to have a more progressive, balanced and modern criminal justice system. These include letting the police take statements from suspects and victims via video recording.

The move will give the court an objective account of interviews with suspects, while video-recorded statements of vulnerable victims can replace court testimony to minimise their trauma.

Other Bills include the Carbon Pricing Bill, which sets out a framework for implementing the carbon tax announced in Budget 2018.

Before the debate on the Bills, office-holders will respond to questions submitted by MPs.

The parliamentary order paper, issued yesterday by the Clerk of Parliament, lists 19 questions, including disruptions to the SingPass and CorpPass services.

Last month, two disruptions in one week led some IT professionals to express concern about the robustness of the gateway systems and the impact on the new national digital identity system. Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) wants to know the outcome of investigations into the disruptions, and what measures are in place to prevent them.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2018, with the headline 'Bill to tackle terror threat up for debate in Parliament'. Print Edition | Subscribe