The video-recording of statements from suspects will be introduced in phases, starting with the interviews of those accused of specified rape offences, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said yesterday.
The video recording of such interviews is mandatory, she added, disclosing that enough police officers have been trained to implement the first phase.
This new requirement is among more than 50 diverse changes spanning the criminal justice system that were approved by Parliament after debate yesterday. These related to matters ranging from investigations to court processes to sentencing.
Ms Indranee said video-recording the interviews of the rape suspects will allow the courts to take into account their demeanour, and also provide an objective account to help the court decide on allegations that may arise over how the interview was conducted.
But the legislation will allow for flexibility to take into account operational exigencies, she added.
For example, there may be a need to record a handwritten statement immediately at the crime scene where a suspect is arrested.
Other changes under the Criminal Justice Reform Bill
Male police and immigration officers will be empowered to search a woman suspected of committing a terrorist act if they believe in good faith that the act is imminent and the search cannot be made within a reasonable time by a woman officer.
Currently, women can only be searched by female officers.
This will allow searches of women suspected of being terrorists where time is of the essence and any delay could mean loss of lives.
Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said that between 1985 and 2008, female suicide bombers carried out more than 230 attacks - about a quarter of all such acts. She cited the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and the Boko Haram in Nigeria.
DATA ACCESS FOR EVIDENCE
Investigators will have powers to access, secure and safeguard evidence on computers, regardless of whether the evidence is stored on a computer inside or outside Singapore.
Many people now use Web-based e-mail accounts or Web storage accounts. Technically, such data may reside in computers outside Singapore, even if the data is accessed from within Singapore.
Ms Indranee said the Government is enhancing computer-related powers of investigation to keep pace with the evolving environment in which crimes increasingly involve the use of computers, smartphones and the Internet.
REOPENING CRIMINAL CASES
Convicted offenders will be allowed only one application to reopen a concluded criminal case where all avenues of appeal have been exhausted.
The arguments and evidence raised to support such an application will also have to meet certain threshold tests, in a move to balance preventing miscarriages of justice and the need for finality in criminal proceedings.
The Government plans to eventually let video statements of vulnerable victims be used in place of their oral testimony in court.
It will monitor the first phase before deciding how to put it into operation because the video-recording of victims' statements involves complex issues, said Ms Indranee.
During the debate, Members of Parliament expressed support for the video-recording of suspects' statements, saying it makes the interview process more transparent.
Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) said the move heeds the "longstanding calls from the legal fraternity".
Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) said video-recording protects both the interrogator and the person being interrogated. It deters the use of coercive practices by investigators and prevents the accused from making false claims that their statements had not been given voluntarily, he said.
But some aspects of the regime worry MPs such as Mr Ng.
He noted that video-recording would reduce instances of false confessions only if it captures the entire interaction between investigator and suspect.
He asked if there are guidelines to ensure the entire interview is recorded. The footage should focus equally on the suspect and the police officer, and show the whole room, he said.
Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun said that if threats, inducements and promises were offered to the suspect before the video-recording, that would defeat its purpose.
Ms Indranee said it would not be feasible to record every exchange between a police officer and the accused person from the time of arrest until statement-taking.
She said the rooms for video-recorded interviews are purpose-built to ensure good quality of sound as well as picture.
One camera focuses on the interviewee and another captures an overview of the entire room.
Nominated MP Mahdev Mohan asked why defence counsel are not allowed to have copies of the recordings.
Ms Indranee said that this was to safeguard against recordings being leaked, lost or misplaced. Defence lawyers can view the recording at an approved place as many times as they want. They will also be given a transcript, she added.
The wide-ranging changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act also include protection measures for victims of sexual and child abuse; the introduction of deferred prosecution agreements in which corporations can be given amnesty from prosecution in exchange for complying with certain conditions; an expansion of the eligibility criteria for community sentences; and strengthening the bail regime.
"These amendments, when set against the background of the changes that we have made over the past decade, are comprehensive and progressive," said Ms Indranee. "They keep pace with the evolving values of society and with international best practices."