Amnesty for firms: Ensuring transparency

A new scheme that lets the prosecution grant amnesty to a company worries some MPs.

Their concerns centre on how to ensure transparency for Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) - introduced in the Criminal Justice Reform Bill passed yesterday.

Under a DPA, the prosecution agrees not to prosecute a corporation in exchange for compliance with conditions such as assisting in investigations against individual wrongdoers. All DPAs have to be approved by the High Court.

Workers' Party MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) and Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) asked why the High Court was not required to give reasons in a DPA decision.

Ms Lim also asked why DPA proceedings are held in camera, or behind closed doors.

Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah replied: "We considered that if DPA approval proceedings were held in the public view and if the DPA did not eventually come into force, the company negotiating the DPA would be prejudiced or could be prejudiced in any future criminal proceedings based on the same facts."

As for why the court is not required to give reasons, she said it could give grounds if it so wishes, but there is no compulsory obligation. This was consistent with the practice of court judgments, she added.

Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) asked if shareholders are allowed to join DPA proceedings as interested parties. Ms Indranee said this issue can be considered further. However, the basic position should be that a company's decision-making power lies with its board.

The board of directors has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the company, while shareholders do not have a similar duty, she said.

Selina Lum

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2018, with the headline 'Amnesty for firms: Ensuring transparency'. Print Edition | Subscribe