Changes to law on criminal detention without trial to kick in next year

A list of criminal offences will be spelt out after amendments to the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act take effect in 2019.
A list of criminal offences will be spelt out after amendments to the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act take effect in 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

Prescribed list of criminal offences will be spelt out, ministry says

Amendments to the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act will take effect in the new year, when a list of criminal offences will be spelt out, the Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday.

To be detailed in a new Fourth Schedule to the Act, these will include secret society activities, unlicensed money lending, drug trafficking and offences under the Organised Crime Act. Previously, there was no such prescribed list.

The changes were passed by Parliament in February, after a four-hour debate that saw all eight Workers' Party MPs present vote against them.

The Act, introduced in 1955, allows the authorities to detain and supervise criminal suspects without trial, and the orders are reviewed yearly.

The ministry said it is used "judiciously" and only in cases where prosecution in court is not possible, like when witnesses are fearful or unwilling to testify.

It has been used against secret societies, drug syndicates and in serious crimes that threaten public safety, peace and good order.

The ministry said in the statement the changes would be effective from Jan 1. It said the list in the Fourth Schedule "will, in effect, restrict the minister's exercise of powers".

 
 

The ministry added: "It also increases accountability on which types of activities could be the subject of a detention order."

The changes were passed by Parliament in February, after a four-hour debate that saw all eight Workers' Party MPs present vote against them.

Following the changes, the law will be extended for another five years when the current Act expires on Oct 21 next year.

This will be the 14th extension of the Act, which lapses every five years unless renewed by Parliament.

The Act will carry a new clause which clarifies that the minister's decisions are final on matters such as whether a person has been associated with activities of criminal nature and whether it is necessary to detain him in the interests of public safety, peace and good order.

This clause had ruffled feathers at February's parliamentary debate, during which MPs had questioned whether the finality clause would limit judicial review.

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam had clarified then that it would not, because the courts can still review the minister's decisions based on the traditional tests of illegality, irrationality and procedural impropriety.

The ministry statement said the changes would allow holistic rehabilitation for those under Police Supervision Orders, as the minister can prescribe new obligations, like counselling, to cater to individuals' needs and risks.

To be detailed in a new Fourth Schedule to the Act, these will include secret society activities, unlicensed money lending, drug trafficking and offences under the Organised Crime Act.

Previously, there was no such prescribed list.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2018, with the headline 'Changes to law on criminal detention without trial to kick in next year'. Print Edition | Subscribe