Registration of Criminal Act (RCA) in effect on 1 August

The Registration of Criminals (Amendment) Act (RCA) Bill 2016 was introduced for First Reading in Parliament on 29 January, passed on 29 February in Parliament and came to effect on Monday, 1 August 2016.

The RCA enables the police to register criminals’ identity by taking and saving their criminal records, fingerprints and photographs along with the DNA information to be used to identify suspects and aid criminals into the Register of Criminals, in order for the Court to considers relevant information captured in the Register when sentencing repeat offender.

The RCA was last amended in 2005 to help ex-offenders to reintegrate into society.

According to MHA, the new amendment of RCA is to enhance the effectiveness and timeliness of information exchange between Singapore and foreign law enforcement agencies (LEAs). This will help Singapore obtain information for the prevention, investigation and prosecution of crime and allow Singapore to assist its foreign counterparts in going after criminals internationally. The Bill will also strengthen operational procedures for the registration of criminals.

Under the amendment, information, excluding DNA information, will be recorded in the Register of Criminals with foreign LEAs for the prevention, investigation and prosecution of crimes.

According to MHA, this will strengthen Singapore’s ability to cooperate with foreign LEAs and pursue criminals who operate beyond national boundaries. This also allows Singapore’s LEAs to request for reciprocal assistance when investigating and prosecuting criminals in Singapore.

To prevent abuse or wrongful disclosure of the information shared, MHA said that foreign LEAs must undertake to protect the confidentiality of the information shared, and to only use the information for crime prevention, criminal investigation or related proceedings. It also said that there will also be other safeguards relating to the sharing of information with foreign LEAs.

The amendment will also allow the LEAs to take registrable particulars and body samples from a person on bail and under investigation. MHA say that this will enhance LEAs’ operational effectiveness to solve crimes, especially in cases where there is no opportunity to take fingerprints and body samples within 48 hours of arrest.*

Earlier this year on 29 February, Ms Sylvia Lim, Member of Parliament of Aljunied GRC rose to speak on the matter, She said,

“It all sounds very good on paper. My question is: to what extent will we exercise due diligence to verify whether the foreign agency requesting the information is able to fulfil the conditions we have set, before we furnish the information requested?

According to the proposed section 13I(4)(6) of the Bill, the Government intends to be able to share information with potentially all countries in the world, since it defines “foreign law enforcement agency” very broadly. “Foreign law enforcement agency” is defined to include agencies in countries that are members of INTERPOL, as well as those that are not. INTERPOL itself consists of 190 member countries, practically all the nations on earth.

Madam, there is a vast disparity worldwide in the effectiveness of governments, the strength of a country’s institutions and state agencies, and levels of corruption. How will the Government go about ascertaining whether a requesting country can fulfil the obligations we expect of them under the Bill?

Earlier in the Second Reading speech, the Senior Minister of State referred to INTERPOL rules, but my question is: how do we know whether these countries can actually fulfil these rules that they have signed up to? And will we take their word for it, or will more be done to ascertain for ourselves? Indeed, Madam, according to the proposed section 13I(3), the Government actually foresees that a receiving country may breach an undertaking given, and this is rather worrying.

Madam, on a related note, the international co-operation envisaged by this Bill will touch on our regional responsibility as a member state of ASEAN. In line with greater ASEAN integration, there have been discussions amongst ASEAN country Ministers about the need for co-operation to combat transnational crime. Transnational crime in ASEAN is understood to refer to drug trafficking, terrorism, economic crimes, human trafficking, money laundering, piracy, weapon smuggling and cybercrime, and since 2015 includes illicit trafficking of wildlife and timber, and people smuggling. Last year, Singapore signed up to the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Combating Transnational Crime, which calls for a new ASEAN Plan of Action to Combat Transnational Crime and greater information sharing.

With this backdrop, I would have presumed that if a request for register information came from an ASEAN country, it would be contrary to ASEAN integration to reject the request. Given the different stages of development among ASEAN countries and each country’s institutions, what has been done or is being done to ensure that ASEAN countries can indeed share crime information with each other, with the confidence that the information will be safeguarded and not abused?”

Despite the concerns raised by her and other members of Parliament. The bill was read for the third time on the same day and passed without amendments.

*Editor’s note – This is a pretty questionable reasoning provided by MHA, given that the police in Singapore has the power to extend the arrest for purpose of investigation