by Teo Soh Lung
The Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) (Amendment) Bill No. 5/2018 which seeks a renewal of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA) for another 5 years commencing 21 October 2019 and expand its application to offences not covered under the existing law, reflects a government that is totally desensitized to the use of harsh punishments and its effect on the population.
The CLTPA was enacted in 1955. The reasons given by the Chief Secretary of the Colonial Government, Mr W.A.C. Goode were mainly political. The British were afraid of the Communist Party of Malaya dominating this part of the world. To the British, the colonised were not capable of managing their own country and needed harsh laws as a temporary measure to maintain peace and harmony until they learn to rule themselves.
In the words of Mr Goode:
“These measures, we think, are necessary during a period of immaturity in understanding and practising democracy to safeguard us from the dangers that beset us on the path to maturity. We hope, therefore, that they will no longer be needed after that period and, accordingly, all these various matters have been put together into this one Bill which, by sub-clause 2 of clause 1, is to remain in force for a period of only three years. As the title of the Bill indicates, these are temporary additions to our criminal laws.”
The bill was passed into law without a single objection. The opposition at that time included the PAP whose leader was Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Why is the government today seeking an extension of a law that was meant to last just 3 years? Is it an admission that over half a century of independence, the government has not mastered the art of governing and our police force have not acquired the skill necessary for solving real crimes? If so, Singaporeans are in deep trouble.
The CLTPA like the Internal Security Act (ISA) is a law that does not respect the rule of law. Anyone can be arrested and imprisoned for an indefinite period of years without trial just by the order of the minister of home affairs. The minister is advised by the public prosecutor whose judgement he fully relies upon. In turn, the public prosecutor relies on the police.
The police and the public prosecutor are under the control of the minister who is part of the executive branch of the government. If the three decide that a person should be detained under the CLTPA, who is going to check their decision? Is the advisory committee (which is supposed to be a safeguard provided by the law) to act as independent investigators? No one knows how it operates as it deliberates cases in secret.
The government admits that it is precisely because there is a lack of evidence which will stand up to scrutiny before the court that the CLTPA and the ISA are used to arrest and detain people. This is a gross injustice.
The government also does not tell us that the length of imprisonment under both these laws can be longer than any judge would impose. Take for instance the case of Dr Chia Thye Poh. Why was he imprisoned for 26 years and placed under supervision for another 6 years under the ISA? Can we imagine a court delivering such a sentence on a person who did not carry any arms, did not injure any person and did not damage any property?
And why was our prominent lawyer, the late Mr Subhas Anandan detained under the CLTPA in the 1970s?
In his book “The Best I Could”, Subhas wrote at length about his prison days and explained that his imprisonment was the result of a fabrication by an inspector. The inspector was subsequently dismissed and charged for making a false statement.
If a lawyer can suffer detention without trial under the CLTPA and have no legal recourse, all of us can suffer the same fate. As explained by Subhas, it took just one inspector to lodge a complaint against him and the order for detention was approved by the public prosecutor and blindly signed by the Minister for Home Affairs. Even with the assistance of his lawyer, Mr David Marshall and the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Goh Keng Swee as well as support from thousands of people, Subhas spent several months in jail, including a stint with mad men and murderers serving life sentences in Changi Prison Hospital.
The harshness of the CLTPA and the ISA is well known. It terrorises the ordinary people.
It will be a terrible mistake and a breach of trust of the people of Singapore if the CLTPA is extended for the 14th time. What is made worse in the amendment bill is that its scope will be extended to more offences which are already taken care of by our existing laws. Are our police so incapable of investigating real crimes?
Imagine yourself being the person who is detained under the CLTPA. Imagine yourself to be Dan Tan who was ordered to be released by the Court of Appeal but re-arrested and re-imprisoned indefinitely under the CLTPA after a few days of freedom. How would you feel? Don't tell me that it will never happen to you! If it happened to Subhas Anandan, it can happen to you!
It is time we respect our judiciary and return the power to try an offender in open court to them. It is time to let our judges decide on the punishments provided by our laws if the offender is found guilty.
The CLTPA is a law that should not have been renewed after the expiry of the initial 3 years. Our leaders failed us in the 1950s. It is no credit to them that they accepted the insults of the Chief Secretary without a word of protest.
I hope the opposition, NCMPs, NMPs and the backbenchers will vote against the amendment bill.