Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has announced on Thursday (22 February) that the Ministry of Law will table the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) amendments in Parliament next week.
Speaking at the sidelines of a visit to the Police Cantonment Complex he stated that suspects in certain offences will be required to have their interviews recorded on video by the middle of this year if the CPC are passed.
He said that the second reading will be thereafter, so it will be fairly quickly done, adding, "Of course, there has been a long period of consultation. It will be groundbreaking. This will be very substantive."
Even if there may be concerns over certain amendments by MPs both PAP and opposition alike, the super-majority of People's Action Party with its party whip, means that the amendment bills will be passed regardless.
In a Facebook post on Friday, Mr Shanmugam wrote that the Bill introduces major, ground-breaking changes, over 50 amendments are being proposed.
He wrote that these are the latest in the series of reforms that have been introduced, over the past decade (community-based sentences, pre-trial disclosure, changes to the Mandatory Death Penalty regime).
"Together, they give us a more progressive criminal justice system," he added.
The minister also noted that video recording of interviews (VRI) will allow the Court to take into account interviewee’s demeanour, to more effectively determine weight to be accorded to statements. It will be implemented in phases, as it involves substantial resources.
Another key area, that the Government has focussed on, is vulnerable victims. The upcoming CPC amendments will give added #protection to complainants of sexual crimes:
- Prohibition on publishing their identities, from the point the complaint is made.
- Closed-door hearings will be automatic when they testify in court.
- Court permission required to ask them questions about their sexual history, if it does not relate to the charge.
Video recording of interviews will involve suspects in non-consensual rape offences who are investigated by the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), as well as suspects with mental disabilities investigated by the Bedok and Central Divisions of the police force for a start.
Three video-recording facilities at the CID and the Central and Bedok Divisions will be ready by that time.
Sweeping changes to the CPC was last overhauled in 2010. It was then first mooted in July last year. The CPC is the framework that guides criminal investigations and the procedures for criminal hearings, such as trials and appeals.
According to SPF, video recording will be rolled out in phases. It will be made compulsory for suspects in certain offences, such as serious sexual crimes.
It was said that this will allow the courts to better determine whether their statements were made voluntarily and how much weight should be placed on them.
Vulnerable witnesses, such as alleged victims of sexual offences, may also record their interviews on video to save them the trauma of repeatedly recounting their ordeal during a trial and their identities will be protected immediately when an offence is reported to the police.
Defence lawyers will be given a transcript of the video recordings, and can view the footage at approved locations when court procedures begin and they will not be given copies of the footage to protect the interviewee’s privacy and prevent unauthorised circulation.
Defence lawyers will need permission from the courts to ask these witnesses questions about their sexual history and behaviour that have no relevance to the charge and testimonies will be heard behind closed doors.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will assess the impact of video-recording on investigations, its effectiveness in different situations and the resources required, as well as refining the infrastructure, processes, procedures and training.
Criminal lawyers have pushed for the use of video recording during investigations for years, suggesting that it could deter police officers from questionable practices.
The case involving teenager Benjamin Lim, who committed suicide after being questioned by the police over an alleged case of molest in 2016, sparked a public debate on how police interviews with young people should be handled.
Trained doctors from the National University Hospital, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) will be available almost 24/7 at the One-Stop Abuse Forensic Examination (OneSafe) Centre housed in the Police Cantonment Complex by May.
Previously, only doctors from SGH were involved to conduct forensic and medical examinations on victims of sexual crimes, and they were only available about 25 per cent of the time.
The centre serves adult rape victims whose cases are reported within 72 hours of the assault and who do not require other medical attention and ten sexual crime victims have been to the centre since it began operations last January.
Mr Shanmugam stated that last year, all but one of the 191 rape cases reported to the police were solved, while all 149 rape cases in 2016 were solved, saying, "In terms of dealing with the issue, finding out what happened, solving the case, the police are doing very well."
"But we want to go further. There are three aspects we want to look at. Firstly, the experience of recounting what happened — you want to make it as painless as possible. Secondly, what happens in court, and third, what sort of penalties should a person who is convicted of sexual assault face," he added.
There are some steps which will be provided to help child victims.
Children sexually abused by their family members stand to benefit from a multi-disciplinary interview model, to be piloted at KKH from June; separate interviews by various parties such as child protection officers or doctors will be integrated into a coordinated interview led by the police.
Victims of sexual crimes may also learn about investigation and court processes, which will be printed on pamphlets and made available at all police stations and online platforms from June.
All police officers will be required to undergo new training courses, so as to respond to incidents of sexual crime in a way that is more sensitive to the victim’s trauma. Training courses will include a video developed in collaboration with the Association of Women for Action and Research.
The training of a select pool of investigation officers from the police, to interview and manage victims of sexual crimes, began in January and is ongoing.