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Legislative changes to strengthen Singapore’s Criminal Justice Framework

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) announced that it has tabled the Criminal Justice Reform Bill and the Evidence (Amendment) Bill for First Reading in Parliament on last Wednesday (28 February).

It stressed that the proposed amendments are a major step in the Government’s long-term efforts toward a more progressive, balanced and modern criminal justice system.

The amendments further strengthen Singapore’s criminal justice framework by introducing added safeguards and processes to enhance the fairness of existing procedures and ensure the accuracy and equity of outcomes in the criminal justice system.

In particular, MinLaw stated that the proposed amendments will give vulnerable victims added protection during the court process. This will complement improvements to investigative processes to better support such victims, some of which have already been implemented.

There are four key features of the Bills.

The first is video-recording of interviews which will allow investigators to take statements from witnesses via video recording.

MinLaw stated that this will assist the court to try cases more effectively by allowing the court to take into account the interviewee’s demeanour, to more effectively determine the weight to be accorded to statements and providing an objective contemporaneous account of the interview, which will assist the court in deciding on allegations that may be made about the interview.

"The amendments will also allow for video-recorded statements of certain vulnerable victims to be used in place of their oral evidence-in-chief. This will be implemented in later phases, and will help minimise the trauma that victims face in repeatedly recounting their ordeal," it added.

The second is enhancing protection for victims of sexual offences or child abuse and a suite of measures have been introduced to enhance protection for persons who report sexual or child abuse, and reduce the stress they face when participating in the criminal process.

MinLaw noted that the Defence will not be allowed to ask complainants questions about their sexual history and behaviour that do not relate to the charge, without court permission. The court will grant permission only if the questions are in the interests of justice, adding that any application for permission will have to be made in the absence of the complainant.

The third is expanded eligibility for Community Sentences, where the eligibility criteria for Community Sentences will be expanded in a controlled manner, to allow more offenders to benefit from rehabilitative opportunities.

MinLaw stated that courts will also be empowered to impose a suspended imprisonment sentence together with a Community Sentence. The imprisonment sentence will automatically apply upon breach of the Community Sentence. This will encourage compliance with the Community Sentence.

The fourth is the framework for Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs)

MinLaw stated that it has consulted the Law Society of Singapore and the Criminal Bar on the details of this proposal in the second half of 2017 and received strong support.

The amendments introduce a formal framework for the Public Prosecutor to enter into DPAs with corporate offenders. DPAs serve two main purposes, which are encouraging corporate reform to prevent future offending and facilitating investigation into wrongdoing, both by the company and by individuals.

MinLaw stressed that all DPAs will require approval by the High Court, which must be satisfied that the agreement is in the interests of justice, and that the terms are fair, reasonable and proportionate. The DPA must be published after it has been approved by the court.

The Criminal Procedure Code provides the framework for criminal investigations and the procedure for criminal hearings, including trials and appeals. It was repealed and replaced in 2010.

The Evidence Act provides the framework for all matters concerning evidence in court, including in criminal cases. The last major amendments to the Act were in 2012.

A public consultation on the proposed amendments was conducted by MinLaw from 24 July 2017 to 24 August 2017. The public consultation received feedback from members of the public, civil society organisations, banks, technology companies, and the Bar.