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Police patrolling at a park nearby Marina bay in Singapore (Photo by Tremendous Shots from Shutterstock.com)

Amendments to Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act to take effect on 1 January 2019

The amendments to the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, which were passed in Parliament on 6 Feb 2018, will take effect on 1 Jan 2019, announced the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in a press release on Tuesday (11 December).

The ministry stated that the Act provides for the maintenance of public safety, peace and good order through the detention and supervision of persons associated with activities of a criminal nature, via the issuance of Detention Orders (DOs) or Police Supervision Orders (PSOs).

"The powers under the Act have been used judiciously, and only in cases where prosecution in Court was not possible, for example, when witnesses were unwilling to give evidence in Court due to fear of reprisals. It has been used, for example, to deal swiftly and effectively with people associated with secret societies, as well as organised criminal groups such as drug trafficking and loansharking syndicates," the ministry stated.

The Act has been in force since 1955. The temporary nature of the Act refers to the sunset clause which requires the Government to seek Parliament’s endorsement every five years, each time it wishes to have the CLTPA renewed. The next extension will come into force on 21 Oct 2019, which makes this to be the 14th extension of the Act.

The ministry stated that the amendments to the Act introduce a Fourth Schedule, setting out the list of criminal activities for which the powers of detention and supervision under the Act will apply. The ministry claims that this, in effect, will restrict the Minister’s exercise of powers and also increases accountability on which types of activities could be the subject of a detention order.

"There will be a new subsection in the Act that clarifies that the Minister’s decisions on matters such as whether a person has been associated with activities of a criminal nature and whether it is necessary to detain such a person in the interests of public safety, peace and good order, are final. This amendment codifies the existing law, as articulated by the Court of Appeal in the case of Tan Seet Eng vs Attorney-General, that it is for the Minister to decide on the facts of detention," the ministry stated.

Under the Act, the Minister can make a Police Supervision Order (PSO) against a person whom the Minister is satisfied that he has been associated with activities of a criminal nature and that he should be subject to the supervision of the Police.

With the amendments, the ministry noted that the list of obligations that a person under PSO must comply with will be set out in subsidiary legislation. The Minister can then tailor conditions for each supervisee, based on the different risks and needs of different supervisees, to facilitate the rehabilitation of supervisees.

"The amendments to the Act will strengthen the administration of the criminal law regime," the ministry stressed.

The Act was passed by Parliament this year after a four-hour debate which saw all eight Workers' Party MP who were presented to vote against the Act.

Three Human Rights Non-government organisations, Function 8, Think Centre and Community Action Network also wrote a statement against the Act, saying that under the PAP government, Singapore has remained a politically immature country for the past 52 years. The government continues to rely on this draconian law to govern and indeed, over the years has deemed it fit to extend its power over ordinary crimes which are already taken care of by the arsenal of legislation existing today.

The NGOs stated that the CLTPA has serious consequences for the people of Singapore. The amendment bill has even more serious implications for law-abiding citizens. From its original intent of dealing with alleged communists, its application has been extended to criminal activities of secret societies, unlicensed moneylending and drug trafficking after it was no longer possible to use the communist threat as a reason.

Ms Teo Soh Lung also wrote an article, titled, "Stop extending the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act!".

She wrote that 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?" she wrote.

"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!" she added.