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CLTPA: A Permanent “Temporary” Law

by M. Ravi, International Human Rights Lawyer

Can the Criminal Law Temporary Provisions Act (CLTPA) be considered “temporary” after 60 years? This law that was debated in parliament and enacted in 1955 is a misnomer by its very name itself and Singaporeans are being fooled once again.

As we know, this law allows the Minister to order that suspected criminals be detained without trial. It was introduced during the colonial era and was intended to be a temporary measure at the time to deal with the problems of those days.

The Act has however been renewed continuously post-colonial era till date. Singapore seems to be the only country in the world that asserts that a particular measure is “temporary” but yet has stayed for more than 60 years.

The recent Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) (Amendment) Bill seeks to insert in the Act this clause regarding the Minister’s detention order:

“Every decision of the Minister on a matter in subsection (1) [the detention order and police supervision] is final”.

I have spoken about the dangers in allowing the Minister to interfere in what should rightly be the role of the Police Commissioner in law enforcement. The insertion of this clause will also exclude the judiciary from reviewing the merits of any detention and make challenges procedurally extremely difficult. In short, basic rights will be suppressed and the judiciary will have little or no role to play in determining if a detention order or police supervision order is just.

During my own practice, several of my clients some of them as young as 19 claimed they were framed by others and were innocent. True enough the evidence against them was weak but they could not claim trial because of the law. We already have strict criminal laws on loansharking and gang activities and this “temporary” measure should not be expanded and renewed to a wider range of alleged offences.

This latest amendment is a blatant attack on the presumption of innocence and is a serious erosion of judicial powers in checking executive decisions in a court of law. Criminal law practitioners should speak up against this.