MP Sylvia Lim probes MP Christopher De Souza to clarify statement on Criminal Law Reform

Member of Parliament (MP) for Holland Bukit-Timah GRC Christopher De Souza told Parliament on Monday (6 May) that the Criminal Law Reform Bill has a “monumental task” of reforming Singapore’s criminal law.

Describing it as a “formidable piece of legislation”, he outlined six broad themes leading up to the presentation of the Bill.

In part of his speech, Mr Christopher appealed to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Law to consider his suggestion that “the Minister could expand on the limbs of an existing provision to tighten the law through a schedule of subsidiary legislation”.

“While this cannot apply retrospectively, it would be a quick and efficient way to plug loopholes for future cases”, he said, “rather than having to come to Parliament to amend the provision.”

Sylvia Lim Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC then addressed the Parliament to raise her reservation about the suggestion by Mr Christopher.

She said that she is unsure if she heard him correctly and stand to be corrected, but she “understood him to be suggesting that certain tools be given to the government to react quickly to emerging crime trends.”

One of the examples Mr Christopher have, she cited, was “Criminal Breach of Trust (CBT) as an agent” and that “the Minister should be enabled to gazette new categories of relationships that would come within Section 409.”

Ms Lim also voiced her opinion that this would be quite dangerous as she doesn’t think it is proper for the government to be empowered to enact new criminal sections without the Parliament‘s involvement.

She quoted that the Court of Appeal made it quite clear in the City Harvest case that “there is (a) need for reform but that should be left to Parliament”.

“So I hope he’s not suggesting that Parliament relinquish its responsibility and delegate to the Minister such vast powers to create new criminal conduct,” she said.

Mr Christopher responded to Ms Lim’s concerns by stating that he was referring to drug acts – new psychoactive substances that have not been deemed as illicit under the MDA – as an example of a situation that would call for a “much more flexible regime”.

Stating that he used CBT as an example “that is (Section) 406 but can be read with (Section) 409, he questioned whether the primary legislation is sufficiently broad “to encompass different permutations and subsidiary legislation”.

He clarified that his suggestion is merely looking at “possibilities to make the system deter future activities through (the) more flexible use of (the) legal tool”.

Ms Lim approached the Speaker again to elucidate her doubts on Mr Christopher’s statement, asserting that she knows it is not about “retrospective laws” which “would be against the Constitution in the first place.”

She restated that she is concerned about whether he’s suggesting that “the Minister be given powers, even prospectively, to gazette new categories of offences that would come within certain sections”.

“I mean, is he seeing that MHA is too cautious to have this Bill to spell out certain categories and the Minister should be allowed to gazette new categories as when he thinks is necessary?” she asked.

In his last chance to reply, Mr Christopher contended that he was only suggesting a situation in which threats like drugs that can “morph” and “change” in the future would be better controlled.

“If we have a schedule as we do in the Misuse of Drugs Act or classification of drugs that make a certain type of drug which has yet been concocted and has harmed as being illicit to consume, then I think that’s a valuable way of looking at whether we can develop our own criminal law in the form of the Penal Code to explore such an avenue,” he said.

“I’m not advocating a free reign of the Minister to make willy-nilly new offences without coming to Parliament. That was not what I said in my speech,” he added.

However, if one were to refer to his speech, that does not seem to be the case.