Parliament approves ‘comprehensive, progressive’ suite of new criminal justice reforms

Parliament approves ‘comprehensive, progressive’ suite of new criminal justice reforms

In a sweeping reform of the criminal justice system, 52 changes to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and Evidence Act (EA) were passed in Parliament on Monday (Mar 19).

SINGAPORE: In a sweeping reform of the criminal justice system, 52 changes to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and Evidence Act (EA) were passed in Parliament on Monday (Mar 19).

Said Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah: “These amendments, when set against the background of the changes that we have made over the past decade, are comprehensive and progressive.”

The CPC was last repealed and re-enacted in 2010 while the EA was significantly changed in 2012. This latest review was first announced in July last year, and also took into consideration a month-long public consultation exercise involving around 30 stakeholders.

The new amendments cover three main trunks of the criminal justice system: Investigative processes, court procedures and sentencing powers.

Key changes already extensively reported on include: Video recording of interviews for some suspects; rendering jumping bail a criminal offence; greater protection for victims of sexual and child abuse; the introduction of Deferred Prosecution Agreements; and expanding the eligibility for community sentencing.

Ms Indranee added on to these in her speech to the House. For instance, computer-related powers of investigations will be enhanced, regardless of whether the evidence is stored inside or outside Singapore.

In another “small but important” amendment, a male police or immigration officer will also be allowed to search a woman, in circumstances where the officer suspects the woman of involvement in a terrorist act as well as believes the terrorist act is imminent and that the search cannot be made within a reasonable time by a woman officer.

“This will allow searches of women suspected of being terrorists where time is of the essence and any delay could mean loss of lives,” said Ms Indranee.

NEW COURT PROCEDURES, SENTENCING POWERS

The Ministry of Law will also set out a non-exhaustive list of matters the court may consider when deciding whether to exclude the general public from open court proceedings.

Courts and medical professionals will additionally play a more involved role in determining whether to release accused persons who are either unfit to plead or of unsound mind at the time of the offence - if doing so could help in their recovery.

Further, the use of video links to hearings for the taking of pleas, and sentencing hearings in the State Courts, will be expanded. This will be piloted for selected cases later this year and subject to further evaluation.

And psychiatrists must be admitted to a court-administered panel, before they can be called upon to give expert evidence in court. “There are a few instances where such evidence has fallen short of the basic standards of objectivity and competence expected of expert witnesses,” said Ms Indranee.

In the category of sentencing powers, one of the amendments will give the court more control over applications to re-open concluded criminal cases where all appeals have been exhausted. This is to prevent abuse of court processes.

The victim compensation order will also be improved - with the court compelled to give reasons if compensation is not awarded, and victims allowed to participate in the compensation order process by making submissions or giving evidence. The court will also be empowered to order compensation of the dependents of a person whose death was caused by an offence.

Source: CNA/jo

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