SINGAPORE: Parliament has extended for a 14th time legislation which allows detention without trial, in a lengthy debate which saw Workers' Party members speak out against the move.
This came after the vote was taken on Tuesday (Feb 6), with 77 agreeing to the Bill and eight Workers' Party representatives voting against it. In addition, two Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) Azmoon Ahmad and Kok Heng Leun also voted "No", while fellow NMPs Kuik Shiao-Yin and Mahdev Mohan abstained.
At the start of the debate, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam laid out reasons why the legislation should be extended and also explained some changes and enhancements.
With effect from March, the independent advisory committees reviewing Detention Orders (DO) and Police Supervision Orders (PSO) will be chaired by sitting judges of the Supreme Court, Mr Shanmugam announced.
This will make the process under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA) more robust, he told Parliament during the second reading of the Bill proposing the Act be renewed for another five years.
First introduced in 1955, the CLTPA allows for detention without trial - subject to annual reviews for those being held. The push for its 14th extension comes after a 2015 Court of Appeal decision to release alleged football match-fixing supremo Dan Tan, saying it did not accept the Act’s “loose or open-ended remit” and citing his activities as posing no risk to public safety. Tan was re-arrested within a week.
Hence, among the changes proposed in the Bill is a listing of relevant crimes under the Act such as gang rape, murder, robbery with firearms, loansharking and secret societies.
Mr Shanmugam also elaborated on how the final nature of the Minister for Home Affairs’ decision for detentions was not new and has always been accepted by the courts.
“There seems to be some misunderstanding on the effect of this proposed clause. This Act … sets out the rights of the detainee and supervisees, including the right to have his detention or PSO considered by an advisory committee,” he said.
“The facts, the application of the facts to the relevant orders, and whether the order should be made under the CLTPA, have always been for the minister to decide.”
“However … the courts retain the power to review the minister’s decisions under the Act based on the traditional tests of illegality, irrationality, and procedural impropriety. That continues to be the position.”
Another proposed amendment relating to PSOs allows for the minister to prescribe new conditions, for example counselling, by amending the rules, with a view to rehabilitating supervisees.
Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers will also be vested with powers of a police officer to investigate breaches of police supervision orders.
But there will be safeguards in place, Mr Shanmugam noted.
“First, any proposal by police or CNB to detain a person under the Act or place him under police supervision will be looked at carefully by both senior officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs as well as the Attorney-General’s Chambers,” he explained.
“The practice is that the minister only issues a DO or a PSO after this process, and upon considering the opinions of senior officials.
“Second, the minister must get the consent of the Public Prosecutor before making a detention or supervision order. Third, there is an independent advisory committee,” he continued.
“Detainees and supervisees will have the opportunity to present their cases to the committees. They can be represented by legal counsel.
“The committees eventually make their recommendations to the President, who may cancel or confirm the detention order or supervision order. In confirming an order, the President may also vary the order - but acts on the advice of Cabinet.”
Added Mr Shanmugam: “Fourth, detention orders are reviewed annually by a different advisory committee. Fifth, a different advisory committee yet again considers all cases of detention if they extend beyond 10 years.
“Sixth ... the Government has to come to Parliament once every five years to renew the Act. There have been calls in the past to make this Act permanent.
"But we believe that the Act should be explicitly extended by Parliament every five years."