Second Reading Speech by Senior Minister of State for Law, Mr Edwin Tong on Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill
8 Mar 2019 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
- On behalf of the Minister for Law, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a second time.”
- The Government regularly reviews criminal procedure with the aim of ensuring a progressive, balanced and modern criminal justice system that protects society from crime. As part of this review, we introduced the Criminal Justice Reform Act 2018 (CJRA) last year, which amended the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and other laws. The CJRA introduced, amongst other things, the video recording of interviews in investigations and a statutory procedure for the re-opening of criminal cases where all appeals had been exhausted. Changes were also made to disclosure of evidence in criminal proceedings and to the sentencing powers of the court, including to the sentence of Reformative Training.
- The scale of the current Bill is much smaller than that of the CJRA. The current proposals serve to improve and refine the laws introduced or amended last year.
- The amendments can be split into three main categories. First, investigative processes. Second, court procedure. Third, the sentencing powers of the Court. Let me elaborate on each of these:
- Investigative processes
Empowering prescribed law enforcement agencies, including the Central Narcotics Bureau, to investigate offences relating to the video-recording of interviews
- The first change to investigative processes concerns video-recording of interviews (VRI). When we implemented VRI last year, we also created new offences relating to the misuse of VRI recordings. Examples include the unauthorised recording of the VRI process, and the unauthorised copying or distribution of a VRI statement.
- The existing law allows the police to investigate such VRI-related offences. However, other agencies that use VRI in their investigations may not have the power to investigate such offences and would have to rely on the police to investigate them.
- For example, if the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) is conducting a drug-related investigation and takes a VRI recording, and that recording is subsequently wrongfully copied or distributed, the CNB cannot investigate that act. It must call on the police to assist with that aspect of the investigation.
- The law enforcement agencies have given us feedback that it would be more efficient if the investigative agency that makes the VRI recording was empowered to investigate any misuse of that recording. That agency would be familiar with the wider investigation and would be able to put the VRI-related offence into its proper context.
- As such, the Bill will allow prescribed law enforcement agencies which already have the power to take VRI statements to investigate any VRI-related offences relating to the statements they take. The intention is to prescribe CNB as such an agency, with others considered as and when the need arises.
Allowing removal of sensitive information from materials before disclosure to the Defence or other persons
- The second amendment will allow the police or the Prosecution to redact sensitive information from any document or thing relating to a criminal case before disclosing it to the Defence or other persons.
- Sensitive information refers to information which, if disclosed —
- may be prejudicial to the public safety, public security or propriety, public order, national interest or national security of Singapore or any part of Singapore;
- may endanger the safety of any particular person;
- may prejudice the effective conduct of any ongoing or future operation or investigation of any law enforcement agency (for example, information that may reveal the operational processes or capabilities of any law enforcement agency); or
- Finally, the fourth category, may otherwise be prejudicial to the interests of justice in any criminal investigation or criminal proceedings.
- Our current statutes already provide for the non-disclosure of official records relating to affairs of state and, in certain circumstances, official communications. The proposed amendment, which applies only in the criminal context, expressly allows a law enforcement officer or the Prosecution to redact sensitive information if, for example, the redaction is needed to protect a person’s safety or the effective conduct of an investigation.
- To take a further example, let us say that CNB takes a VRI statement from a suspect, who is a member of a drug trafficking syndicate. In the course of the interview, it is revealed that CNB has certain intelligence-gathering capabilities. If this part of the video-recording were to be publicly disclosed, it could compromise CNB’s intelligence-gathering and undermine investigations not just into that syndicate, but also others as well. The proposed amendments would expressly allow that part of the VRI statement to be redacted.
- We were of course mindful that any exercise of this power should not prejudice an accused person’s ability to conduct their defence. A key objective of the criminal justice system is to produce accurate and equitable outcomes, through procedures that are fair – not just fair but seen to be fair as well. With this in mind, the power to redact comes with certain limitations. The Prosecution will not be allowed to redact sensitive information from material disclosed to the Defence (a) where the Prosecution intends to rely on that sensitive information as evidence, or (b) where the law requires the disclosure of the sensitive information because it tends to undermine the Prosecution’s case or to strengthen the defence’s case. This latter type of disclosure refers to the principle in the Court of Appeal’s decision in Muhammad bin Kadar and another v Public Prosecutor and the cases that elaborate on that decision.
- Where the Defence wishes to dispute a redaction made under this power, the amendments provide that they may apply to the court in a closed-door hearing. The court will view the material in the absence of the Defence and it may order that the Prosecution disclose the redacted information.
- Court procedures
Introducing further timeline-related court powers for re-opening of concluded criminal cases
- I turn now to cover an amendment relating to court procedure. The CJRA introduced a statutory procedure for re-opening concluded criminal cases, where all avenues of appeal have been exhausted. Under the CJRA amendments, the appellate court that last dealt with the case will hear the application to re-open the case and may extend certain timelines for filing documents prescribed for the re-opening procedure
- Again we received feedback that it would be more efficient, and also allow for more flexibility for the courts, if this procedural power includes the power both to shorten and extend timelines, and if it can be exercised not only by the last appellate court to hear the matter, but also the Registrar of the Supreme Court, and any High Court Judge or Judge of Appeal. We are therefore proposing an amendment to that effect.
- Sentencing powers of the court
Removing the possibility of backdating a Reformative Training sentence
- Finally, let me deal with an amendment to the courts’ powers in relation to Reformative Training (RT) sentences. RT sentences apply to offenders under the age of 21. Under such sentences, young people who commit relatively serious crimes go through intensive rehabilitation in a Reformative Training Centre (RTC) followed by post-detention supervision in the community.
- The RT regime is specifically geared towards the rehabilitation of young offenders. It emphasises both discipline and rehabilitation in a structured environment, where officers provide supervision and guidance to the RT trainees. The trainees will go through programmes that will help them take charge of their rehabilitation. They will need to soberly reflect on their offences, on how to stay crime-free, and on how to strengthen their relationships with their family.
- An amendment is proposed to provide that a RT sentence cannot be backdated. What this means is that even if an offender was remanded before sentence, any RT sentence imposed cannot be backdated to take the remand period into account.
- Let me explain why this is needed. Under the CJRA, the CPC was amended last year to reduce the minimum RT detention period. The period used to be 18 months, but under those amendments the court is given the discretion to set the minimum period at either 12 months or 6 months depending on the nature of the rehabilitation required.
- This substantial reduction in the minimum detention period benefits offenders because it allows them to return to the community and begin their social reintegration earlier. However, the reduced period also means that offenders have a very limited time in RTC to complete the intensive rehabilitative programmes designed to keep them crime-free.
- If an RT sentence is shortened any further by backdating, it would deprive the offender of the chance to complete the necessary programmes. Without the full benefits of their rehabilitation, there is a higher risk that the offender will not be able to stay crime-free. This will not be good for them or society.
- We are conscious that with this amendment, an offender who is remanded for a substantial period of time before being sentenced to RT will face a longer total period of incarceration compared to an offender who was not remanded, or not remanded for as long. This was a concern raised by the criminal bar during our consultation with them.
- To address this, the relevant agencies such as the police and AGC will work together to ensure that where RT is a possible sentence, remand is either avoided or minimised where possible. This will prevent the offender being disadvantaged. In fact, this is already being done. Of course, this is leaving aside remand ordered by the sentencing court for preparing the RT pre-sentencing report, which agencies currently keep to about one week or less.
- Other technical amendments
- The Bill also contains other technical amendments. These clarify the court’s procedure and powers in forfeiting bail bonds, introduce definitions to aid understanding of the High Court criminal case disclosure procedure, and improve some language which was unclear.
- To conclude, the Bill builds on the reforms in the CJRA of last year and further enhances the effectiveness of some of those reforms. In this modest way it contributes towards a fair criminal justice system that serves the needs of Singaporeans.
- With that, Mr Speaker, I beg to move.
 Section 125 of the Evidence Act.
 Section 126 of the Evidence Act.
  3 SLR 1205.
 Section 305(3) of the CPC says that the court must consider a report submitted by Prisons on “on the offender’s physical and mental condition, the offender’s suitability for the sentence, and the nature of the rehabilitation that is recommended for the offender”, and if this is not yet received, the court must remand the offender for up to one month at a time to enable the report’s submission.
Last updated on 08 Mar 2019