The Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA) was renewed for another five years, this Tuesday, 6 Jan. Under the CLTPA, suspected criminals can be detained without trial if the authorities deem their detentions necessary in the interests of “public safety, peace and good order”. Such detentions without trial will be reviewed annually.
The Act itself lapses every five years unless it is renewed. Before this latest extension, it was last renewed in October 2013, which was the 13th time the Act was extended since it was introduced in 1955.
The Ministry of Home Affairs said in a press release last month that the Act has been used to deal with secret society members, and members of drug trafficking rings and loansharking syndicates. It added that the powers under the Act is only used “in cases where prosecution in Court were not possible”.
Parliament extended the bill after extensive debate, most notably between Law Minister K Shanmugam and Workers’ Party (WP) chief Sylvia Lim, who called the bill “draconian” and “untenable”.
Clarifying the safeguards built into the law in a Facebook post yesterday, the Minister branded the WP MP’s fiery assertions as “pure theatrics with no substance, calculated to mislead”.
The vote to extend the bill, however, was not unanimous. All 8 members of the WP and two Nominated Members of Parliament opposed the renewal. Another two Nominated MPs abstained from the vote.
Interestingly, ruling party parliamentarian Louis Ng appears to have voted to extend the bill even though he received considerable feedback urging him to speak against the renewal of the bill.
Last month, Ng was in the midst of preparing his speech on the topic and called on the people to provide feedback on the bill. Several members of the public contributed their views and the predominant sentiment among the comments that were submitted was for Ng to oppose the extension of the CLTPA.
Opposition politician Prof Paul Tambyah was one notable personality who commented on Ng’s post. He thanked Ng for raising the issue and asked: “As one of our leaders pointed out – everyone – even the worst of criminals deserves a fair trial. Surely Singapore is not so lawless or gang controlled that we cannot protect witnesses?”
Noted activist Seelan Palay was another individual who contributed to the discourse:
“Every human being deserves the right to a fair trial before being detained. Would legislators like it if the same treatment was meted out to them under grounds of suspected corruption, abuse of power or state terror? I’m sure that in those occasions, they’d demand that evidence against them be produced in a court of law.
“Furthermore, those involved in circles associated to “drug trafficking, secret societies, and loansharking syndicates” are usually desperate or misguided youth from low-income backgrounds. We should seek to explore the deeper social causes for such behaviour, instead of allowing the state to detain whoever they want without any accountability whatsoever.
“Thank you MP Louis for even asking for feedback on this matter.”
Thanking Ng for his willingness in hearing the public’s views, Eng called the Act “ridiculous” and expressed that the renewal of the Act would be “wrong and depressing”.
To be fair, Ng did raise a few notable points about the CLTPA. First, he questioned whether the listing of offences in the Act would reduce the pressure on the authorities to explain and justify criminal detention: “The Minister may simply be tempted to point at the list of offences as the basis for the decision”.
Ng also asked whether there was room to re-evaluate the necessity of the bill. He asked whether it was necessary for the bill to list offences that are already dealt with through other legislation.
He proposed that other legislation be tweaked to address the difficulty of obtaining witness testimony, since this would potentially lessen the need to rely on the powers of the CLTPA.
Shanmugam responded that this approach has been considered but has been found to be “not workable”. He added: “It’s difficult to have a secret testimony from one witness who cannot be cross-examined and whom the judge can talk to, but no one else can talk to.”
Ng, ultimately, appears to have voted to renew the bill despite receiving feedback from netizens that the powers in the bill go “against the universal Human Rights Act” or that it “has no place in a civilised, democratic society”.