Public Order Bill Disproportionate and Ill-timed

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Singapore, 24 January 2014 — Parliament’s intention to enact the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill is deeply troubling because it seeks to curtail the basic privileges and protections upon which all residents depend, whether citizen or migrant.

The Bill proposes to confer wide-ranging powers on the Minister for Home Affairs and the Singapore Police Force disproportionate to the policing requirements thrown up by the Little India riot. Furthermore, the Bill provides no judicial oversight over the exercise of the powers it confers.

The Bill enables the authorities to designate “special zones” within which certain activities are controlled. In order to exercise such control, the Bill gives extremely draconian discretionary powers to the police.

Discretionary police powers should always meet the legal test of reasonableness. While the relevant provisions of the Bill provide for such a test, the Bill does not contain mechanisms for judicial oversight, leaving the adjudication of reasonableness entirely in the hands of the Executive.

Allowing the authorities to decide for themselves what is a proportionate exercise of the provisions of the Bill lowers the high standard of judicial evidence required in court which is the principal protection against heavy-handed state action. It nullifies the test of reasonableness upon which all state action should be measured. It is an abrogation of due process and makes for bad law.

The timing of the Bill’s tabling before the Committee of Inquiry and the criminal proceedings are concluded indicates that the government is acting without the crucial data needed to produce a sound piece of legislation. As such, it is not a reasoned, rational or proportionate response to the riot.

Parliament must not enact this legislation at this time. It should wait until it has in hand the valuable data which the criminal proceedings and the Committee of Inquiry will yield upon which the most effective measures to prevent another similar incident can be founded.

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