30 January 2024

On 10 January 2024, the Ministry of Law (“MinLaw”) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (“MHA”) issued a press release on the first reading of the Criminal Procedure (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2024 (“Bill”) in Parliament. The Bill advances the criminal justice system and contains significant proposals aimed at (a) protecting the public by strengthening levers to tackle crime, including serious sexual crime, and (b) enhancing transparency, fairness and coherence in criminal court processes. The key features of the Bill are set out below.

Strengthening levers to tackle crime, including serious sexual crime

Updating and enhancing powers of police and other LEAs

The Bill proposes to update and enhance the powers of the Police and other law enforcement agencies (“LEAs”), including their powers of arrest, search, and investigation:

  • The Police will be empowered to conduct a search without warrant when they have reason to believe that the relevant evidence is in the possession or power of a suspect of an arrestable offence. Currently, a search without warrant can be conducted if a Police officer has reason to believe that a person will not, or is unlikely to, produce the relevant evidence when subject to a production order. However, it is not straightforward to accurately determine at the outset that a person will not, or is unlikely to, comply with a production order. This can allow uncooperative suspects to hamper investigations by causing delays in searches and tampering with evidence.
  • The Police will also be empowered to search arrested persons at the point of arrest to remove dangerous items held by suspects, such as razor blades and needles.
  • The amendments will also expand the powers of certain non-Police LEAs to deal with matters arising from predicate offences under their purview. For example, to rearrest persons who have escaped from their lawful custody and the lawful custody of other LEAs, and to investigate bail and absconding offences.

New legislative framework on FMEs

The Bill proposes to set out a clear legislative framework on forensic medical examinations (“FMEs”). FMEs are conducted to obtain forensic evidence (e.g. taking blood samples or DNA swabs), which is critical for investigations.

The legislative framework will provide the Police with the power to require accused persons to undergo an FME where it is relevant to the investigation of an offence that is reasonably suspected to have been committed. To ensure that accused persons comply with investigations, it will be an offence if an accused person required to undergo an FME refuses to do so without reasonable excuse. The court may also draw negative inferences in such cases, if there is a trial.

Safeguards will be put in place to ensure that FMEs are conducted appropriately, and that persons subject to FMEs are treated sensitively. For example, the person conducting the FME must be satisfied that the FME will not endanger the subject, before carrying out the FME, and only qualified medical professionals will be allowed to conduct physical medical examinations and invasive medical procedures.

New sentences for public protection

The Bill introduces a new Sentence for Enhanced Public Protection (“SEPP”). The press release explains that current sentencing options are inadequate to deal with egregious offending by dangerous offenders who pose a substantial risk of serious physical and/or sexual harm to others, especially to those in society who are vulnerable. For offences that do not attract life imprisonment, the available sentencing options all presently require an offender to be released automatically after a certain point, regardless of the threat they pose to others.

The proposed new SEPP is intended to enhance the protections currently in place against dangerous offenders. If sentenced to SEPP, the offender will be detained for a minimum term of between five and 20 years, as determined by the court. At the end of the minimum term, the offender will only be released if assessed by the MHA to no longer pose a threat to the public, instead of being automatically released. If found not suitable for release, the offender may continue to be detained up to life. There will be regular reviews to assess his or her suitability for release.

The SEPP is a severe sentence and will be limited to offenders convicted of serious violent or sexual offences such as culpable homicide, rape, and sexual penetration of minors. It will also only apply to offenders aged 21 and above at the time of the offence.

Safeguards will be put in place to ensure that the sentence is fair. The court will decide whether SEPP is appropriate, generally after considering risk assessment reports by the Institute of Mental Health and (if additional reports are submitted) other experts. If an offender is not released on license, there will be regular reviews to assess his or her suitability for release. Once released on license, there will be regular reviews to consider whether the offender should be unconditionally released and the sentence brought to an end.

Enhancing transparency, fairness and coherence in criminal court processes

Amendments on criminal disclosure

The Bill introduces amendments to the disclosure regime in criminal proceedings.

By way of background, the Government in 2010 introduced a statutory pre-trial disclosure regime (Criminal Case Disclosure (“CCD”) regime), under which the Prosecution and the Defence sequentially disclose and exchange information about their cases before trial. Since 2011, a common law disclosure regime has developed in parallel through case law. The Government has reviewed these developments carefully, in close consultation with representatives from the Defence Bar and the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

The press release explains that for greater clarity, certainty and coherence, the Government proposes to place the common law disclosure obligations on a statutory footing by codifying, clarifying, or modifying aspects of these obligations.

The Government will also fine-tune aspects of the statutory regime, including requiring compulsory participation in the CCD process for a wider category of cases. This facilitates greater pre-trial disclosure and transparency, which will in turn lead to more efficient trials and more just outcomes.

Other improvements to criminal court processes

Other amendments are aimed at promoting greater efficiency and fairness in criminal proceedings. For example, the courts will be empowered to allow accused persons facing relatively minor charges to be released on personal bond, as an alternative to bail. This will enable more accused persons to be released before trial - currently, such persons will be remanded if they are offered bail but cannot find a bailor.

Reference materials

The following materials can be found on the Parliament website www.parliament.gov.sg and MinLaw website www.mlaw.gov.sg: