28 February 2024

On 5 February 2024, the Criminal Procedure (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2024 (“Bill”) was passed in Parliament. The Bill improves and clarifies aspects of law enforcement powers, refines the criminal case disclosure regime, and improves efficiency in court processes. The Bill also introduces a new Sentence for Enhanced Public Protection (“SEPP”) to enhance protections against dangerous offenders and sets out a framework for conducting forensic medical examinations (“FMEs”) in relation to the investigation of offences.

Minister for Law K Shanmugam, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Rahayu Mahzam, and Minister of State for Home Affairs & Ministry of Social and Family Development Sun Xueling provided an overview of the amendments at the second reading of the Bill.

Amendments relating to law enforcement powers

The Bill updates and enhances the powers of the Police and other law enforcement agencies (“LEAs”) in the following ways:

  • The Police will be empowered to conduct a search without warrant at a place when they have reason to believe that the relevant evidence is in the possession or power of a suspect of an arrestable offence.
  • The Police will be empowered to search suspects at the point of arrest to detect and remove dangerous items from them.
  • Central Narcotics Bureau officers, immigration officers, and prison officers will be empowered to pursue and arrest a person who has escaped from the lawful custody of their respective agency, another specified LEA, or a prescribed LEA.

Criminal case disclosure regime

The criminal case disclosure (“CCD”) regime, which was introduced in 2010, formalised a framework for the prosecution and defence to sequentially disclose and exchange relevant information about their respective cases before trial. Since then, a common law disclosure regime has developed in parallel through case law.

The Bill places the common law disclosure rules for criminal proceedings on a statutory footing by codifying, clarifying, or modifying aspects of the common law. 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.

Improved efficiency in court processes

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.

There are also amendments to smoothen and clarify the processes for several new regimes previously introduced, such as the dispensation of oral hearings in certain cases, the new unsoundness of mind regime, the Panel of Psychiatrists, and the enhanced victim compensation regime.

New SEPP to enhance protections against dangerous offenders

The Bill introduces a new SEPP to better protect the public from dangerous offenders. The SEPP will apply to offenders aged 21 and above at the time of the offence and will be limited to serious violent or sexual offences to be set out in a new schedule to the Criminal Procedure Code 2010. These offences include culpable homicide, rape, and sexual penetration of minors.

Currently, for offences that do not attract life imprisonment, the available sentencing options all require an offender to be released automatically after a certain point, regardless of the threat they pose to others. Under the new framework, when one of the scheduled offences is committed, the court will decide whether the SEPP is appropriate, generally after considering risk assessment reports by the Institute of Mental Health and (if additional reports are submitted) other experts. 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 be released if he or she is assessed by the Minister for Home Affairs to be suitable for release. If found not suitable for release, the offender may continue to be detained up to life. The Minister must then review the offender’s suitability for release annually.

Framework for conducting FMEs

The Bill sets out a clear legislative framework on 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 the accused person refuses to do so without reasonable excuse. The court may also draw negative inferences in such cases, if there is a trial.

In the case of victims, consent will generally be required for FMEs. However, there can be exceptions, such as if delays will result in the loss of evidence, and the victim is not able to give consent within a reasonable time due to a physical or mental condition.

Safeguards will be put in place to ensure that FMEs are conducted appropriately, and that persons subject to FMEs are treated sensitively.

Reference materials

The following materials are available on the Parliament website www.parliament.gov.sg, the Ministry of Law website www.mlaw.gov.sg, and the Ministry of Home Affairs website www.mha.gov.sg: