Sylvia Lim and Shanmugam cross swords over “untenable” bill that allows for detentions without trial


Workers’ Party Chairman Sylvia Lim crossed swords with Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam in Parliament yesterday over the proposed renewal of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA).

This is not the first time the two prominent politicians have clashed in Parliament. The Minister and the opposition chief have previously crossed swords in the House over the age of the new Attorney-General and, perhaps more famously, over the counting of the presidential terms that triggered the reserved Presidential Election last year.

This time, Shanmugam and Lim contended over the CLTPA – a bill that allows for detentions without trial if the authorities deem such detentions necessary in the interests of “public safety, peace and good order”.

The Act lapses every five years unless it is renewed. It was last renewed in October 2013, which was the 13th time the Act was extended since it was introduced in 1955. Parliament debated on whether the Act should be extended for the 14th time, for another 5-year-term, yesterday.

Calling the proposal to renew the bill now “premature,” Lim said that she was “very surprised” that Parliament was called on to make a decision on renew the bill this month, when the Act only expires in October 2019 – about 20 months later.

Lim branded the bill a draconian one and asked:

“Past debates did not have such a long timeline. Why is timing important? At each renewal, MPs are asked to consider the prevailing crime and order situation then, and to decide whether the extension is justified.
“Today, Parliament is asked to assess the circumstances to justify the renewal of the Act from October 2019 to October 2024. How do we know what the situation will be like towards the end of next year? Things can always change.
“Does this not make a mockery of the careful consideration Parliament is to exercise, when assessing whether the prevailing circumstances justify a renewal of this draconian law?”

She further declared that the amendments to the bill “attempt to make the Minister (for Home Affairs) all-powerful”:

“Yes, the current Act does not list which kind of activities make a person liable to be detained. But that does not mean the Minister currently has carte blanche to detain anyone he pleases.
“The Schedule will likely short-circuit the assessment process of cases suitable for detention, and maybe enable the Minister to bypass answering questions such as whether cases are serious enough, or why it’s not possible to prosecute these persons in court.
“Also, the Bill potentially allows for persons to be detained for alleged activities of more minor nature, now there is a list of defined activities.”

Besides this, Lim also highlighted that an amendment to the bill now includes “participation in or facilitation of an organised crime activity (OCA)” as one of the offences chargeable under the CLTPA. Lim feels that this would mean that the CLTPA can be used to include activities done overseas or activities that “may not pose a threat to public order in Singapore”:

“By linking the OCA to the CLTPA – is the new Schedule not expanding the Minister’s powers?
“This expansion of the kind of activities subject to the Act in effect makes the Minister a global policeman with no equal in the world. This is a position too arrogant for the House to support.”

Minister Shanmugam sharply responded that while Lim’s comments “made for a good reading on a website,” the bill is built to protect the interests of “public safety, peace and good order”. On the new listing of offences, he added:

“It’s not the case that if listed in the Schedule, you can automatically be detained,” he said. “So how does it increase the powers (of the Minister)?
“Rhetoric has got to match reality, and it’s useful to read clauses carefully before making speeches.”

Lim further challenged a clause that makes the Minister’s decision to detain, final:

“What is the justification? The Minister keeps saying and saying the clause is not intended to change the legal position and it is meant to preserve judicial review. But it is a tenet of interpretation that Parliament does not legislate in vain.
“If what the Minister is saying is correct – that the clause is not meant to change anything – then why introduce it at all? Why not leave it at status quo, instead of causing confusion and possible problems down the road about what this clause is meant to cover?
“The CLTPA has been enforced since 1955 for more than 60 years and no minister has come forward to ask for a finality clause. We find this very troubling.”

Shanmugam responded that “there is no intention to oust judicial review”:

“As a matter of law, this clause cannot oust judicial review and I buttressed it by saying to go ask any lawyer. Second, I’m prepared to stand up here and say as the Law and Home Affairs Minister that there is no intention to oust judicial review.
“There have also been questions as to why amend the Act and why not just stay with the current situation. But I’m making an amendment on something else – on the Minister’s decision being final, that relates to non-appealability, and not getting the courts or anyone else to substitute their views for the Minister’s views.”

Despite this, Lim labeled the bill “untenable” and later asserted, “Despite my own reservations …WP would have been prepared to support the renewal, if not for these new changes.” She added:

“On the one hand, we know Singaporeans want Singapore to be a safe place to live in for ourselves and our families.
“At the same time, we are very mindful of tradeoffs and of giving the Government too much power to detain people without fair trial – as power can always be abused. This is all the more so when dealing with powers to deprive people of their liberty for years.”

The Minister added sharply, “It’s possible to make grand statements about liberty and security if you don’t have to deal with real world problems.” He added:

“The current situation of law and order we have is based on the current legal framework we have, and if you remove the Criminal Law, or tinker with it very substantially, you will get some trade-offs in terms of increased levels of criminal activity.
“Our current structure also has a trade-off – society accepts some risk in vesting power in the executive, which we try to reduce with the safeguards. And I have come to accept the path we’ve taken is probably better for Singapore and its society.”


  1. This is an evil thing to do. Having the power to detain without trial. There is great potential to abuse such power when it can be applied so broadly and to anyone. How can we, or anyone for that matter, be sure that the decision to detain without trial is fairly made? Who is to check that the execution of such act has been fair and just?

  2. Other countries living in the free world facing real world problems don’t have this cruel backward legislation. The one who is making grand statements is the minister. In a free world, he’ll be refuted and told off for having such beliefs. He is not living in a real world with real world problems. He lives in a bubble and taking human rights away from Singaporeans.

  3. This 3 tongued snaky Shamemagun ……roti prata augument at his best ! every thwarted law he sure to have thwarted logic to rebuts doubters and critics !!! pundek ! come 2020 make sure WP field in a super strong Hammer candidate to smash him flat out of his strong hold !!! nahbeh !!

  4. Does our Law Minister think he and his PAP colleaues are the only people in Singapore living in the real world. For your information, we the majority of Singaporean with normal hard earned wages and NOT millions dollar’s salaries are the people living in the real world. NOT YOU. So please get off your bloody high horse’s and stop lecturing to us about how hard to govern the real world. Try living like we to.

  5. NB: The notion of detention without trial is not, never has been, and never will be, part of any democratic process; it is not democratic; it simply reflects the unfettered use of power at will; we got it from the British, and their people dumped it a long time ago; we kept it because we believe it is useful to shut peple up when we want to…that is what happens when there is no trial …no case is heard, no argument made, no legal statutes reviewed and reassessed…..Dr. R G Eli…see my FB page on Think Hard, Write Well…and learn…

  6. One day, any comments against them will be deemed as a “national security” issue, and they will be able to detain you without trial for an indefinite period of time…

    It is obvious that they know they are losing the support on the ground, and they are trying to consolidate their power to threaten anyone who tries to interfere with their plans.

  7. Heated debates in Parliament will not make the difference.

    It is to win at the next GE and form the next government as nothing is sacrosanct.

    Not the Constitution, not all the laws and policies, as all can be rescinded when one has full power of control in Parliament and in the Presidency.

    Trump has proven this. He rescinded, renegaded and changed many policies, laws, and agreements. To him, nothing is sacrosanct.

    He has no political experience. He is still learning on the job. He is still firing.

    He fired more than 4000 top people and replaced with his own yes-man cronies.

    This is power, the power in the hands of the man at the helm.

  8. This is evil. There is nothing to justify the extension, let alone the existence, of this draconian law.

    The PAP government continues to rule by law according to their will. Not the will of the people.

    ALL Singaporeans must wake up and realise that Parliament is the battle field to reclaim our voice, to reclaim the will of the people.

    The role of MPs are of paramount importance. NOT to run town councils. NOT to look into estate management. They are here first and foremost to question, to debate, to vote in laws and policies which are reasonable, morally sound, fair and humane. To be OUR voice and to do right by the people of Singapore.

    • @ Justina Yapp: This Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act should be abolished and replaced with a Better Law. It can be easily done. Shanmugam is stupid. His new ruling will NOT bring fear but fury from The PEOPLE who are now Better Educated (informed). We know our rights and entitlements as free citizens of The Republic of Singapore. Agree that ‘This is evil”. Shanmugam’s day of reckoning is nigh!

  9. Are and your colleagues the only ones in the world dealing with real problems. Your problem is not being holistic in your approach. You charge people without a holistic understanding and the courts have to tell you to redraw the boundaries. As Law Minister did you take accountability for the flaw in the charge and tender your resignation. If Edwin Tong could convince 2 set of judges, it means Edwin Tong had beaten you at your home turf. Your 2 AGs have failed you big time.That is an example of how holistic you are. You take short cuts and hope you bully people into submission. Only the lazy and the lost will resort to such lame statements. Why make a big deal about dealing with real problems. If you don’t have it in you just throw in the towel.