Voters are urging ruling party parliamentarian Louis Ng to speak out against detention without trial under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA), which will be up for debate in Parliament. Ng is scheduled to speak on the proposed extension of the CLTPA when Parliament convenes next month.
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. It was last renewed in October 2013, which was the 13th time the Act was extended since it was introduced in 1955. Parliament will debate on whether the Act should be extended for the 14th time, for another 5-year-term, soon.
The Ministry of Home Affairs said in a press release earlier this 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”:
“The powers under the Act have been used judiciously, and only in cases where prosecution in Court were not possible, for example, when witnesses were unwilling to give evidence in Court due to fear of reprisals
“It has been used, for example, to deal swiftly and effectively with people associated with secret societies, as well as organised criminal groups such as drug trafficking and loansharking syndicates.
“The Act has thus contributed to keeping such serious crimes under control, ensuring the safety and security of Singapore.”
The MHA added that substantial safeguards are built into the CLTPA, for the issuance of Detention Orders (DOs) and Police Supervision Orders (PSOs):
“The Public Prosecutor’s consent has to be obtained before any DO or PSO is issued by the Minister. Each DO and PSO is subsequently reviewed by an independent advisory committee, comprising prominent private citizens including Justices of the Peace, former judges and senior lawyers. The Advisory Committee will then present its recommendations to the President who may confirm, vary or cancel the Order on the advice of the Cabinet.”
In spite of such safeguards, netizens are calling upon the government to revoke the detentions without trial in its entirety.
Ng is in the midst of preparing his speech on the topic and called on the people to provide feedback that he can consider incorporating into his speech. 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”:
“Hi Louis! Thanks for putting this out so that it is clear what the public’s views on the renewal of CLTPA are. Whether or not they will be taken into account in the extension decision is another matter, though I hope that you will be willing to make a moral stand against what I think everyone suspects will be the Outcome.
“1. The existing scope of the act is already ridiculous – it is unfair to renew the act *and* expand the scope. One of the typical cases brought up in its defence was the football match-fixing scandal, where I think it is reasonable to say that Dan Tan posed no potential or immediate threat to ‘public safety, peace, and good order’. As terrible as his case and Wong Sin Yee’s have been, have they really fulfilled that requirement? If they have under only the Minister’s (and not in the court’s) interpretation, is it not unfair that they are held to a different standard of justice from other criminal cases? Why are the definitions of scope so vague and easy to interpret in a way that the public does not agree with?
“Which brings us to 2. Why should the minister be allowed to interpret the definition (albeit with the AG’s consent, though this is moot as the AG is appointed by the government?) independently of the court system? Does this not grant him powers that do not require any justification on his part? It seems to me, even as a layperson, that the act grants powers that require even fewer checks than the ISA, which at least requires the government to produce to the president at least some evidence that suggests that national security or public order is at stake – and we do know that this has already been used in some incredibly unjustified ways.
“And 3. Do the other laws under the existing criminal justice system really not take care of the offences to be covered by the CLTPA? And if they really don’t, can we not simply reform them in a way that distributes power away from the whim of a single person? Do we really not trust the judiciary that we need this – if so, the less serious implication would be that we are relieving the justice system of its judicial duties. The more serious implication would be that we will be cruelly and consciously accepting five years’ worth of responsibility for locking up innocents outside the justice system.
“Thanks for hearing us out but I do hope you will oppose the extension because it is simply wrong and depressing to hear.”
Other netizens agreed with Eng’s sentiments: