Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim took ruling party parliamentarian Christopher De Souza to task in Parliament yesterday (6 May) over the Holland Bukit-Timah GRC MP suggestions during the debate on the Criminal Law Reform Bill.
Describing the bill as a “formidable piece of legislation,” Mr De Souza asked the Law Ministry and the Ministry of Home Affairs to consider whether “the Minister could expand on the limbs of an existing provision to tighten the law through a schedule of subsidiary legislation.”
He added: “While this cannot apply retrospectively, it would be a quick and efficient way to plug loopholes for future cases rather than having to come to Parliament to amend the provision.”
Ms Lim took the People’s Action Party (PAP) member’s suggestion to mean that he is perhaps asking whether ministers can use existing laws to apply to emerging crime trends without the involvement of Parliament.
Expressing her reservations about Mr De Souza’s suggestion, Ms Lim asked for clarification since she “understood him to be suggesting that certain tools be given to the government to react quickly to emerging crime trends.”
Asserting that such a process would be dangerous since she believes it is improper for the Government to be empowered to enact new criminal sections without the involvement of Parliament, Ms Lim said: “So I hope he’s not suggesting that Parliament relinquish its responsibility and delegate to the Minister such vast powers to create new criminal conduct.”
Mr De Souza responded and said that he was referring to instances like the consumption or possession of new drugs that have yet to be concocted and have yet to be determined as illicit by the authorities as situations that would require a “much more flexible regime.”
Asking whether primary legislation is sufficiently broad “to encompass different permutations and subsidiary legislation,” Mr De Souza said that he is simply suggesting “possibilities to make the system deter future activities through (the) more flexible use of (the) legal tool.”
Ms Lim clarified that she knows Mr De Souza’s suggestion is not centred upon applying the law retrospectively which “would be against the Constitution in the first place,” but expressed her concern over whether Mr De Souza is suggesting that “the Minister be given powers, even prospectively, to gazette new categories of offences that would come within certain sections.”
She asked: “I mean, is he seeing that MHA is too cautious to have this Bill to spell out certain categories and the Minister should be allowed to gazette new categories as when he thinks is necessary?”
Using his final opportunity to clarify, Mr De Souza said that he was merely making suggestions since threats like drug use, that can “morph” in the future, could be better controlled. He said:
“If we have a schedule as we do in the Misuse of Drugs Act or classification of drugs that make a certain type of drug which has yet been concocted and has harmed as being illicit to consume, then I think that’s a valuable way of looking at whether we can develop our own criminal law in the form of the Penal Code to explore such an avenue.
“I’m not advocating a free reign of the Minister to make willy-nilly new offences without coming to Parliament. That was not what I said in my speech.”
Watch the exchange between the two parliamentarians HERE.