SINGAPORE: Sylvia Lim, Workers’ Party Chair has raised concerns about certain provisions within the Criminal Procedure (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill.
Although she acknowledges her overall support for the bill, Lim specifically addressed two areas of concern: the participation of Auxiliary Police Officers (APOs) in forensic medical examinations (FMEs) and apprehensions regarding potential over-detention under the newly introduced and more rigorous Sentencing for Enhanced Public Protection (SEPP) option.
During the debate on the bill on Monday (5 February), She acknowledged the framework set out for the conduct of FMEs, highlighting their importance in obtaining evidence of high value to solve crimes.
The WP Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC distinguished between invasive FMEs, which may involve drawing samples from intimate body parts or drawing blood, and non-invasive FMEs, which may include drawing non-intimate body samples like head hair, urine, or swaps of the mouth.
She expressed specific concern about the proposed use of reasonable force by authorized officers, including APOs, during non-invasive FMEs if the accused is uncooperative.
“I am concerned about this as we are aware APOs are trained mainly to conduct security activities and to assist police in maintaining law and order.”
She pointed out that involving APOs in the use of force to extract body samples carries a significant risk, given their training and background.
Hence, Ms Lim raised questions about how APOs are qualified or trained to perform such tasks, emphasizing the potential challenges and risks associated with their participation in this aspect of the investigative process.
Concerns about over-detention under SEPP
In regards to the Sentence for Enhanced Public Protection (SEPP) regime, Ms Lim highlighted public concerns about the fact that even if an offender is sentenced by the court to a minimum custody period of 5 to 20 years, their release is subject to annual review by the ministry.
This process could potentially lead to an indeterminate detention if the offender is deemed still dangerous, raising concerns about spending the rest of one’s life behind bars based on predictions.
Ms Lim pointed out that under the proposed Section 304B of the code, a SEPP sentence could be imposed even on someone appearing before the courts for the first time with no prior criminal records.
This raised concerns about the severity of such a sentence for individuals without a history of criminal behaviour.
While acknowledging some safeguards in the Bill, such as the decision to invoke SEPP being in the hands of the Sentencing Court rather than the ministry, Lim stressed the critical nature of these judicial safeguards.
These safeguards include the judge’s assessment of whether an SEPP sentence is necessary to protect the public and the ability to decide against invoking SEPP for special reasons.
Lim expressed concerns about the reliability of risk assessments, emphasizing that predictions of dangerousness, even by trained professionals, can be wrong.
“There is ample research literature in the USA that predictions of future violence more often than not turn up cases which are false positives.”
“And that out of every 3 persons predicted to commit future violence, only one will do so.”
She therefore highlighted the risk of overdetaining individuals based on incorrect predictions and pointed out the absence of a definite release date under the SEPP, amplifying the risk of extended detention.
Lim acknowledged the efforts by the government to restrict the application of the SEPP to a specific class of offences, particularly those involving serious sexual crimes and non-sexual violent crimes with death or grievous hurt.
However, she urged caution in assessing clinical assessment reports, noting that they are not infallible.
Lim raised a point about offenders convicted of multiple offences and highlighted scenarios where offenders were sentenced by the court to very long imprisonment terms, such as 40 or 45 years for sexual offences against multiple victims.
She suggested that judges can already impose long sentences using established principles, and this might be preferable to leaving the determination of release to the executive.
Nevertheless, she highlighted several positive aspects of the CPC amendments Bill, including the proposed change to enable more accused persons to be released on their bonds while waiting for their trials.
This option applies to individuals facing charges where the maximum imprisonment for the offence is not more than 7 years.
Ms Lim emphasized that making the option of being released on personal bond explicit would likely result in more accused persons being released, particularly benefiting suspects who are poor and cannot find bailors.
“As I had highlighted during the debate on the Workers Party’s Justice motion in November 2020 not being able to post bail will usually result in job loss and devastating consequences on the family.”
“This amendment goes towards levelling the playing field between the rich and the poor in the criminal justice process and I commend it. ”
Ms Lim also appreciated the codification of the prosecution’s duty to disclose unused materials, as it would make it easier for law enforcement, prosecution, defence, and the general public to access and understand the expectations in this regard.
Ms Lim highlighted the positive move in Clause 40, which amends Section 359 of the court regarding the court’s powers in a criminal case to order compensation to the crime victim.
She mentioned that this amendment increases the chances of compensation being awarded in a criminal case. Lim pointed out that if the court decides not to award compensation, it is now required to provide reasons for not doing so.
Additionally, in cases where the offender has caused death, a dependent of the deceased victim can be awarded compensation for bereavement and funeral expenses.
SPS Mahzam clarifies APO training on FMES
In response to Ms Lim’s query on the training of APOs in the conduct of FMES, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Law Rahayu Mahzam clarified that reasonable force cannot be applied to victims and emphasized its inapplicability in FMES involving intimate or invasive procedures.
Ms Mahzam assured that APOs undergo comprehensive training, including the appropriate use of reasonable force.
Addressing concerns about even first-time offenders being sentenced under SEPP, Ms Mahzam reassured that the government has addressed this in the Bill.
She explained that the court must commission an independent risk assessment report for first-time offenders before determining the appropriateness of SEPP.
“The legislation also requires the court to be satisfied that the first-time offender poses a substantial risk or substantial threat of causing serious physical or sexual harm to any other person or persons.”
“This standard makes clear our policy intent that for first-time offenders under SEPP should only be imposed in serious cases.”
Ms Mahzam: New provision not foolproof, but aims to mitigate risks and reduce unwarranted detentions
Addressing concerns over potential false positives in risk assessments, Ms Mahzam clarified that independent assessments by experts would play a crucial role in this regime.
“Such assessments will be done by experts. When conducting the assessments, the assessor can also interview the subjects and possibly the next of kin and this can be supplemented with relevant information from the agencies.”
While acknowledging that this system is not foolproof, Ms Mahzam emphasized its significant improvement over the current situation, where some individuals are released without any risk assessment, potentially leading to further harm, while others face unnecessarily prolonged periods of detainment.
In response to Miss Sylvia Lim’s concerns, Ms Mahzam underscored that the risk assessments aim to identify the risk of violence, encompassing both physical and sexual violence.
She clarified that these assessments are not intended to predict the future.
Instead, the tools guide the Detention Review Board and the minister in making informed decisions based on a comprehensive evaluation of factors, including the risk assessment and the delicate balance between the potential threat posed by the offender and the imperative of public protection.
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