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Singapore renews controversial detention law for the 15th time

Singapore Parliament extends the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA) for the 15th time, sparking debate over detention without trial amidst calls for transparency and safeguards.



The Singapore Parliament has voted to extend the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA), which allows the government to detain individuals without trial if they are linked to specific criminal activities, including gang involvement and secret societies.

This extension marks the 15th since the Act was first enacted in 1955, with the latest extension prolonging the Act until 20 October 2029.

The CLTPA grants the Minister for Home Affairs the power to either detain individuals or place them under police supervision if they are involved in criminal activities outlined in the Fourth Schedule of the Act.

This action can be taken when the Minister believes it’s essential for the public’s safety, peace, and good order.

Under a Detention Order (DO), a person can be detained for a maximum of 12 months starting from the order’s issuance date.

Conversely, a Police Supervision Order (PSO) places an individual under police watch in the community for a duration of up to three years from the issuance date of the order. The President has the authority to extend these orders if considered necessary.

The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) supported the extension, highlighting the Act’s importance in maintaining public safety.

Opposition parties offered mixed reactions. The Workers’ Party (WP) presented “cautious support,” demanding a thorough explanation for the Act’s use over the past five years and the rationale behind its further extension. This approach contrasts their stance in 2018, where they opposed the extension and amendments to the Act. Meanwhile, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) expressed its dissent, particularly disappointed by the dismissal of its proposed safeguards against potential misuse of the law.

Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development, Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, defended the extension, emphasizing the law’s critical role since the 1950s. “Powers to detain those associated with certain criminal activities are exercised carefully and sparingly,” Dr. Faishal noted, describing the CLTPA as “an instrument of last resort.”

Dr Faishal outlined the careful application of the law, stating, “The Minister must be satisfied that detaining a person under the Act is necessary in the interests of public safety, peace, and good order. The power to detain someone under the Act is used only when prosecution is not viable, for example, because victims and witnesses refuse to testify for fear of reprisal.”

He further highlighted the law’s effectiveness by recounting specific incidents where gang members and organizers of unlicensed moneylending were detained under the CLTPA, thus preventing further criminal activities. “Without the Act, we would not have been able to do much against them,” Dr. Faishal emphasized, underscoring the importance of the law in combating organized crime and ensuring public safety.

Dr Faishal also reassured Parliament of the safeguards in place, such as the requirement for the Public Prosecutor’s consent for a detention order, the establishment of independent committees to review detentions, and the allowance for judicial review. “Every decision made under the Act can be subject to judicial review…It does not oust judicial review,” he clarified, addressing concerns over the law’s impact on judicial oversight.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan, PAP MP for Mountbatten, questioned the necessity of extending the Act given the reported successes in combating crime, such as the significant reduction in unlicensed moneylending and a substantial decrease in drug abuse since the 1990s.

Furthermore, Mr Lim inquired about the practices of the world’s safest countries, like Iceland, Denmark, Austria, and New Zealand, questioning whether similar laws exist in these nations and how they manage the criminal issues that Singapore faces. In response, Dr Faishal emphasized that Singapore’s laws are unique to its background and circumstances, while stating that New Zealand has also seen a 75% increase in the number of youths age from 18 to 25 years old.

Opposition members Dennis Tan of the Workers’ Party (WP) and PSP’s Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai pressed the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for specifics on when it might cease to renew the detention powers granted by the Act.

Mr Tan articulated WP’s careful endorsement of the legislation, albeit reiterating their persistent concerns about the amendments introduced in 2018, which they opposed. He reminded the assembly of WP’s apprehensions regarding the amplification of the Home Affairs Minister’s authority, including the unilateral decision-making power on detentions, the codification of criminal activities that might exempt scrutiny on their gravity or prosecutorial viability, and the extension of these powers to cover international crimes.

He acknowledged that the current Bill does not propose any alterations to the Act but mentioned WP’s prior support for the extension, pre-2018 amendments, despite recognizing the tough trade-offs regarding constitutional freedoms.

Mr Tan also sought detailed information on the application of the detention measures, like a categorization of detention and police supervision orders by crime type and inquiries about any instances of public prosecutors denying consent for such orders.

Dr Faishal responded by stating the MHA’s general stance against disclosing specific details about the Act’s application, citing the need to balance transparency with the protection of ongoing investigations and witness safety. He expressed caution regarding the disclosure of sensitive information, even in a confidential setting to MPs, due to the intricate nature of organized and cross-border criminal activities.

Furthermore, Mr Leong suggested enhancing safeguards by legislating the involvement of Supreme Court judges in advisory committees reviewing detention cases and advocated for granting the President discretionary authority over detention or supervision orders, a departure from the current protocol where the President acts on Cabinet advice.

He inquired about the possibility of the Public Defender’s Office representing detainees, to which Dr Faishal clarified that detainees are free to seek their own legal representation and are not appointed counsel by the state.

Dr Faishal defended the existing protections as meticulously designed and effective for Singapore’s context.  He countered the PSP’s critiques by emphasizing the absence of systemic abuses under the Act and advised against pursuing theoretical arguments over practical outcomes.

Additionally, he underscored the government’s prerogative in matters of law and order, disagreeing with suggestions to shift certain responsibilities to the President.

He reiterated the efficiency and appropriateness of the current detention mechanisms in response to Mr. Leong’s comparison with the Internal Security Act’s (ISA) provisions for presidential discretion in detention matters.

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It never ceases to amaze me how laws like this are quickly passed and the destruction it could lead to the lives involved but nothing mentioned or an act passed to help the less fortunate in society. Very quick to impose draconian style laws but stalling when having to answer for manpower and local employment figures.

Personal Liberties is a CRIME in SG under this PAP Administration whose politicians MADE it a STEADFAST point that ONLY they are the most peaceful people on earth WHEN any stepping of toes onto their power base is SERIOUSLY DEEMED as a THREAT and UNDERMINE of security of SG when they THEMSELVES Has Been serious UNDERMINERS, CRIMINALS of SG progress in terms, esp of Human Development, and FREEING up of minds into Progressive thinking when Globalisation beckons (but the PAP Administration BLAMED Globalisation for SG ills to COVER UP their MISJUDGEMENT, MISAPPLICATION of benefits of Globalisation). Why is PAP SO… Read more »

After 50 years, they can still say this law is applicable, in context, valid. What sort of childish rhetoric is this WITHOUT solid facts and figures to justify. And the sad of the saddest part is SGpns are made to appear as fools, made more fool-like with infusion of 100s of 1000s of 3rd world trash mingled amongst us.

a. power hungry, b. immature politicians, c. insanity minded, d. lacked of confidence.

All the above causes the continuity of this drastic dictator type law TO THREATEN, TO FRIGHTEN the people who voted for them, when it is exactly the voters who trusted them to grow up, BUT NO, NEVER.