Criminal Procedure Code: Tilting the law in their own favour

Some of the proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) make me wonder just how far this government will go to tilt the playing field in their own favour, even when it means compromising on the fundamental rights that people in many other developed countries enjoy.

Some of the proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) make me wonder just how far this government will go to tilt the playing field in their own favour, even when it means compromising on the fundamental rights that people in many other developed countries enjoy. The CPC is the law which governs how the police should handle persons accused of crimes, among other things.

Clause 258 of the new CPC allows for statements from accused persons to be admitted as evidence in court even if the accused was not told that he was not obliged to make the statement, that the statements could be used against him, or if the recording officer did not fully comply with the rules governing the way statements are collected.

In the US, police officers are obliged to issue the Miranda warning when they arrest suspects and before they are interrogated. The Miranda warning will be familiar to many who watch a lot of American TV. It reads: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you…”

Clause 258 renders it completely unnecessary for our police to inform suspects of such rights. As far as the government is concerned, they only need to show that the statement from the accused was not made as the result of a threat, inducement or promise. However they have turned down proposals to videotape all interrogations, despite the ease of doing so with today’s digital technology.

It is amazing that the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) could baldly say that “there’s no incentive for police officers to practise deception”. How did they reach the conclusion that there wouldn’t be such an incentive, when everything is our system is skewed towards securing fast convictions? MinLaw’s argument is that we have “one of the most highly admired police forces in the world”! That is truly a non sequitur argument — it just doesn’t follow.

As for the right to a lawyer (an attorney), it is a right only in a very superficial sense, since the accused can be denied the right to see his lawyer for the duration of the investigation period, and after he has given all his potentially self-incriminating statements to the investigators. The revised CPC does not make it any easier for the accused to get assistance from a lawyer earlier. It makes it only marginally easier for the defence lawyer to obtain the statements his client gave to the investigators.

In Singapore, a defence lawyer is provided to destitute accused persons only in capital (death penalty) cases. In all other cases, accused persons have to rely on the charity of the Law Society.

I am all for strict punishment for criminals, especially those who commit violent acts against others. However a person is only a criminal after he has been sentenced for his crime by a judge. Not everyone who is accused of crimes is a criminal. Until he is sentenced in court, he should be given a fair chance to defend himself without having the rug pulled from under him.

15 thoughts on “Criminal Procedure Code: Tilting the law in their own favour”

  1. Clause 258… a precursor of more bad years if we do not achieve a breakthrough soon…

    If a statement is otherwise admissible, it will not be rendered inadmissible merely because it was made in any of the following circumstances:

    (a) under a promise of secrecy, or in consequence of a deception practised on the accused for the purpose of obtaining it;

    (b) when the accused was intoxicated;

    (c) in answer to questions which the accused need not have answered whatever may have been the form of those questions;

    (d) where the accused was not warned that he was not bound to make the statement and that evidence of it might be given against him; or

    (e) where the recording officer or the interpreter of an accused’s statement recorded under section 22 or 23 did not fully comply with that section.

  2. I am wondering what are the consequence if we just clam up and refuse to talk at all, if arrested?

  3. Even before this Clause 258 matter, the suspect had no right to see a lawyer for a period of time from the start of his detention. As featured in the SDP website recently, this has led to some disturbing incidents. I think the deferrment of the Right to Counsel is just as detrimental to proper justice, if not more, than the Clause 258 changes:

    ‘Even though the suspect has a right to counsel under Article 9(2) of the Constitution, this right has been deferred by case law and is unlikely to be given at the point of 1st remand.’

  4. A Government which believed that it enjoyed the support and trust of its subjects, and which believed its law-enforcement professionals to be competent and capable, would not need Clause 258. Nor would such a Government need — or in fact, desire — many of the laws that this one has imposed on its subjects.

    The fact that THIS Government neither believes nor trusts any such things, and which holds its primary purpose to be its own continuation by any means necessary, merely proves the difference between a government of laws and a government BY law. One is a society that seeks justice and prosperity for all through equality and democracy, and is at peace with its neighbours absent their malicious attacks. The other is a totalitarian régime, drunk on its own power and proud of the degree to which it has detached itself from the “common rabble.”

    Which of those governments do we live under? And what type of Government shall we seek to live under? Clause 258 is a reminder that THIS Government well knows the truism that “any government which makes peaceful change impossible, makes violent change inevitable.”

  5. Would our criminal lawyers go to Hong Lim Park
    to inform people about what are the implications of
    these changes?

    If they won’t take the lead, who else can?

  6. Gerald,

    This is infuriating!

    Would you like to submit this article to TOC?

    I think this is a very serious violation of the citizens’ rights with huge implications and the message has to be broadcasted as widely as possible.

  7. @Png thanks.

    @Concern citizen I think you should check with your lawyer about that (before you ever get arrested, of course!) but from what I recall reading, I think they can sometimes take your silence as a presumption of guilt.

    @Jeff well said. Is that from somewhere?

    @Singa TODAY already covered it, and my post is not really a proper article that can be submitted to TOC.

  8. Your blog consistently encourages and reminds me that there are still Singaporeans who are sensible enough to recognise, and courageous enough and speak out, on the increasingly glaring inequalities plaguing our society. It is very sad that the majority have been forced into submission for fear of losing their yearly handouts. You and your party represents a spark of hope for our future. Pleae keep blogging.

  9. I must apologise as given my current schedule, I am afforded very little time to do a lot of research and I have no privy to any other parts of the Bill in motion save for the highlighted clause in your article.

    As a start, I refer to the CNA online report dated 18 May 2010 and I quote, “the minister emphasised there was no change in the law but a reproduction of a section in the Evidence Act.”

    This is rubbish.

    Background. The proposed clause 258, seemed to be a reproduction of s.29 Evidence Act (SG).

    s.2(2) Evidence Act (SG) clearly provide that it is a subordinate Act. Legally, it means that when part of the provisions of the said Act is inconsistent with other Acts of Parliament, the affected part would be deem repeal for that purpose (or as far as the subject matter of the trial goes). Compare that to the Criminal Procedure Code, which is a full Act, the Code will prevail against the Evidence Act.

    The effect of that?

    First, there are balancing provisions in the Evidence Act i.e. s.24, s.25 and s.26 of the same. The practical effect to it would be that the court is open to assess the facts before it in a liberal, if I may, commonsensical manner. By enacting a mirroring provision in the Code, it would arrest the court’s able jurisdiction to approach the evidence before the bench in any other way but the manner which the Code demands.

    Secondly, the legal onus of proof would be lifted in the Prosecution’s favour. Overwhelmingly. Making any changes to the discovery (of document) process to criminal trials minute, if not redundant. This murks the foundational legal doctrine that defines “beyond reasonable doubt”. The effect of the proposed clause in the Code greatly suggests that if the statement had came from a particular body, it is assumed to be free of doubt.

    Thirdly, the proposed clause in the Code greatly dehumanise the Accused/Suspect. Making the person a mere subject of interest to a legal forum. By allowing a statement of those cited nature to be admissible, regardless of the condition of the person’s attribute, characteristics, mental capability and health, may gravely suggest that the presumption of innocent is revoked or displaced.

    Therefore, the proposed clause in the Code acts in contravene to the tradition and spirit of the common law system and certainly defies the logic and soul of liberty and democracy.

  10. Concern citizen: there’s no absolute right to silent in SG’s jurisdiction. if anything, the prosecution is permitted under the law to ask the court to draw strong adverse inference to the accused’s silence. however, this is not a unique singaporean experience, there are a few common law jurisdiction that practice the same.

  11. @Annoymous, thanks for the note of support. If you’re interested to help in a bigger way to change this country for the better, please contact me.

    @Dixon, great comment. I’ve re-posted it on my blog. Hope you don’t mind! :)

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