On Monday, July 24, the Ministry of Law released details of 50 proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and Evidence Act.
The process of describing the proposed changes has allowed various groups tied to the criminal justice system, such as the Judiciary, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, and victim support groups, to offer their feedback and suggestions.
What are the CPC and Evidence Act?
The CPC, also known as the Criminal Procedure Code in Singapore, guides criminal investigations and procedures for criminal hearings, such as trials and appeals. At the same time, the Evidence Act in Singapore governs any matter concerning evidence in court, including in criminal cases.
How is This Relevant to Me?
The CPC and Evidence Act significantly affects the way crimes are tried and punished in Singapore. They regulate the way justice is meted out to keep the process fair and efficient. As such, they play a significant role in preserving the order and security that we enjoy in Singapore today.
Why Must the Law in Singapore be Amended?
The law in Singapore has to continually evolve as time passes to stay relevant and efficient in our society. Thus, to ensure that the law is representative of the justice we seek as a society, amendments are necessary.
What are the Changes mainly?
It is first important to note that the proposed changes were crafted with the intention of improving the fairness and effectiveness of existing procedures, and should thus be reviewed under such a light.
In general, the proposed changes affect court procedures, the powers of investigators, sentencing, and other powers of the court. They include measures to increase the protection of vulnerable groups, such as victims of sexual or child abuse crimes, and provide more procedural and sentencing options that add nuance to the processing and trying of cases. This will enable the court to treat each case as fairly as possible, according to each case’s unique facts.
A few of the notable changes are set out in detail below. If you would like to read about all fifty (50) changes, you can click on this link (https://www.mlaw.gov.sg/content/dam/minlaw/corp/News/AnnexB.pdf) to find out more.
#1: Increased Use of Technology
The proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) include measures to integrate the increased use of technology in legal processes. This is aimed at enhancing the efficiency of procedures and reducing the overall time taken to complete tasks.
One proposal under the CPC is allowing digital signatures on documents used in court, increasing compatibility with the electronic systems employed in the criminal justice process. Examples of such documents include written orders by law investigators and investigation statements from witnesses.
Additionally, the service of notices, orders, or documents will be sent via email to improve operational efficiency. However, summons or notices to attend court will still be sent via post, as will documents sent to those not being represented by a lawyer in court.
#2: Video-Recorded Statements
Being introduced for the first time in the Criminal Procedure Code in Singapore, are legislative changes allowing video-recorded statements to be taken from suspects and witnesses, in place of written statements.
Such a shift will affect Part IV of the CPC, which regulates how officials receive and handle information related to an offence. The options to take statements in writing or via video recording will be open to investigators under the CPC and will depend on the type and severity of the offence. It will be compulsory for certain severe offences, such as serious sexual crimes, under the criminal procedure code guidelines.
Introducing video recordings is intended to deter investigators from engaging in questionable practices by presenting the entire interview process and the interaction between the interviewer and interviewee. It is also meant to protect vulnerable victims from having to detail their traumatic experiences repeatedly.
#3: Measures to Protect Vulnerable Victims
Significant amendments to Parts XII (concerning trial procedures) and XIV (concerning witnesses and evidence) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and the Evidence Act are proposed to assist vulnerable victims in coping with the stress and trauma they have sustained, which could otherwise affect the quality of the evidence provided in court.
Under the new CPC, victims of sexual and child abuse crimes will be kept anonymous via a gag order from the moment the crime is reported and will be entitled to in-camera (closed-door) hearings when testifying in court. They will also be able to testify behind a physical screen, shielding them from the accused during the court proceedings under the CPC. Questions about the victim’s sexual history and behaviour irrelevant to the charge will not be allowed unless explicitly permitted by the court.
Besides victims of sexual and child abuse crimes, the court will be granted enhanced discretion to order exceptions to open court proceedings, due to reasons such as a legitimate interest in privacy.
#4: More Community Service
The scope of offences covered by community-based sentences will be expanded, and re-offenders who have been imprisoned or undergone reformative training in the past will be eligible for community services under the new Criminal Procedure Code guidelines. This will allow more convicted offenders the opportunity to benefit from rehabilitation within the community.
In some circumstances, community services could be paired with a suspended jail term during sentencing. This is hoped to encourage increased compliance with the sentence of community service, as a breach will result in the jail term being imposed under the criminal procedure code in Singapore.
Changes to the bail regime are also proposed, making it more robust. For offences related to the perversion of the course of justice and providing false evidence, the option of bail will be eliminated. It has been reasoned that such offences already demonstrate contempt for the law, and thus carry a greater risk that suspects will defy the bail conditions. Additionally, electronic tagging has been proposed as a new bail condition.
#5: More Nuanced Treatment of Those With Mental Conditions
Under the new Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), there is a drive to enhance the objectivity of the evidence provided. Only psychiatrists from a court-administered panel will be allowed to present expert advice in criminal cases.
In case where the accused is acquitted due to an unsound mind, a medical practitioner must assess whether the accused can be released without posing danger to himself or society. The current law does not address the follow-up of an acquittal based on a mental condition. However, the new changes propose that the accused should be released unconditionally under the CPC if it’s safe to do so.
Mandatory Treatment Orders (MTOs) will be applied to a wider scope of offences and may substitute the usual sentence for certain offences punishable by a maximum of 7 years imprisonment. MTOs serve as an alternative sentence for offenders who committed crimes due to existing mental conditions. Currently, they may only substitute the usual sentence for crimes punishable with a maximum of 3 years of imprisonment.
Additionally, the proposed Criminal Procedure Code amendments recognize that there may be different causes behind an unfitness to make a defence, not limited to mental conditions. As such, amendments to existing special procedures are being proposed to accommodate exceptional circumstances under the CPC.
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