20 February 2018
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WP MPs’ assertions on law allowing detention without trial untrue and absurd: Shanmugam

08 Feb 2018

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has taken issue with “curious” assertions made by Workers’ Party (WP) Members of Parliament during a debate earlier this week on amendments to the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.

The WP MPs had argued that the changes not only take away the power of judicial review, but also expand the Minister’s powers — comments that Mr Shanmugam described as “untrue” and “absurd”.

Writing on Facebook a day after the lengthy debate which lasted almost four hours, Mr Shanmugam said on Wednesday (Feb 7) that some parts of the debate were “pure theatrics with no substance, calculated to mislead”.

The Act, which has to be renewed every five years, allows some criminal suspects to be detained without trial, and it was extended by Parliament for the 14th time. Amendments specifying the scope of criminal activities covered under the Act were also passed, with 77 out of 89 MPs voting “yes”. The addition of a finality clause — which states that the Home Affairs Minister’s decision on matters such as detention is final — was a concern for many MPs, who asked if this would crimp the judiciary’s powers to interfere with the Government’s decisions.

During the debate, WP chairman and Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim, who is a lawyer, called the move to define the scope of criminal activities an “attempt to make the Minister all-powerful”. “This expansion of the kind of activities subject to the Act in effect makes the Minister a global policeman with no equal in the world. This is a position too arrogant for the House to support,” she said.

Mr Shanmugam responded to Ms Lim in the House by pointing out that it was not the case that a suspect can automatically be detained if the activity is listed in the Fourth Schedule. “So how does it increase the powers (of the Minister)?” he said. “Rhetoric has got to match reality, and it’s useful to read clauses carefully before making speeches.”

Mr Shanmugam added on Facebook on Wednesday: “In fact, (the move) does the opposite, by now specifying what activities are covered. There could have been no reasonable belief that it increases the Minister’s power.”

On the finality clause, Mr Shanmugam said the assertion by WP MPs that this will remove the power of judicial review was not true. “The amendments simply put into the Act, what the Court of Appeal has already said… The Minister’s decision on the facts is final, and cannot be appealed from,” he said. “And, as I repeated many times (on Tuesday), the amendments do not take away the power of judicial review set out in the Dan Tan case. That power of judicial review continues.”

He added: “Despite the clear legal position, the assertions continued. Anyone who actually read the Dan Tan case, and knew some law, will know that.”

He was referring to the case of alleged match-fixer Dan Tan Seet Eng, whose detention under the Act was ruled unlawful by the courts in Nov 2015. Tan was subsequently re-arrested and detained, but this time with the MHA establishing in detail the relevant threat in Singapore posed by him.

Still, Mr Shanmugam said he had a “good exchange” with WP MPs Pritam Singh and Dennis Tan, both of whom are also lawyers. “(A) couple of the WP MPs made points which were good to clarify,” he said.

On Tuesday, Nominated MPs (NMPs) Kok Heng Leun and Azmoon Ahmad as well as eight WP MPs — excluding Mr Chen Show Mao, who was absent from the sitting — voted against the amendments, while NMPs Mahdev Mohan and Kuik Shiao-Yin abstained from the vote.

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