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Jail, jail and more jail

This week: CPIB's investigation into the transport minister has concluded, and proposed legal amendments would allow for people convicted of serious crimes to potentially be imprisoned indefinitely.

I’m back home in Singapore and I can’t seem to remember where I’ve left anything. I also have some jet lag so there is a great urge to burrow under my duvet and sleep right now…

CPIB’s done with their investigation into Iswaran

In July last year we got the big news that S Iswaran, the Minister for Transport, was being investigated by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, and had actually already been arrested before being released on bail. We also heard that Ong Beng Seng, the billionaire who owns the rights to the Singapore Grand Prix, had also been arrested and released on bail. Lee Hsien Loong put Iswaran on a leave of absence and his minister pay was cut to $8,500 a month, although he still gets that $192,500 annual MP allowance.

CPIB is done with their investigation, and the case has been passed on to the Attorney-General’s Chambers for review. The AGC will decide what to do next. There isn’t a lot of information apart from that; we don’t even know exactly when CPIB concluded their investigation. When CNA asked, CPIB told them that “it would not be appropriate to comment further on the matter at this juncture”.

Even more power to law enforcement and the Minister for Home Affairs?

The Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Law—both helmed by K Shanmugam—jointly tabled the Criminal Procedure (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill in Parliament this past week. It’s a long bill with many proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code, but certain aspects have attracted more media attention: namely, those to do with the powers of law enforcement officers and the possibility of indefinite jail terms for “high-risk offenders”.

The proposed changes would allow police to conduct searches without warrants in more scenarios, and to require accused persons to undergo forensic medical examinations. For now, the police are only allowed to conduct searches without warrants if they think the individual is unlikely to comply with an order to produce evidence; this bill would change that to allow cops to search without warrant as long as they have reason to believe that the individual is in possession of or has power over evidence. It has also been proposed that other law enforcement agencies—like the Central Narcotics Bureau, the Immigration and Checkpoints Bureau, and the prison service—have more power to do things like arrest people who have escaped from their custody.

The bill also includes the proposal to introduce a system where someone who has committed a serious crime, like rape or culpable homicide, can be imprisoned for longer (or indefinitely) even after they’ve already served their prison sentence. Currently, people who have committed serious crimes have to be released once they’ve served their sentence; under this proposed system, the courts must sentence "high-risk offenders" to five to 20 years in prison, and if they are deemed unsuitable for release even after that, they can be jailed indefinitely and only released if the Minister for Home Affairs decides that it is safe for them to be let out.

I can see how this might sound persuasive and attractive to people. There is, understandably, very little sympathy for rapists and murderers. But my concerns about this proposed regime don’t come from feeling sorry for those who have committed violence crimes. It comes from yet another instance of power being given to a minister beyond the regular court process. The way I understand it, the court can hand down its sentence, but that might eventually turn out to not mean very much because the individual can be evaluated and the authorities can decide that they need to be imprisoned for longer, possibly even for the rest of their life. It feels like yet another circumvention or undermining of the role of the courts, which we’ve seen a lot in recent years. First there was POFMA and its executive orders that only allowed appeals to the courts after an order is issued and compliance is forced. Then FICA contained provisions that sidestepped the courts completely, directing appeals to an appointed tribunal. Now we see things like this, where someone can be kept in prison even after the sentence the court gave them. It feels like we keep trending towards giving more and more power to ministers and law enforcement officers, with nowhere near enough discussion about whether such moves are proportionate. Nor do we maintain focus on checks and balances and protections against potential abuse by people in positions of authority.

Sometimes when I read news related to criminal punishments and imprisonment in Singapore I think about this Fred Armisen clip from Parks and Recreation:

Marked as “spent”

Now that Section 377A has been repealed, people who had previously been convicted under the law can apply for their convictions to be rendered spent. An individual whose conviction is spent no longer has a criminal record (assuming that was their only conviction), so if they ever have to fill a form or go through an interview that asks if they have a criminal record, they can legally say they don’t have a record.

The process upon application is not automatic: the Commissioner of Police will still have to consider the application and look into the case. For example, the Commissioner would be looking to see if the activity had been consensual between two adults.

On the radar

The fun newsletter that I run with my friends has left Substack and after a long-ish break I wrote a review of the rather bizarre but fun k drama Mr Queen! Hoping to be able to unwind writing more fun reviews and procrastination newsletters this year.

I found the tiniest bottle of whisky ever in Scotland.

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