Lee Kuan Yew an advocate of Criminal Law Temporary Provisions Act for 40 years

The number of Criminal Law detainees have been decreasing over the years.

By Tanya Ong | February 13, 2018

On Feb. 7, 2018, the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA) was extended for another five years.

The CLTPA allows suspected criminals to be detained without trial, if deemed necessary, in the interests of public safety, peace and good order.

It is a temporary act that lapses after five years, unless it is renewed.

Listing of crimes

Other than extension of the CLTPA, one of the proposed amendments to the bill was to define the scope of criminal activities.

These are the criminal activities listed:

  1. Unlicensed moneylending;
  2. Drug trafficking;
  3. Involvement in a secret society, or as a gangster;
  4. Human trafficking;
  5. Robbery with firearms;
  6. Murder;
  7. Gang rape;
  8. Kidnapping;
  9. General offences relating to the participation in or facilitation of activities for an Organised Criminal Group; and
  10. Attempting to carry out, abetting, or being a party to a criminal conspiracy to carry out, any activity listed in this schedule.

This is the first time that crimes under the CLTPA are clearly defined.

In the past, the minister only had to be satisfied that a detention was necessary in the interests of public safety, peace and good order within Singapore.

Now, the minister can only order the detention if the transgression is listed in the new Schedule.

CLTPA originated from colonial government

The CLTPA was originally enacted by the colonial government in 1955 as the Criminal Law Temporary Provisions Ordinance.

It was thought to be necessary in order to control the movement of persons and vessels sympathetic to the Communist movement in Malaya.

However, in 1958, the Ordinance was amended to allow for detention of suspected criminals without trial.

At that time, violent crimes committed by secret society members were becoming increasingly hard to control.

Fights were not only difficult to detect, but there were difficulties in prosecution as eyewitnesses were too frightened of reprisals to provide the police with important details.

Support for the law

In a speech during 1958, then-Member of Parliament Lee Kuan Yew had supported the Amendment as he was concerned that “gangsters are not scared of the police” and they had to be dealt with firmly:

“Let us face the facts: either we bring these gangsters to trial, or we do nothing, or we lock them up without trial. Well, we prefer to bring them to trial if we could. As I know, and I think every practising lawyer in town knows, the point is now reached when police officers frankly admit that gangsters are not scared of the police any more.


Now quite frankly either you surrender and say, well, the judicial process is inadequate and therefore we have been beaten by gangsters, or we say, well what do we do about it? I say, well, if there is no other way, then we had better deal with them firmly.”

Lee’s view on the CLTPA was consistent over time, despite Singapore’s economic advancement and changes in the fabric of society.

As late as 1998, when Lee was then Senior Minister having served as prime minister for over 40 years between 1959 and 1990, reiterated his support for the law:

It must be realised that if you abolish the powers of arrest and detention and insist on trial in open court in accordance with the strict laws of evidence of a criminal trial, then law and order becomes without the slightest exaggeration utterly impossible, because whilst you may still nominally have law and order, the wherewithal to enforce it would have disappeared. The choice in many of these cases is either to go through the motions of a trial and let a guilty man off to continue his damage to society or to keep him confined without trial.

The Ordinance, hence, stepped in to meet an immediate threat at that time in the 1950s.

Past transgressions

One of the earlier cases of the Ordinance being invoked was during an assassination threat in 1961.

The police received a tip-off that there was going to be an assassination attempt on Lee Kuan Yew and other ministers during the Anson by-election rally.

Apart from detaining suspects, a series of raids was conducted in many areas, such as Paya Lebar, Upper Serangoon and Geylang.

The raids culminated in the arrest of a big-time racketeer and 10 others.

Anson by-election rally bomb threat in 1961 not genuine assassination attempt on LKY

Compared to the 1950s where it was invoked mainly to deal with secret societies, its powers have now been used to respond to new criminal threats such as drug trafficking and illegal money-lending.

These transgressions (secret societies, drug trafficking, illegal moneylending and syndicates) were highlighted by Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugan during his parliamentary speech on Feb. 6, 2018.

In 2015, the CLTPA was used to detain a global match-fixing kingpin Dan Tan. Tan was detained in prison from 2013 to 2015 without trial.

That same year, the police arrested the mastermind of a loansharking syndicate responsible for more than 600 cases of harassment since 2006.

In 2017, it was also used to cripple two gangs operating in Singapore where the victims were unwilling or unable to identify the attackers.

Justifications for extension

Since it was enacted, the CLTPA has been extended for a total of 14 times.

Shanmugam clarified that the necessity of extending the CLTPA was to maintain public safety, peace and good order:

“If you don’t have the CLTPA, then your law and order situation will get worse. How much worse? It’s not possible to say, but it will. Are you prepared to justify that and take that kind of society?”

In order to substantiate the point on public safety and order, several Members of Parliament (MPs) have also pointed to the declining number of Criminal Law Detainees over the years.

The number has fallen from 1,260 in 1988, 463 in 1998, 317 in 2010, and most recently, 103 detainees in 2017.

Top photo composite image from NAS

1819 is a labour of love by Mothership.sg. We tell stories from Singapore’s history, heritage & culture. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

Here are some totally unrelated but equally interesting stories:

Quiz: What kind of Chinese New Year gift are you?
Random trivia about Changi Airport you never needed to know

About Tanya Ong

Tanya knows pi to the 35th decimal place for absolutely no reason at all.

Morning Commute

Interesting stories to discuss with your colleagues in office later