New law to allow offenders of serious crimes to be detained indefinitely

These serious crimes include culpable homicide, attempted murder, rape and sexual penetration of minors.

Hannah Martens | February 06, 2024, 01:04 PM



Under the new law passed in parliament on Feb. 5, 2024, criminal offenders of certain serious crimes will not be automatically released after their sentences end.

The Criminal Procedure (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2024 was introduced by the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Jan. 10, 2024.

The new law aims to advance Singapore's criminal justice system and protect the public by strengthening the levers to tackle serious crimes, such as sexual crimes, and enhancing transparency, fairness, and coherence in criminal court processes.

"The changes will do much to strengthen our criminal justice system and make Singapore a safer place," said the Minister for Home Affairs, K Shanmugam.

Sentence for Enhanced Public Protection (SEPP)

The SEPP is a new type of sentence that the courts can impose on offenders 21 and above at the time of the offence who commit serious, violent or sexual crimes.

Such crimes include culpable homicide, attempted murder, rape and sexual penetration of minors.

Offenders sentenced to SEPP will be detained for a minimum term of five to 20 years (as determined by the court) and will not be automatically released from prison.

The courts will decide whether to impose a normal sentence or SEPP after considering risk assessment reports by IMH and (if additional reports are submitted) other experts.

At the end of the minimum term, the offender will only be released if the Minister of Home Affairs assesses that he or she is no longer a threat to the public.

If found suitable, the offender will be released on licences and subject to certain conditions.

When asked how many offenders are expected to be sentenced under SEPP, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Law Rahayu Mahzam said that this is not based on any specific crime trend but the outcome of a regular review of Singapore's law.

A detention review board will advise the minister

A detention review board will advise the Minister of Home Affairs before deciding whether the offender is suitable for release.

Shanmugam stated that the board would comprise relevant experts like retired judges, lawyers, psychiatrists, and psychologists.

Rahayu added that the review process will involve a complex assessment that will consider the offender's risk of reoffending, their conduct in prison, and their rehabilitative progress.

If the offender is assessed to be suitable for release, he will be released on licence, and conditions can be imposed on them.

These conditions could include mandatory counselling, electronic monitoring, or curfews. The offender will continue to be assessed until the conditions can be removed.

If it is assessed that the offender should not be released, he or she will remain in custody, and the minister must review the offender's suitability for release every year.

"The SEPP will actually, hopefully, promote rehabilitation. An offender sentenced to the SEPP will have a very strong incentive to take his rehabilitation seriously in the first period of sentencing. Otherwise, he jeopardises his chances of being released," Shanmugam added.

Police can require accused to undergo forensic medical examination

The law also sets out a clear legislative framework for forensic medical examination to provide clarity and more effective criminal investigations.

The police will be given the power to require accused persons to undergo forensic medical examination where relevant to the investigation of an offence that is reasonably suspected to have been committed.

Shanmugam added that the police can use reasonable force if the examination does not relate to intimate body parts or invasive procedures.

It will be an offence if an accused person refuses to undergo the forensic medical examination without reasonable excuse.

Safeguards will be implemented to ensure that forensic medical examinations are conducted appropriately and that persons subjected to them are treated sensitively.

For victims aged 14 and 16, consent is required from both the victims and the parent or guardian, said Rahayu. In cases where the victim or parent does not agree, the police will not proceed with the forensic examination.

Police can conduct searches without a warrant

Under the new law, the powers of the police and other law enforcement agencies will be updated and enhanced to equip them better to combat crime and result in greater operational efficiency.

The amendments will allow the police to search without a warrant when they have reason to believe that the relevant evidence is in the possession or power of a suspect of an arrestable offence.

Currently, the police can conduct such a search without a warrant in certain circumstances, said Rahayu.

However, some prerequisites must be fulfilled before the police can exercise this power.

"This does not give the police carte blanche powers to search anyone or anything. It also does not give the police powers to frisk or search individuals walking along the streets just because the police find them suspicious," Rahayu clarified.

The police will also be able to search arrested persons at the point of arrest to remove dangerous items held by suspects, such as razor blades and needles.

Rahayu stated this to prevent the person arrested from using such items to harm themselves or others, like the arresting officers.

The amendments will also expand the powers of certain non-police law enforcement agencies, such as the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority and the Central Narcotics Bureau, to deal with matters arising from predicate offences under their purview.

Currently, only the police and the officer the person escaped from are empowered to pursue an arrest.

The new amendment will then allow the agencies most familiar with the case's details to conduct the necessary arrests or investigations.

Rahayu concluded,

"The bill is a significant milestone in our criminal justice framework. We propose amendments built on past reforms and demonstrate our commitment towards building a fair and effective criminal justice system that protects society from crime."

Top photos via Unsplash