Law for detention without trial of those associated with gang activities renewed for 5 more years

"We must not be complacent even if the secret society situation in Singapore is under control."

Khine Zin Htet | April 03, 2024, 10:05 PM



A bill to extend the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act 1955, which grants the Minister for Home Affairs power to detain or place under police supervision without trial those associated with secret societies or gang activities, was passed in parliament on Apr. 3, 2024.

The law was last extended in 2018 for five years till Oct. 20, 2024, and will now be extended for another five years.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Faishal Ibrahim said it is imperative to deal with egregious criminal activities — particularly those of gangs and secret societies which threaten the sense of safety and security in Singapore.

He also explained that the act is used where prosecution is not viable when witnesses are unwilling to testify in court for fear of reprisal.

Act is used when witnesses do not testify for fear of reprisal

Faishal explained that the minister's powers under the act are exercised "carefully and sparingly".

"The minister must be satisfied that detaining a person under the act is necessary in the interests of public safety, peace, and good order," he said.

He also explained that the act is used when prosecution is not viable, such as when victims and witnesses refuse to testify in court for fear of reprisal.


Faishal also introduced the safeguards put in place in exercising the minister's powers:

Firstly, the public prosecutor must consent to a detention or supervision order and be satisfied that prosecution is not viable before allowing executive action.

Secondly, three committees independent of the Ministry of Home Affairs ensure that the detentions are necessary in the interests of public safety, peace and good order.

  • The first committee, chaired by a sitting Supreme Court judge and comprising senior and experienced lawyers, scrutinises every detention and supervision order issued by the minister.
  • A second committee considers every confirmed detention order at least once annually to consider whether the detainee continues to pose a threat and whether they should continue to be detained or released.
  • A third committee reviews detention cases considered for extension beyond 10 years to determine if continued detention is necessary.

Thirdly, detainees, who can be represented by lawyers, must attend in person before the first committee when they are considering the order made by the minister.

Fourth, every decision made under the act can be subject to judicial review.

Concerns from MPs

Is the act necessary if the secret society situation is "under control"?

One concern raised by Member of Parliament (MP) Lim Biow Chuan and Nominated MP Razwana Begum is whether the act is required to maintain law and order, given that crimes involving drugs, unlicensed moneylending, and secret societies are now under control.

Faishal reiterated that the act has been an integral part of Singapore's arsenal and complements existing laws.

"We must not be complacent even if the secret society situation in Singapore is under control," he said.

He also noted how other countries like New Zealand that do not have similar legislation continue to be plagued by gangs and gang-related crimes.

What are the statistics of how the act has been used in the past?

MP Dennis Tan felt that removing someone’s liberty, either by detention or restriction of movements and activities, should not be taken lightly.

He asked for statistics on how the act has been used.

Faishal replied that a total of 123 persons were dealt with under the act from Oct. 21, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2023, comprising 86 detention orders and 37 police supervision orders.

There are currently no detainees who have been detained for more than 10 years, he added.

He also said that MHA does not generally release information about the use of the act as they need to balance the call for transparency against the need to prevent prejudice to investigations and to keep witnesses safe.

He referred Tan to the Singapore Prison Service's annual statistics on detainees.

Can the police do more to prevent youths' involvement in secret societies?

MP Murali Pillai and Razwana Begum also raised concerns about the involvement of youths in secret societies and asked if the police could take more preventive measures.

Faishal said that the police adopt a two-pronged strategy of "enforcement and prevention" to address the problem of street gangs, particularly among the youth.

He shared that the police routinely conduct outreach programs and work with key partners to implement a range of diversionary and rehabilitative initiatives to educate the public on the dangers of joining gangs and to "discourage, deter and detect" youth involvement in gangs.

Other educational efforts include school talks, prison visits for wayward youths, their parents and guardians and programs like the Streetwise program.

"The ministry views recruitment of youth into gangs as particularly aggravating as this perpetuates the gangland lawlessness who are corrupting our youths," he said.

What are the obligations for one placed under the police supervision order?

Ng also asked about the nature of obligations imposed on a supervisee under a police supervision order.

Faishal said that they include requiring the supervisees to reside at a specific place, curfews, restrictions on where a supervisee may enter, and restrictions on who they may communicate with, amongst other things.

He said that the rules and obligations are reviewed "from time to time" to ensure relevancy and effectiveness.

How about additional safeguards?

Non-constituency MP Leong Mun Wai suggested extra safeguards to "enhance the protections" against possible abuse of the powers given under the act.

On this, Faishal said, "Let's stop pursuing theory and just ask whether it has worked or has not worked for us. If it has worked and there are no obvious flaws, then we must ask what we are trying to change."

How are detainees rehabilitated?

Ng and Razwana Begum also asked how detainees are rehabilitated and the rehabilitative programs in place for them while in prison.

Faishal explained that detainees are housed in the various institutions in Changi Prison Complex based on the security risks and rehabilitative needs.

The detainees' rehabilitative needs are accessed before placing them on programs to target specific behavioural and offending needs.

There are also various programs that provide work opportunities, vocational training, religious counselling and education.

He added that detainees are also encouraged to maintain close relationships with family members through letters, visits, and structured family programs.

Top photo from Canva