‘Groundbreaking’ Criminal Procedure Code changes to be proposed next week in Parliament

‘Groundbreaking’ Criminal Procedure Code changes to be proposed next week in Parliament

Channel NewsAsia·2018-02-22 21:10

File photo. 

SINGAPORE: A bill proposing several amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and Evidence Act will be submitted in Parliament next week, with legislation coming into force hopefully by the middle of the year and in phases, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Thursday (Feb 22). 

“It’s been a long period of consultation … it will be groundbreaking,” he added. “You will see the changes are substantive, as they were in 2010 (when the CPC was repealed and replaced).” 

Mr Shanmugam was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a visit to the Police Cantonment Complex’s Video Recording of Interviews (VRI) facility and One-Stop Abuse Forensic Examination (OneSAFE) Centre. 

The OneSAFE Centre, which is for victims of sexual crimes, was piloted in January last year, with only Singapore General Hospital doctors available on-call. From May, the centre will be able to call on doctors from the KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) and the National University Hospital.

“When it comes to rape cases, the way police have dealt with those cases is exceptional,” Mr Shanmugam commented. “In 2016, we had 149 reported cases - all were solved. In 2017, we had 191 cases, so there was a spike, and all but one case was solved - and that one case was 30 years old. 

“So in terms of dealing with the issues, finding out what happened, solving the case - police are doing very well. But we want to go further.” 

At OneSAFE, a victim can be examined physically and medically. The victim will also be able to talk to an investigation officer about what happened - with everything taking place in the same, safe environment, Mr Shanmugam explained. 

BETTER TREATMENT OF SEXUAL CRIME VICTIMS 

The Singapore Police Force (SPF) also said it would designate and specially train its officers to interview and manage victims of sexual crimes, with a view to reducing trauma and being sensitive to their needs while remaining effective. 

By April, a video that is joint-developed by the police and the Association of Women for Action & Research (AWARE) will also be incorporated into training courses for all officers. The video is based on personal experiences and aims to improve awareness of victims’ emotional trauma and the techniques to better handle this. 

Said Mr Shanmugam: “It’s a very painful experience to recount it to someone whom you’ve never seen before. So our officers have undergone victim empathy training. 

“Then the second part is what happens in court,” he continued. “We want to make sure that first of all, from the moment the complaint is made, the complainant’s identity will be protected … when she gives evidence in court, it will be in-camera (hearings), not in public. 

“Third, what sort of penalties should a person who is convicted of sexual assault face … we’re going to put in some rules on what questions can be asked about past sexual history and so on, and how relevant that may or may not be.

“These will be taken care of in the CPC amendments that are going to be put up next week.” 

The newly set-up VRI facility, meanwhile, is aimed at helping the court try cases more effectively, by taking into account the interviewee’s demeanour to determine the weight of statements. 

“VRI is one of the major changes being made,” said Mr Shanmugam. “For the offences that have been chosen, there will be video recording, and it can be viewed by defence counsel and made available in court. And that will serve as evidence of what the accused said.

“Due to constraints on logistics and training and so on, it will be done in phases. The first will focus on rape cases, non-capital cases CNB (Central Narcotics Bureau) deals with, and cases where defendants are mentally challenged. 

“Phase Two will be later - you need equipment, you need to train people, and we’ll see how it works. The Bar also has to get used to it … I think the Bar will welcome it.”

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