You can't hit this and run

Think you can make a defamatory post online, but later delete it so you can get away scot-free?

Well, think twice.

Amendments were passed to the Evidence Act in Parliament yesterday, giving the courts the discretion to consider relevant evidence by widening the admissibility of several categories.

Among them are changes to the computer output evidence - which means computer printouts and sound and video recordings can be treated just like other evidence in Singapore courts.

Lawyer Suppiah Thangaveloo of law firm Thanga & Co, said the amendment will "make it easier" for the law to go after cyber felons.

"During the course of an investigation, an independent computer forensic expert can admit any evidence secured from a computer (during an investigation) to the court, provided that evidence has not been manipulated or corrupted," said Mr Suppiah.

Currently, computer printouts and sound and video recordings have to meet a higher threshold of proof to be admissible in a court of law here.

The amendment to the computer output evidence clause in the Evidence Bill now means that evidence obtained from computers are presumed to be accurate unless proven otherwise in court.

"The burden is now on those who are disputing that evidence to tell the court why it should not be included," said Mr Suppiah.

The Member of Parliament (MP) for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, Mr Hri Kumar Nair, pointed out that while the rules might have changed, there are also safeguards in place to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data collected.

Not targeting anyone

Jurong GRC MP Desmond Lee Ti-Seng, who also supports the amendments, believes that the improvement to the computer output evidence is not aimed at targeting anyone.

Instead, he said the changes were made to bring improvements to the Evidence Act, based on the recommendations of the Singapore Academy of Law.

Under the current Section 35 of the Evidence Act, computer outputs are admissible only when parties to a case agree to it.

Strict proof is also required to ensure that the computer output has been accurately reproduced.

If the computer output does not meet any of the criteria, the judge must ignore it altogether.

Explaining the amendment, Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament yesterday: "We must also remember that there is the interest of society in allowing the evidence.

"The judge is in the best place to decide what is relevant... The fundamental purpose behind this is not to change the ultimate golden thread, which is that (in) every case the judge has to be satisfied beyond doubt."

Ultimately, the Act has been amended to give the judge "greater access to evidence where he or she believes it is going to be useful and he still has the decision on weight", added Mr Shanmugam.

Other changes made in the Act also include the admissibility of hearsay and opinion evidence in court cases.

Meanwhile, Section 157(d) of the Evidence Act - bringing up the sexual history of a rape victim to discredit her claim - was also repealed.

This means a rape victim's sexual history will no longer be allowed to be used against her in court to show she is of "immoral character".

Separately, Parliament also approved changes to the Legal Profession Act yesterday .

These changes will include easier access for Queen's Counsel (QC) to argue cases here in specialised areas of commercial, banking and corporate law.

Singapore law firms can now also be more flexible when teaming up with foreign law practices.

The foreign law firms will also be able to share profits and equity shares in local law firms through joint law ventures and alliances.

The changes to the legal Profession Act will take effect in the second quarter of the year.

This article was first published in The New Paper.