'4 principles' govern changes to criminal justice system

The new Supreme Court of Singapore.

SINGAPORE - The criminal justice system here has been boosted by changes in recent years, but even as it evolves, it will be governed by the same principles.

The Law Ministry's director-general Thian Yee Sze made it clear that the Government's strategy is anchored in the four principles of protecting the community, ensuring due legal process, enforcing the laws effectively and reforming offenders.

"Everything we have done, everything we will do, reflects and takes off from the four principles..." said the former district judge in a commentary in the latest issue of the Law Gazette, published by the Law Society.

Her remarks follow Law Minister K. Shanmugam's speech at a criminal law conference in January where he spoke on the past, present and future of criminal law in Singapore.

"Over the past few years, the Government has made a series of changes, which, when taken together, represent a decisive change in the criminal justice framework," added Ms Thian.

The Government's style has been, among other things, to form high-powered committees to fix critical areas in the system identified for change.

These include an inter-ministerial committee headed by Senior Minister of State Masagos Zulkifli to guide various early-intervention programmes targeting youth-at-risk implemented by the Home Affairs Ministry.

"Much effort has been put into preventing people from getting into trouble in the first place. Our internal research shows there is a very strong correlation between dropping out from school and the subsequent commission of crime," said Ms Thian in citing the early-intervention programmes.

On the other end of the spectrum, offenders sent to jail are helped with a wide range of rehabilitation programmes meant to curb recidivism.

She noted that a broad-based approach on various fronts had kept the crime rate considerably lower than that in other major cities like New York and London, citing comparative 2012 figures.

More changes are being planned.

Among other things, a committee chaired by Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah is reviewing the whole ladder of homicide offences and the treatment of mentally disabled offenders.

The four principles will ensure that "Singapore continues to have a robust and fair criminal justice system that serves the needs of all", said Ms Thian.

Lawyers said the remarks provided clarity so all interested parties were on the same page in seeking to improve the system. The Association of Criminal Lawyers, Singapore (ACLS), in commenting on the article, said it endorsed MinLaw's "thorough and concerted approach in strengthening the criminal justice system".

ACLS president Subhas Anandan said on Monday: "The criminal Bar appreciates the effort. That being said, criminal lawyers will always lobby for more change to improve and enhance the system."

vijayan@sph.com.sg


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