Robust safeguards to prevent detention ACt's abuse: Edwin Tong

SINGAPORE - MP Edwin Tong defended the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, saying robust safeguards were in place to prevent its abuse.

The Allen & Gledhill lawyer cited his own experience sitting on independent advisory committees convened to review orders served under the Act.

In voicing his support for an extension of the Act, the MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC said "substantial safeguards" were in place. "I am myself satisfied that these safeguards have worked well and are sufficient."

Justifications for detention and police supervision orders must be made to the Public Prosecutor, whose approval is needed before the order can be issued by the Home Affairs Minister.

Each order is then reviewed by an independent committee, made up of private citizens such as former judges and senior lawyers.

"The detainee and witnesses are often heard, and the detainee can make full arguments against the detention order. The detainee can also be represented by counsel," said Mr Tong.

"This advisory committee doesn't have any connection or speak to the Minister. We don't have anyone from the Ministry of Home Affairs discuss the case with us, save for administrative details concerning the hearing."

The committee presents its findings to the President, who has the power to cancel, confirm or vary the order, on the advice of the Cabinet.

Each confirmed detention order will be reviewed once every 12 months, with the committee made up of different members each time to "ensure independent decision-making".

The Act includes a sunset clause requiring parliamentary approval for renewal every five years, Mr Tong noted, thus requiring the minister to account for its need in prevailing circumstances.

But he had several suggestions, including that the State should assign counsel to any detainee who requests one.

He said: "While a detainee has the right to counsel, he cannot always instruct or afford one."

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran replied: "I understand that the Ministry for Law has been generally looking at enhancing criminal legal aid, and I think we're able to announce the position on this soon."

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