First Reading of Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill
1. The Ministry of Law has tabled the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill for First Reading in Parliament today.
2. The Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) was last amended in March 2018 by the Criminal Justice Reform Act 2018 (CJRA). The CPC amendments in 2018 sought to enhance the fairness of existing criminal procedures, and ensure the accuracy and equity of outcomes in the criminal justice system. Together with amendments to the Evidence Act which were also passed in March 2018, these changes were a major step toward a more modern and balanced criminal justice system.
3. This round of amendments to the CPC build on the earlier changes. They improve and make refinements to the processes introduced or amended in the CJRA.
4. Stakeholders, including the Criminal Bar, were consulted on these amendments.
Key Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code
5. The key amendments in the Bill are as follows:
A. Investigative procedures
(i) Empowering prescribed law enforcement agencies, including the Central Narcotics Bureau, to investigate offences relating to the video-recording of interviews (VRI)
As part of the introduction of VRI, new VRI-related offences were created in Regulations, such as the unauthorised recording of the VRI process, and the unauthorised copying or distribution of a statement in audiovisual form.
These VRI-related offences can currently be investigated by Police officers, but not officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), even if such offences arose out of a CNB investigation. At present CNB officers are empowered only to investigate offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
- To allow for better resource allocation for such investigations, the amendments empower prescribed law enforcement agencies, including the CNB, to investigate offences relating to the video-recording of interviews.
(ii) Allowing removal of sensitive information from materials before disclosure to the Defence
- The amendments provide a statutory basis for removal of certain sensitive information from material to be disclosed by law enforcement agencies or the prosecution in the context of criminal cases. Sensitive information includes information which if disclosed, may prejudice public safety or order, be prejudicial to the interests of justice in a criminal case, or compromise the safety of any person or the operations of any law enforcement agency. This will give greater clarity about the situations in which sensitive information can be removed from materials that are disclosed to the Defence or other persons.
The amendments also set out the mechanism for resolving disputes concerning such removal of sensitive information in court.
- To safeguard the interests of accused persons, sensitive information cannot be removed from materials to be disclosed to the Defence in the following two situations:
i) Where the Prosecution intends to rely on that sensitive information as evidence; or
ii) Where the law requires that sensitive information to be disclosed because it tends to strengthen the Defence’s case.
B. Court procedures
(iii) Introducing further timeline-related court powers for re-opening of concluded criminal cases
- In the CJRA, the CPC was amended to codify and clarify the procedure for re-opening concluded criminal cases, where all avenues of appeal have been exhausted. Under those amendments, the appellate court that last dealt with the case will hear the application to re-open the case and may extend certain timelines for filing documents prescribed for the re-opening procedure.
- The amendments expand this power to allow not just the extension of the relevant timelines, but also the shortening of these timelines. This procedural power is also extended to the Registrar of the Supreme Court or any Judge or Judge of Appeal.
(iv) Removing the possibility of backdating a Reformative Training (RT) sentence
The current law provides that RT sentences can be backdated (e.g. to account for periods of pre-sentence remand). RT sentences have the purpose of putting youthful offenders who commit relatively serious crimes through intensive rehabilitation. The rehabilitation programme can only be carried out effectively if it is allowed to run for a suitable length of time. Backdating RT sentences shortens the time spent by the offender in prescribed rehabilitation programmes, and may prevent them from completing those programmes as designed.
To preserve the effectiveness of rehabilitation during RT, amendments are proposed to remove the possibility of backdating an RT sentence.
Agencies will work together to ensure that where RT is a likely sentence, remand is avoided or minimised where possible. This will prevent the offender being disadvantaged by the impossibility of backdating.