Second Reading Speech By Second Minister For Law, Mr Edwin Tong, on Coroners (Amendment) Bill
05 Oct 2021 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a Second time.”
- Sir, the Coroners Act was introduced as a standalone Act on coronial matters in 2010. Before the Act, Coroner’s Inquiries were dealt with under the Criminal Procedure Code.
The 2010 Act updated our coronial system to clarify its role and also strengthen its procedures, so that it could better serve the public interest. The Act made three key changes:
(a) First, the Coroner’s Inquiry became fact-finding, rather than fault-finding;
(b) Second, the Coroner was empowered to tap on the technical expertise of forensic pathologists or assessors, to facilitate more effective coronial investigations; and
(c) Third, it re-scoped the Coroner’s jurisdiction, giving it a clearer focus.
II. Feedback Received on How to Strengthen the Coronial Process
- This Act had served us well over the last decade.
- In that period, however, through usage, we have received some feedback that some aspects of the Act could be further streamlined, enhanced, and allow for greater flexibility.
This Bill seeks to do so in two ways:
(a) First, to make viewing of the body by the Coroner discretionary rather than mandatory in all cases.
(b) Second, to empower the Minister for Law to exempt selected deaths from certain provisions of the Act.
- Let me take Members through these two broad changes.
III. Making Body Viewing Discretionary
Currently, section 12 of the Act requires the Coroner to view the body as soon as possible, in all cases, after a death is reported to him.
(a) This is to ensure that the deceased is correctly identified.
However, today, the viewing of the body by the Coroner may not be necessary in all cases in order to correctly identify the body.
(a) We have other safeguards, which use technology, to ensure the correct identification of bodies.
Today, when a death is reported to the Police, the following steps take place:
(a) The Police Investigation Officer (IO) will investigate the deceased’s identity at the scene by, for example, interviewing the next-of-kin, and also obtaining the deceased’s NRIC or passport. The Police IO will then record the deceased’s particulars on a tag, which will be attached to the body at the scene.
(b) At the mortuary, the Police IO will present the deceased’s NRIC or other identification documents to the HSA staff for registration. Two additional body tags will also be attached to the body in the mortuary:
(i) First, a Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) tag to track the body’s movement within the mortuary; and
(ii) Two, a Quick Response (QR) code body tag to confirm the deceased’s identity.
(c) A Body Identification Form (BIF), which includes details such as the deceased’s full name and NRIC number, will be generated upon registration. A photograph of the deceased’s face and the body tags will also be taken, and attached to the BIF.
(d) The same Police IO, who recorded the deceased’s particulars at the scene, will verify the accuracy of the BIF, before the BIF is sent to the Coroner.
(e) The Coroner will then check the BIF against the report filed by the Police IO.
- These steps and safeguards are sufficient to ensure correct identification of the deceased. Indeed, as far as we can tell, there have been, so far, no cases of misidentification since this set of protocols, processes and safeguards were put in place.
Clause 2 of the Bill, which makes the body-viewing by the Coroner discretionary, will:
(a) Expedite the release of the body to the family; and
(b) Save resources for the Police, the Health Sciences Authority and the Coroner.
- The Coroner will still be able to view the body if the Coroner considers this to be necessary. For example, the Coroner may wish to view the body in a case where foul play is suspected, or where the death may have wider implications on international relations.
In addition, the amendment will not affect the Coroner’s duty to carry out a preliminary investigation into the cause of and circumstances connected with the death. During the preliminary investigation:
(a) The Coroner will consult the HSA forensic pathologist, and the Police IO.
(b) The Coroner will generally ask the Police IO about the scene investigations, and any witness accounts. Where the deceased’s identity is unclear, the Coroner may then direct further steps, such as checking missing persons records, fingerprint identification and also forensic analysis as may be appropriate.
(c) The forensic pathologist will generally study the CT scan carried out on the body in the mortuary, and the deceased’s medical records, to determine the possible cause of death.
IV. Flexibility to Exempt a Death from Certain Provisions of the Act
- Sir, I next move on to the next clutch of amendments under the Bill.
This is introduced by the new section 17A. It aims to deal with a situation where the deceased:
(a) Firstly, had sustained an injury, contracted a disease or suffered a condition outside Singapore, that apparently caused the death; or
(b) Second, held certain positions in a foreign State, such as being a government minister; or
(c) Was the spouse or child of persons holding certain positions in a foreign State.
In such situations, it is possible that a foreign State may request Singapore not to conduct a post-mortem examination on the body, so that the foreign State may itself carry out its own examination.
At present, under the scope of our Act today, it is not possible to accede to such requests.
(a) The Act requires the Coroner to certify the cause of death based on the findings of the Coroner’s Inquiry (if one is held), or based on the available evidence (if a Coroner’s Inquiry is not held).
(b) There may be some cases where a post-mortem examination might be necessary to determine the cause of death, for example, if there are no external, visible, manifest signs of injury or disease.
(c) In such cases, a post-mortem examination must be carried out before the Coroner can release the body.
- The new section 17A proposed provides flexibility for Singapore to accede to requests in appropriate cases, by allowing the Minister to issue a certificate to exempt the death from certain provisions of the Act.
In order for this to happen, three conditions must be fulfilled:
(a) First, the Minister must be satisfied that the deceased had sustained an injury, contracted a disease or suffered a condition, outside Singapore, that apparently caused the death. Alternatively, the Minister must be satisfied that the deceased had certain positions in the foreign State, such as being a government minister, or was the spouse or child of certain persons in such positions.
(b) Second, a foreign State must make a request for the Minister’s certificate – so it is triggered by the foreign State, not by any individual – and give an undertaking regarding the retention or transport of the body, or any other matter that the Minister may require.
(c) Third, the Minister must be satisfied, after having regard to the circumstances of the case and any undertaking given by the foreign State, that it is not in the public interest for the provisions of the Act to apply to the deceased. In other words, the assessment is made as to whether there is a public interest, notwithstanding the request by the foreign State, for the examination to take place in Singapore.
In deciding whether to issue a certificate, the Minister may consider various factors, such as:
(a) The forensic pathologist’s views on the death;
(b) The Police’s investigative findings on the death;
(c) The Public Prosecutor’s views as to the likelihood of any criminal prosecutions in relation to the death, and the likely impact of an exemption on such prosecutions; and
(d) Fourthly, the purpose for which the request was made by the foreign State.
- If the Minister issues a certificate, a post-mortem examination must not be conducted, and the body must be released immediately to the foreign State.
- The Bill does not change the default position under the Act, which is that the Coroner will investigate deaths falling within the Coroner’s jurisdiction.
- It is only in exceptional cases that the default position may be departed from under the new section 17A; and the three conditions I have mentioned above must be met and, in particular, I stress that the Minister must be satisfied that it would not be in our public interest for the usual coronial process to apply to the deceased.
- Sir, in conclusion, this Bill streamlines the coronial process and introduces greater flexibility, and also represents the latest instalment in our efforts to improve on the coronial system, to better serve the public interest.
- Sir, I beg to move.
Last updated on 05 Oct 2021