Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill (Bill No. 13/2019) on 8 July
Sir, the key amendments proposed by this Bill make our roads safer by deterring dangerous and risky behaviour on the road through heavier and broader criminal and administrative penalties.
I stand in support of the general rationale behind the amendments but would like to seek clarifications on two areas relating to the obligations of drivers in accidents involving animals and the legal effect of compounded offences under the Road Traffic Act (“RTA”).
Definition of animal
Sir, for more than 6 years, I have been campaigning to amend the definition of “animals” in the Road Traffic Act. The campaign started before I was elected as a Member of Parliament and continued when I was an MP.
I last raised this issue in this House in 2016 and then SMS Desmond Lee replied that the definition of “animals” in the RTA will be reviewed.
I’m delighted that we are now proposing amendments for this.
The current definition no longer makes sense. “Animal” means any horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog. Under the RTA, motorists are required to stop and help these animals if they knock them down. I understand that “The original intent of that legislation was to ensure restitution to their owners should an accident occur”.
But the days of having horses, cattle, asses, mules, sheep, pigs and goats on our roads are long gone. As such, our legislation needs to be updated to keep up with times.
The unfortunate reality is that we now have other animals on our roads, a lot of them. It is a long list of animals including cats, civets, pangolins, wild boars, monkeys and snakes. The other unfortunate reality is that these animals are often knocked down. At times, they are not killed and could recover if help is provided.
As Minister had previously stated, “The question is whether we should now mandatorily require all motorists to stop, should they hit an animal. The primary requirement must be safety. They should stop, if it is safe to do so. If the motorist requires assistance in relation to attending to the animal, he can contact the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) or Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).” They can call ACRES as well.
The Bill proposes to remove the definition of “animal” under Section 84(6). This creates a catch-all provision in relation to a driver’s obligation to stop in the event of an accident involving an animal.
This is in line with what the animal welfare groups have called for but I have some concerns about this amendment and would like to seek some clarifications.
The effect of the current amendment is that a driver who runs into an animal may have an obligation to stop regardless of the species of the animal.
An animal could be anything from a dog to a lizard. Taken to the extreme, this provision could have ridiculous implications.
I agreed that we need to expand the definition of “animal” beyond horses, cattles, asses, mules, sheeps, pigs, goats and dogs. I also appreciate the difficulty of coming up with a definition to limit the scope of the provision.
However, removing the definition altogether seems to be a blunt measure. It simply shifts the burden of making this difficult judgment onto the driver.
We are asking a driver driving a fast-moving vehicle to make an instantaneous judgment on whether the animal is likely to have an owner, or whether the injured or dead animal would pose a safety hazard to other road users. Is it really safer to require a driver to divert attention away from the road to making this judgment call?
Would there be a loophole in that a driver can just say that it was not safe to stop so he or she didn’t stop.
To provide some guidance for drivers, can the Minister provide more clarification on how a driver can determine if an animal is likely to pose a safety hazard and how it intends to enforce this provision? How will the traffic police determine if it was safe for a driver to stop and render assistance.
Would it be better to amend the definition of animal to include more animals rather than remove the definition altogether?
Legal effect of compounded offences under the Act
Next, the new Section 139AA comes in the wake of the High Court decision in Public Prosecutor v Koh Thiam Huat. In that case, the Court decided that it may take into account compounded offences under the RTA for the purpose of sentencing as they form part of the offender’s bad driving record. The new Section 139AA affirms and gives statutory force to this High Court decision.
This may raise some concerns because of the prevailing legal principle that compounding an offence amounts to an acquittal in law.
This is expressly stated in Sections 241 and 242 of the Criminal Procedure Code (the “CPC”) for Penal Code offences. This rule equally applies to non-Penal Code offences as held in the High Court decision of Rajamanikam Ramachandran v Chan Teck Yuen.
In May 2015 during the Second Reading speech for the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill, then Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Wong Kan Seng, explained that the legal effect of composition is that “the alleged offender is taken not to have been convicted of the offence.”
Can the Minister confirm that the new Section 139AA will not have the effect of changing the existing legal position that compounding an offence, whether under the RTA, the Penal Code or other statutes, amounts to an acquittal?
Allowing a compounded offence to be taken into consideration for sentencing removes another distinction between an acquittal and a conviction that may be perceived as an erosion of the presumption of innocence.
Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam, said in an oral answer to a parliamentary question in August 2008, “the presumption of innocence is an important and fundamental principle, and is one of the foundations of our Criminal Justice System. The Government is absolutely committed to upholding the presumption of innocence, as a core principle in our commitment to the Rule of Law.”
Can the Minister clarify what the remaining practical differences are between a composition and a conviction under the RTA?
Further, can the Minister clarify if the new Section 139AA is intended to be a statement of the general legal principles of composition beyond the RTA? In other words, is it the case that compoundable offences, whether under the RTA or other statutes, can be taken into account for the purposes of sentencing?
Finally, when making an offer of composition in the Notice of Traffic Offence, will the Traffic Police inform the individual that compounded offences may nonetheless be taken into consideration for sentencing in future offences?
The Judge in the case of Re Lim Chor Peenoted that, “There are multiple reasons why a person may wish to compound an offence, whether it be an income tax offence or an offence compoundable under the [Penal] Code, without any admission of guilt.”
Hypothetically, an individual who has been charged but had not in fact committed the offence may agree to pay the composition fee and dispose of the matter out of expediency. They may do so believing that there would be no adverse impact if composition amounts to acquittal. Their decision may change if they are told that the compounded offence remains on the record and may affect sentencing for future offences.
These clarifications notwithstanding, I stand in support of this Bill. I would also like to thank MHA for responding positively to the concerns raised by the animal welfare groups.
Watch the speech here