Speech by Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Second Reading of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 2) Bill and the Singapore Armed Forces and Other Matters Bill (Bills No. 15/2022 and 16/2022)
Mdm, Singapore must guard against cyberattacks, and the creation of DIS is an important move in the right direction.
I have four areas for clarification for this Bill.
Risk of misused powers
My first clarification is on the possible intrusion of DIS’s activities on civilian life.
DIS has been given a broad remit to tackle cyber threats. Its work will reportedly include cyber incident response, network monitoring, vulnerability assessment and penetration testing.
Because its powers are so extensive, there will be concerns that in its mission to defend Singapore’s national security, DIS may track the lives and activities of average Singaporeans even when there is no clear and significant security purpose.
Can Minister share what checks are in place to ensure that DIS’s extensive powers are not misused? How will the Ministry and DIS draw the line between reasonable counter-intelligence and excessive surveillance?
Composition of offences
My second area of clarification is on the composition of offences. Compounding an offence is significant because it means that no further criminal proceedings will be brought against an accused upon payment of a composition sum.
In this Bill, the new section 79A allows certain offences to be compounded, similar to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). I have several questions arising from a comparison of this Bill and the CPC.
First, this Bill does not provide for the compounding of the abetment of, conspiracy to commit, and attempt to commit a compoundable offence, even though the CPC does.
Can Minister clarify if the Schedule to the SAF Act will clarify if such offences may be compounded?
Second, this Bill does not state that a composition has the effect of an acquittal, even though the CPC does.
Can Minister clarify if a composition under the SAF Act will be a “discharge amounting to an acquittal” or a “discharge not amounting to an acquittal”?
If a composition will have the effect of a “discharge not amounting to an acquittal”, can Minister clarify whether a composition for a military offence will be considered an antecedent for first, future military offences and second, civil offences?
Third, section 243(1) of the CPC provides that a person authorised under any Act aside from the Penal Code to compound offences must exercise the power of composition subject to the general or special directions of the Public Prosecutor.
Can Minister clarify if the Public Prosecutor will provide directions for how authorised composition officers should exercise their composition powers? Will every composition decision be subject to the review and authorisation of the Public Prosecutor?
Increased punishments for offences
My third clarification is on the increased penalties for offences.
The amended section 118 will triple the maximum amount of its fine.
Can Minister share how it arrived at this significant increase? Were the fines benchmarked against punishments provided under other pieces of legislation?
Can Minister also share whether clear sentencing guidelines will be set by the military court to address the transition from the previous ranges for fines to the updated ranges?
This is essential, given that the previous sentencing precedents will no longer provide a useful guide on the likely quantum of fines.
Limitation of time
My final clarification is on the limitation period.
The Bill amends section 111 to provide that the limitation period of three years where there are police investigations or civil proceedings involved, only commences at the end of those processes or of the sentence of imprisonment, detention, or reformative training.
Military courts do, of course, benefit from waiting for the conclusion of civil proceedings and sentences.
But we have to balance this against the experience of the accused, who face the prospect of a military trial hanging over their head for many years.
Police investigations and civil proceedings can take years to complete. Sentences of imprisonment, detention, or training can take years to complete. Taken together, the accused may have to wait for years, even decades, before their limitation period starts counting down.
Can Minister share if there are specific cases that have prompted such a significant amendment? For instance, were there cases where the three-year limitation period expired while civil proceedings were still ongoing, and it negatively affected the conduct of military proceedings?
Relatedly, can Minister share if the military court will also consider the impact of the preceding civil proceedings or any sentences served by the accused for related civil offences when imposing a sentence for the military offences?
Notwithstanding these clarifications, Mdm, I stand in support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here.