Proposal for more offenders to be eligible for community sentences

Move follows good results from rehabilitative opportunities, says MinLaw

More offenders will be eligible for community sentences if a range of reforms aimed at modernising the criminal justice process is approved by Parliament.

Offenders who have previously served prison terms of three months or less, or have served a reformative training stint, would be eligible for community sentences so that they can benefit from rehabilitative opportunities.

Offences with specified minimum fines, such as drink driving, will also be eligible.

More serious offences will also be eligible for mandatory treatment orders, and the maximum duration of such sentences will be raised from 24 months to 36 months.

The proposed expansion of the eligibility criteria for the community sentencing regime follows good results from these options, which include mandatory treatment orders and day reporting orders, said the Ministry of Law (MinLaw).

It tabled the Criminal Justice Reform Bill and the Evidence (Amendment) Bill in Parliament yesterday, which cover more than 50 diverse changes to the entire criminal justice process, from investigation to court processes to sentencing.

MinLaw said the proposed amendments are a major step in the Government's long-term efforts towards a more progressive, balanced and modern criminal justice system.

They aim to enhance the fairness of existing procedures and ensure the accuracy and equity of outcomes in criminal cases, it said.

The proposals build on past reforms to the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act.

Other changes in the latest Bills tabled will allow the police to take statements from suspects and victims via video recording.

Individuals, however, should be allowed to opt out, as some may be willing to give a statement to the police only off-camera.

The scheme will be implemented in phases, due to the significant investment of infrastructure and training, said MinLaw.

Video-recorded interviews, which will give the court an objective account of the interviews with suspects, may also be edited to protect sensitive information on national security or intelligence sources, said MinLaw.

It added that, if necessary, the court can decide to view the edited portions.

A suite of measures has also been introduced to enhance protection for victims of sexual offences or child abuse.

Their identities will be protected from the point the police report is made and they will testify behind closed doors, possibly behind a physical screen to separate them from the accused.

They also cannot be questioned by defence lawyers on their sexual history not relating to the charge, unless the court allows it.

This will be done through changes to the Evidence Act, which provides the framework for matters concerning evidence in court.