The Honourable the Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong
Members of the Legal Community:
1. I am equally delighted to be invited to join the Attorney-General this evening to launch the latest publication of Academy Publishing “The Criminal Procedure Code of Singapore: Annotations and Commentary”.
2. I commend and congratulate Ms Jennifer Marie, the Editor-in-Chief, the General Editor Mohamed Faizal and all the Contributors for their contributions. They must have made extraordinary exertions to complete their annotations and commentaries to a 600-page legislative text so quickly after its coming into force. This is a remarkable effort, since according to the Chief Editor, it has taken about 20 years for the CPC 2010 to get into the statute book.
3. There is a long story behind this long gestation period. By the 1990s, the CPC was just under 100 years old as it had come into force in 1900. Although the CPC 1900 was based on the Indian CPC, it took about 10 years to modify it to suit local circumstances. The next big change came in the 1970s when the Judges’ Rules were abolished in favour of cautioned statements and presumptions that reversed the evidential burden of proof of certain matters, and the drawing of adverse inferences in certain prescribed circumstances. These amendments changed the criminal justice system dramatically to re-balance the criminal process which then worked disproportionately in favour of the accused.
4. In 1996, I gave a lecture entitled “The Criminal Process – The Singapore Model” to the NUS Students Law Club in which I examined the criminal process and concluded that it needed to be defended against academic criticisms that it was unfair and unjust to accused persons. My lecture concluded with these words:
Any model of the criminal process we should strive for should have the following features: firstly, it must be simple to operate and easy for the public to understand and appreciate; secondly, it must be fair to both the prosecution and the accused; thirdly, the managers of the process, the prosecutors, defence counsel and the courts should regard it as an instrument of truth finding; fourthly, it must be efficient, ie, it should be able to speedily “apprehend, try, convict and dispose of a high proportion of criminal offenders whose offences become known”; finally, it should be parsimonious in the sense that it must be worth the economic resources to allocate to operate it. The search for the fundamental rules of natural justice in the criminal process in this context promises to be an exciting endeavour for those who are concerned with and about criminal justice in Singapore.
5. It was in the context of these goals that I decided to modernise the CPC, even though there was no particular urgency to do so, as it was still working well. You might wish to know that the project was set back for a number of years because I engaged an English expert to rewrite the CPC in plain English. Unfortunately, the experiment was not successful. It was not easy to express clearly and precisely in plain English expressions like “take cognisance of” and also not every “shall” can contextually be replaced with the word “must” in plain English. So, I decided that we will do our own drafting.
6. During this period, a persistent complaint of the criminal Bar about the unfairness of the criminal process was the refusal of the prosecution to furnish to the accused a copy of his long statement which he might had given to the police a long time before the trial, and which the prosecution could use to impeach the credit of the accused in appropriate circumstances. On the other hand, the prosecution was concerned that furnishing the statement to the accused could put the prosecution at a disadvantaged position as the accused did not have to disclose his defence until at the trial. A solution had to be found to resolve this impasse. Hence, Part IX of the CPC 2010 provides for the mutual disclosure by the prosecution and the defence of each other’s case on a voluntary basis. If the defendant is prepared to disclose his defence upfront, he will be furnished with a copy of his long statement.
7. Another inefficiency in the legal process that I was concerned about was the inability of defenceless and vulnerable victims who had been inflicted with personal harm by defendants to obtain an order of compensation in lieu of civil damages when the defendants were convicted of the relevant offences. Such victims could not be expected to start civil proceedings for this purpose. This defect is now remedied by the new section 359 which requires the court to consider awarding compensation whenever feasible. I hope the courts will exercise this salubrious power as frequently as circumstances permit.
8. The Attorney-General in his Foreword says that we are journeying into “a new era of criminal justice in Singapore”. I hope the CPC 2010 will ease the passage to the goal of an efficient but also fair criminal justice system that balances the public interest in ensuring that the factually innocent are not convicted and the factually guilty are not acquitted. The criminal process must try to achieve this goal.
9. I now have great pleasure in joining the Attorney-General in launching The Criminal Procedure Code of Singapore: Annotations and Commentary.