Second Reading of The Registration of Criminals (Amendment) Bill

At the 2nd reading of the Registration of Criminals (Amendment) Bill earlier this month, I supported the Government’s decision to enlarge the database containing DNA information and fingerprint data so as to enhance the investigative tools to identify perpetrators of crime and crack criminal cases. I raised 3 issues. First, I asked why was it proposed that accused persons who have been acquitted of crime must apply to have their data expunged. Under the current system, this is done automatically. Second, I asked whether accused persons will be specifically told that the consequence of not providing blood specimen for extraction of DNA information is a crime so that they are made aware of the consequences of their refusal. Finally, I asked why the legislative safeguards proposed under the bill are not extended to cover DNA databases of drug addicts under the Misuse of Drugs Act and detainees under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act. Please see below my speech.

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Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok): Mr Speaker, Sir, I support the aims of the amendment Bill for the reasons articulated by the hon Minister of State.

I would add that the hon Member for Holland-Bukit Timah Mr Christopher de Souza, who is away on State duty today and therefore unable to speak on this Bill, has expressed to me his strong support for the Bill too. He is of the view that this Bill enhances the ability of enforcement agencies to act swiftly to identify suspects of a broader array of crime accurately and apprehend them.

I agree with him. Once this Bill is passed, it is my hope that the percentage of unmatched DNA samples from scenes of crime, currently running at 60%, would be reduced.

I seek clarification on three areas from the hon Minister of State.

First, it is proposed that the current section 13G of the Act, which deals with removal of identifying information or DNA information from the register upon acquittal or discharge be repealed and be substituted with the proposed section 37(3) and 37(4) of the Bill.

Currently, the identifying and DNA information of an accused person will automatically be deleted within three months from the accused’s acquittal or discharge.

It is proposed that instead of an automatic deletion, the accused has to apply for the removal. Under the proposed section 39(1) in the Bill, the Registrar must remove the same unless he is of the view that the information is relevant to an ongoing prosecution or investigation or it is in the interest of national security.

I note from the Hansard that the hon Minister for Home Affairs then, Mr Wong Kan Seng, in moving the amendment Bill in 2002 to set up the DNA database and elaborating on the kind of information that will be retained, stated as follows, “What happens to body samples of persons acquitted or discharged? Currently, the Act requires the Registrar of Criminals to destroy the photograph and finger impression of a person acquitted or discharged within three months from the date of acquittal or discharge. Similarly, clause 5 requires the Registrar to remove the DNA information of a person from the DNA database within three months of his acquittal or discharge. As the DNA information is stored in electronic form in the DNA database, removal of the information from the database is equivalent to the destruction of a physical record like a photograph.”

My question to the hon Minister of State is as follows: the current Bill changes the default from automatic deletion to automatic retention. Why is there a shift in policy? Is it necessitated by a change in the law and order situation?

Why is not preferable for the current mechanism of automatic removal be maintained? The current system is fair to all. The proposed system appears to benefit those with the resources, the time and the know-how to request such a deletion. I would be grateful for the hon Minister of State’s clarification.

I now turn to clauses 24 and 28 of the Bill.

These clauses combined provide that where an accused refuses to provide his consent for the taking of a sample to determine whether or not he has committed an eligible or registrable crime, the Court may draw an inference from the refusal that the Court thinks proper. The accused will also be liable for an offence of failing to given a sample without reasonable excuse under clause 27.

The approach taken in this Bill brings to my memory the salutary approach adopted in section 23 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Section 23 deals with the recording of a cautioned statement from a witness. The accused must be served with a written notice that he has to state his defence in his statement, failing which the Court may draw an adverse inference against him for not doing so.

May I ask if it is contemplated that a written notice will also be issued to the accused?

In this regard, I again wish to highlight that in 2002, the hon Minister for Home Affairs then, Mr Wong Kan Seng stated as follows, “But if the suspect refuses to give that consent, he can be brought to Court and the Court may order him to provide the blood sample, and if he still refuses, of course, appropriate warning will be given and inference will be drawn by the Court for his refusal to provide that blood sample.”

In this Bill, it is proposed that the referral to the Magistrate is to be taken away. In that sense, warning becomes a lot more important under the current paradigm as opposed to what was proposed in 2002.

Finally, Sir, I note from the Bill that there are additional safeguards being proposed, such as: (a) The introduction of a tribunal to provide independent reassessment of the person’s application to expunge his data after the Police has rejected his application; and (b) the safe and secure handling of DNA and fingerprint data. This is welcome.

I also note that the provisions in the Internal Security Act dealing with the taking of body samples is proposed to be ported over to the Registration of Criminals Act. This makes eminent sense too. In this way, the enhanced safeguards will apply to body samples collected from ISA detainees.

May I please ask why it is not proposed that similar provisions dealing with the collection of body samples of detainees under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA) and drug addicts under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) be also ported over to the Act?

As it stands, the provisions dealing with the collection of samples continue to be dealt with by the same provisions. Under section 27C of the CLTPA, it is provided that the Commissioner of Police shall cause to be maintained both a register and DNA database for persons arrested or detained under CLTPA. Similarly, under section 40D of the MDA, the Commissioner of Police must again maintain both a register and DNA database for drug addicts who are subject to supervision or are in drug rehabilitation centres.

On the face of it, it does not appear that the added safeguards are being proposed to be enacted in the CLTPA and MDA. I am also unclear why there should be separate registers and DNA databases in other pieces of legislation. I would have thought it would be more synergistic to consolidate all the registers and databases under one piece of legislation. I would be grateful for the hon Minister of State’s response.

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Murali Pillai

Member of Parliament, Bukit Batok SMC, Advisor to Bukit Batok SMC GROs.