Speech on the Coroners (Amendment) Bill
Mr. Deputy Speaker, Sir, I support the Bill. I only have one area of clarification that I seek from the hon Minister. The Minister proposed to vest with him the power to exempt certain deaths from the application of the Coroners Act. Principally, the deaths that are proposed to be exempted from the Act are persons who died in Singapore, arising from conditions contracted outside Singapore or are for persons who are or were part of foreign government; this includes the spouse or child of the person too.
My concern is how this proposal squares with the existing framework of the Coroners Act dealing with the Public Prosecutor’s powers.
When the hon Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Law, Prof Ho Peng Kee moved the Coroners Bill in 2010, he stated, as recounted by the hon Minister, that the Coroner’s role is purely fact-finding. It is not the job of the Coroner to decide who is criminally responsible for the death. He stressed that it is the Public Prosecutor who has the constitutional responsibility of who should be prosecuted for being responsible for the death.
That was why the current Act provides for the Public Prosecutor to have wide-ranging powers, which includes the power to direct a Coroner to order a post-mortem examination, direct a forensic pathologist to investigate the cause of and circumstances connected with the death and direct a Coroner to hold an inquiry into any death occurring in Singapore.
I am concerned about a situation where the Minister and the Public Prosecutor may not be ad idem on the issue of whether the death should be exempt from the Act. Would it not be preferable for the Minister to be only allowed to use his power, as contemplated under this Bill, only after the Public Prosecutor had consented.
This is the case in the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA). As Members would know, the CLTPA may be invoked by the Minister to detain a person who is believed to have engaged in criminal acts affecting public safety, peace and good order. This same person may well be subject to prosecution by the Public Prosecutor, exercising his constitutional powers. That is why it is provided in the Act that the Minister may only order a detention upon procuring the Public Prosecutor’s consent. In fact, it is expressly provided in the Act that nothing in that Act, derogates from the powers of the Public Prosecutor with regard to the control and direction of criminal prosecutions.
I will be grateful for the hon Minister’s explanation on this matter. Notwithstanding my comments, I support the Bill.