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Home Team Speeches

23 March 2009

Overview of The Public Order Act, 23 March 2009

          MHA has introduced the Public Order Bill during the Parliamentary Session on 23 Mar 2009. The proposed Public Order Act (POA) seeks to create a more effective framework which is formal, transparent and coherent for the management of public order by the Police.   
2          It is necessary to update our legal framework governing public order, and differentiate political and cause-related activities from recreational and social activities. As our social, political and security environment becomes more complex, we also need to squarely address gaps in the current framework, to enhance the ability of the Police to ensure security during major events, and to maintain public order in a manner which will ensure the general level of safety and security in Singapore that we enjoy today.
3          The POA is part of a continuous review of the larger framework for autonomous and regulated space. The liberalisation of the permit regime governing indoor political activities and to provide exemption for such, and more recently, the change to the use of Speakers’ Corner to allow for outdoor demonstrations without permit, is part of this larger review. In 2000, Speakers’ Corner was launched to allow Singapore citizens to speak freely in an outdoor setting without having to seek prior police approval. In 2004, the exemption at Speakers’ Corner was extended to performances and exhibitions. Similar activities held indoors were also exempted. With effect from 1 Sep 2008, political demonstrations held indoors or at Speakers’ Corner are also exempted from the permit regime[1].
4          The POA is aimed at distinguishing between types of activities in outdoor settings, separating those assessed to be inherently higher and those with lower public order risks. It will empower Police to effectively intervene and de-escalate dynamic situations on the ground with the options to calibrate such interventions in an appropriate, measured and balanced manner. In doing so, it will allow us to take further steps to expand the list of activities that pose less public order concerns and exempt them from the permit regime under the POA. MHA is studying the types of recreational, social and commercial activities which were previously regulated under the old PEMA and MOA permit regime with a view, wherever practicable, to be self-regulating and exempt from permit requirements, subject to a minimum set of conditions. This review is underway[2].
Key Features of the Public Order Act
Consolidated Permit Regime
5          Currently, cause-related activities are regulated together with recreational, social and commercial activities under the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act (PEMA) and Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (MOA). Under the POA, the relevant portions of these two regulatory regimes will be consolidated for cause-related assemblies and processions. Specifically, this will mean that cause-related activities will be regulated by permit regardless of the number of persons involved or the format they are conducted in. This rationalises the current approach of regulating groups of five or more under the MOA and groups of four or less under the PEMA, (where there is public entertainment).
6          Under the POA, there will be different penalties to distinguish between first-time and repeat or recalcitrant offenders. The jail term for first time offender in the present penalty schedule has been removed. Penalties for repeat offenders on the other hand have been enhanced.
Enhancing Security during Major Events
7          Major international events are trophy targets for terrorists. As Singapore increasingly plays host to major international events and continues to promote the business of Singapore as an international meeting and convention hub, our priority must be to ensure the safety and security of the delegates and our people during such events.
8          To do so, our security forces cannot afford to be distracted from their security deployment or allow the level of security measures in place on site to be diminished by the disruption of political activists, militants or mischief-makers seeking to exploit the media and political attention attending the event. The POA comprises provisions to enhance security during such major events. Under the POA, Minister will be able to declare via gazette a certain event as a special event which will then allow Police to exercise powers to preserve public order and safety of the individuals involved in the event. Within the special event area where typically the security-threat level is higher if not highest, Police can exercise enhanced powers such as prohibition of items, stop and search, arrests, security screening, request reasons for entry from suspicious persons, and denial of entry. Persons who refuse to comply with Police orders or interfere with the conduct of the event will be committing an offence. This is the result of careful study of Australia’s APEC 2007 laws and the Australia Capital Territory’s Major Events laws.
Move-On Powers
9         The POA will broaden the repertoire of Police powers in dealing with public order incidents. Currently, in the face of an illegal assembly or march, Police will have to either prosecute after the offending action is over or arrest to prevent an escalation of the incident. A move-on order, gives the Police an additional intervening instrument to engage the offender and give him a chance to stop his unlawful activity without involving arrest. It allows Police to de-escalate an activity which can potentially cause significant law and order threats by ordering the person to leave. If the person complies, there will be no arrest and the threat will be removed.
10        To enhance internal accountabilities, the move-on orders will be issued by a police officer of or above the rank of sergeant on the explicit authorization of a senior Police officer. It will be in the form of a written notice that will state the area, and the time period (up to 24 hours) within which the subject is prohibited from re-entering. Unlike the Australian model, we have scoped the application of our move-on orders narrower so that our move-on powers can be used only in cases where the Police assess that the person’s behaviour fits within certain specified criteria as appended below:
a)                  interferes with trade or business at the place by obstructing, hindering or impeding someone entering, at or leaving the place;
b)                 is or has been disorderly, indecent, offensive, or threatening to someone entering, at or leaving the place;
c)                 is or has been disrupting the peaceable and orderly conduct of any event, entertainment or gathering at the place; or
d)                 shows that he is just about to commit an offence or has just committed or is committing an offence.
Order on Filming
11        There are specific practical situations where the recording of an on-going incident can potentially jeopardise the success of security operations or the safety of the officers. For instance, in a counter-terrorism operation, real time coverage of the storming operation can expose the special forces and the hostages to great risks as it can undermine the element of surprise critical to such missions.  There are also other instances whereby the identities of an officer carrying out such sensitive covert operations can be compromised by the dissemination of video-recording of the operation.
12        The POA empowers law enforcement officers to prohibit persons from filming, communicating and exhibiting films of law enforcement activities which if exhibited will either endanger the safety of officers or prejudice the effective conduct of an operation. It will be an offence if a person willfully disobeys the prohibition order given to him. [3]
Responsibility of Property Owners
13        Property owners have a responsibility to ensure that their properties are not used for unlawful activities. However it is recognised that it may not always be practical to expect the property owner to be aware of an unlawful activity being conducted or about to be conducted in their premises. Hence under the POA, they will be required to take reasonable action to prevent illegal assemblies and processions from taking place on their property when they are so notified by the Police.
Ministry of Home Affairs
23 March 2009

[1]               Organisers of exempted activities at Speakers’ Corner and indoors are subject to a minimum set of conditions. This includes the requirement that they must be Singapore citizens and that the subject matter may not concern race or religion. If the event does not meet these conditions, the organisers must apply for a police permit.
[2]               The details will be announced when the review is completed and enacted through subsidiary legislation when the Act is passed.

[3]               It is recognised that such a provision may not eliminate all risks of such exposure. However in the face of having an alternative of criminalizing such actions per se rather than actions in violation of the specific prohibition given, the decision was to adopt the latter, more conservative approach and review if necessary going forward. It is also recognised that in the case of the media which has a role to play to keep the public informed, mutual engagement would be pursued to achieve the security objectives of the state as well as the professional objectives of the media, e.g. ensuring the observation of prohibition to apply to real-time dissemination rather than filming per se.  
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