Parliamentary Speeches

Second Reading of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) (Amendment) Bill – Opening Speech by Assoc Prof Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs & Ministry of National Development

Published: 03 April 2024

1. On behalf of the Minister for Home Affairs, I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a second time.


History of CLTPA

2. Sir, the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act 1955 was last extended in 2018 for five years, till 20 October 2024. The Act is a critical piece of legislation for us to deal with egregious criminal activities which threaten the sense of safety and security in Singapore, in particular the activities of gangs and secret societies. 

3. This Bill seeks to extend the Act for another five years. 

4. Secret societies have been in Singapore for a long time. In the 1950s, gang activity in Singapore was rampant. Secret societies were involved in illicit activities, and used violence to impose fear on the community. Victims and witnesses feared reprisal against themselves and their family members, if they testified against the secret societies. This made prosecution in court extremely difficult.

5. It was against this backdrop that the Act was introduced. The Act gave the Government levers to deal effectively with the problem. 



Powers of Detention and Supervision

6. Under the Act, the Minister for Home Affairs may detain, or place under Police supervision, persons associated with activities of a criminal nature. These activities are set out in the Fourth Schedule of the Act, and include involvement in a secret society or as a gangster. 

7. These powers are exercised carefully and sparingly. The Minister must be satisfied that detaining a person under the Act is necessary in the interests of public safety, peace, and good order. The power to detain someone under the Act is used only when prosecution is not viable, for example because victims and witnesses refuse to testify for fear of reprisal. 




8. We have put in place safeguards in the exercise of these powers. 

9. First, the consent of the Public Prosecutor must be obtained for a detention order or supervision order. He must be satisfied that prosecution is not viable, before allowing executive action under the Act.

10. Second, we have three committees that are independent of MHA to ensure that detentions are necessary in the interests of public safety, peace and good order. 

(a) The first committee scrutinises every detention and supervision order issued by the Minister. It is chaired by a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court, and comprises senior and experienced lawyers. It examines the evidence that was considered by the Minister in issuing the order, and submits its report to the President to recommend the confirmation, variation or cancellation of the order. 

(b) A second committee considers every confirmed detention order at least once annually. It will consider whether the detainee continues to pose a threat to public safety, peace and good order, and whether the detainee should continue to be detained or released. 

(c) A third committee reviews detention cases which are being considered for extension beyond 10 years, to determine if continued detention is indeed necessary. 

11. The Act requires the committees to have regard to public safety, the protection of individuals, and the safeguarding of sources of information, in their deliberation. They are required to submit a report to the President, who may, on the advice of the Cabinet, confirm, vary or cancel the order made by the Minister. 

12. Third, detainees are required to attend in person before the first committee, when the committee considers the order made by the Minister. Detainees can be represented by lawyers, and may make representations to the various committees.

13. Fourth, every decision made under the Act can be subject to judicial review. This was made clear by the Minister for Home Affairs when the Act was amended in 2018. Sir, I want to emphasise this point as I know that some members have raised their concerns as to whether the Act ‘ousts’ judicial review. It does not. 

14. Over the years, the number of detention and supervision orders issued under the Act has declined. From 21 October 2019 to 31 December 2023, 123 persons were dealt with under the Act. 86 Detention Orders (DOs) and 37 Police Supervision Orders (PSOs) were issued. This was fewer than the number of cases in the same period of the previous term of the Act.  

15. Even so, the number of orders issued is significant and the Act continues to be necessary and relevant, not only against secret societies, but also other criminal activities such as unlicensed moneylending. 


Continued Relevance

16. Gangs and organised crime groups continue to be a big threat to societies globally. These groups are involved in a wide spectrum of criminal conduct, including illegal drugs, scams, money laundering, human trafficking, firearms, and vehicle-related crimes.[1] 

17. In the US, gangs and gang-related criminal activities remain prevalent. Gangs there actively recruit new members, have carved out drug distribution territories, and collaborate with other criminal groups for power and financial gains. They are well-organised, and have significant reach and influence even across the US borders.  

18. In August 2023, the United Nations reported that hundreds of thousands of people are being trafficked by criminal gangs and coerced into working in scam centres and other illegal operations across Southeast Asia.[2] Billions of dollars are made annually by such gangs who force the victims into crime, and subject them to threats, torture, and even sexual violence. This is happening at our doorstep. 

19. There is a strong nexus between gang membership and violent crimes. Studies have found that gangs reinforce violent behaviour by routinely exposing gang members to high-risk situations and rewarding them for their violence. Moreover, gang members often see violence as a way to earn respect, status and reputation. 

20. Because of the way gangs operate, witness intimidation in gang trials is a serious concern for many jurisdictions, and an obstacle to justice. The true extent of this is impossible to measure, because witness intimidation is often not reported. Gangs have also used technology and social networking sites such as X (formerly known as Twitter), Instagram and Facebook, to intimidate witnesses. In a recent incident in Virginia, USA, a member of a street gang intimidated witnesses by posting their names on Instagram, and calling for gang members to gather in the court room to “watch the snitches snitching”. As a result, some witnesses pulled out of testifying, and the trial had to be postponed.[3]   

21. When criminals such as gangs and secret societies cannot be brought to justice for their crimes, then the criminal justice system has failed. Instead of the people feeling protected, a climate of fear envelopes the society. The people lose confidence in the criminal justice system, and ultimately the State.
22. As I explained earlier, the Act is used where prosecution is not viable, because witnesses are unwilling to testify in court for fear of reprisal. Witness intimidation is a problem in Singapore too. Some countries have witness relocation and protection programmes. However, because Singapore is so small, witness relocation would not be feasible or effective. Even in big countries, these measures are not always foolproof. Moreover, witness protection programs take a very heavy toll on the protected witnesses. They have to change their identity, change their job, and cut off contact with family and friends. We should ask ourselves: why should witnesses and victims have to bear heavy personal costs, in bringing secret society members to justice?  

23. In Singapore, there are still active secret societies, although not in the numbers and scale in some other countries. Nevertheless, they are still a menace to law and order, public safety and security. They recruit young Singaporeans, and engage in illicit activities and violent conduct. That is why we must continue to clamp down on them.

24. I will give you a few recent examples of when we had to use the powers under the Act. 

(a) One incident took place on 9 November 2021 at about 4am. Ten gang members gathered at a rival gang member’s flat. They were armed with deadly weapons including a machete, a knuckle duster and a karambit knife. They were there to seek revenge as they believed that a rival gang member had assaulted their ‘Headman’. When they found out that the rival gang member was not at home, they attacked his family members instead. They punched and kicked the person’s parents, brother and sister. The father suffered a facial bone fracture while the mother sustained a forearm fracture. Seven of the gang members were dealt with under the Act.

(b) Another incident took place on 8 January 2022 at about 10.30pm. There was a gang clash between rival secret societies at Circular Road. During the riot, gang members of one of the secret societies chased and assaulted the rival gang members.  The rival gang members were kicked and punched in full view of the public. One gang member used a knife to stab a rival gang member’s leg. Four of the gang members were dealt with under the Act.

25. In addition to gang-related incidents, the Act is also used against organised crimes such as unlicensed moneylending. In 2019, we used the Act to detain a number of leaders and financiers of an unlicensed moneylending syndicate, which was linked to more than 1,800 cases of harassment of debtors in Singapore.

26. Without the Act, we would not have been able to do much against them. The victims and witnesses feared reprisal and were not willing to testify. The perpetrators would have been able to carry on with their violence and intimidation with impunity.

27. Sir, to conclude, we continue to have to use the Act. We cannot be complacent about the safety and security that Singaporeans enjoy today, and that we do not live in fear of gangs and secret societies, and are not intimidated by them, unlike in many other countries. The Act is an essential tool for the Government to ensure this. 

28. Sir, I beg to move.




[1] See Paras [3,5 & 6] of ‘Gang Offending and Issues with Prosecuting Gangs in Other Countries’, April 2024, by the Research and Statistics Division, Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. 


[2] Ibid. See Para [5].

[3] Ibid. See Para [27].