Published: 01 October 2018
1. The Civil Defence and Other Matters Bill 2018 (“Bill”) was introduced for First Reading in Parliament today.
2. The Civil Defence (CD) Act came into force in 1986 to provide for the formation of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). The Act was amended in 2010 to empower SCDF to perform an expanded range of operational roles, as well as to update the disciplinary provisions for SCDF officers.
3. MHA proposes to further amend the CD Act to enable SCDF to carry out its mission of saving lives and protecting property even more effectively. The key provisions of the Bill will:
4. Some of the proposed amendments will be extended to other Home Team legislation, such as the Immigration Act, Police Force Act and Prisons Act, to align policies across Home Team Departments.
Key Proposed Amendments
Provide SCDF Officers with Clearer Legal Powers to Respond to a Wider Range of Incidents where Public Safety may be at Risk
5. Presently, SCDF officers are only given explicit legal powers to undertake fire-fighting operations; and CD operations during a state of emergency or state of CD emergency. Such powers include the authority to enter premises and remove objects impeding such operations. However, these powers are often also required in day-to-day non-fire operations. For example, SCDF officers responding to Emergency Medical Services (EMS) calls may need to forcibly enter premises to attend to patients and save lives. Today, SCDF relies on common law to justify the use of such powers. The Bill will grant SCDF officers explicit powers for day-to-day non-fire CD operations so that SCDF officers can carry out their jobs effectively.
6. Presently, SCDF officers are protected from legal liability only during fire-fighting operations; and CD operations carried out during a state of emergency or state of CD emergency. However, SCDF officers often encounter dangerous situations and need to take certain risk-calibrated actions in their day-to-day operations. For example, a rescue operation during a road traffic accident could require them to cut open vehicles in order to extricate trapped victims. The Bill will extend protection to SCDF officers from legal liability, to acts performed during day-to-day operations, as long as the officer acted in good faith and with reasonable care in the course of saving lives and preventing injuries. This protection will include the crew of private ambulance operators appointed by SCDF, as well as Singapore Armed Forces servicemen attached to the SCDF’s EMS unit, as they also attend to such life-saving cases.
7. With the powers and protection conferred upon SCDF officers, there is a need to deter abuse by impersonators. The Bill will criminalise the unauthorised production, distribution and use of SCDF uniforms and insignia. Any person who impersonates or misrepresents an SCDF officer or who manufactures/sells SCDF uniforms/insignia without authorisation will be liable for a fine and/or imprisonment. The Bill will also create similar provisions in the Immigration Act and Prisons Act, to similarly prevent impersonation of Immigration and Prisons officers.
Enhance SCDF’s Operational Response and Efficiency
8. The Bill will empower SCDF officers attending to medical emergencies to collect the fingerprints and other personal identifiers of unconscious patients. This will allow SCDF officers to identify these patients quickly, and obtain necessary emergency health information, such as known allergies, in order to administer the appropriate treatment. The Immigration Act will be amended to allow the Minister for Home Affairs to authorise the disclosure of identifying information for the purpose of providing urgent medical care. SCDF will implement robust IT security systems and processes to safeguard the data.
9. SCDF currently operates 277 outdoor sirens located on building rooftops, as part of the Public Warning System (PWS). These sirens give the public clear and early warning during a national emergency. The Bill will require building owners to provide space and grant SCDF officers access to their premises for the installation, maintenance and repair of these sirens and other emergency devices. Failure to do so, as well as the unauthorised removal or damage of these devices, will be offences under the Act.
Strengthen SCDF’s Human Resource and Disciplinary Frameworks
10. The Bill seeks to strengthen SCDF’s human resource and disciplinary frameworks, especially for its National Servicemen. For example, the Bill strengthens SCDF’s disciplinary framework by introducing a new appeal mechanism for National Servicemen to appeal against the findings and sentences meted out during disciplinary proceedings. The Commissioner of SCDF will be empowered to review findings and sentences, and decide on such appeals. In addition, SCDF National Servicemen will be able to voluntarily extend their terms of service beyond the ages of 40 and 50, for Junior and Senior Officers respectively.
11. In the course of their work, Home Team officers may be exposed to certain health hazards. The Bill will provide for the necessary powers to ensure that SCDF officers undergo medical examinations and treatments (including vaccinations), if necessary. This will avoid situations where officers refuse to go for such medical examinations or treatments, despite possibility of exposure to health hazards. Any non-compliance by SCDF officers will constitute a service offence under the CD Act. The Police Force Act will be amended to create similar provisions for Police officers.
 Under the CD Act, a CD emergency refers to any fire, explosion, earthquake, oil spill, eruption, flood, storm, hazardous materials incident or other happening (whether or not attributable to an attack by an enemy or any warlike act) that causes or may cause destruction of or damage to property or loss of life or injury or distress to persons or that in any way endangers the safety of the public in Singapore or in any part thereof. A state of CD emergency can be declared by the Minister for Home Affairs if it appears to him that a CD emergency has occurred or may occur in any part of Singapore.