Thursday, April 16, 2009

The new public order act

New Paper
15 April 2009

MPs raise questions about public order act

By Lediati Tan

YOU could be ordered to leave and stay away from a designated area for up to 24 hours if you behave as if you are a threat to people and public order.

The move-on order - based on the Australian model but with a narrower scope that applies only to a person's behaviour - was introduced in Parliament last month under the proposed Public Order Act (POA).

The order allows police to give offenders a chance to stop his unlawful activity without being arrested.

Currently, police officers either warn and observe offenders from the sidelines or arrest them on the spot.

With the new move-on order, if the offender cooperates and leaves the designated area, there will be no arrests and no record of it.

But three MPs - Mr Siew Kum Hong, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang - opposed the new move, while other MPs raised concerns.

Dr Teo Ho Pin (Bukit Panjang) asked why police would issue a move-on order if the person is about to commit, is committing or has just committed an offence.

Mr K Shanmugam, Second Minister for Home Affairs, explained: 'Move-on powers are intended to be pre-emptive to de-escalate a situation before an offence occurs...

'Such an option gives the person engaging in an illegal protest a chance to cooperate with the police and leave.

'This recognises the right to expression without compromising on the police management of public order.'

Adding offences?

But Mr Siew felt that the move-on powers adds a further offence to the list of offences committed by civil disobedience activists.

He said that if a group of people is not committing an offence but they are given move-on orders by the police which they do not comply with, the group then ends up committing an offence.

Mr Siew suggested that all move-on orders be recorded in a public register to 'ensure transparency and accountability in how police officers use their move-on powers' and prevent these powers from being abused.

Mr Shanmugam, however, disagreed.

He said that he wanted to keep the move-on power low-key and not make it an offence.

Mr Shanmugam also responded to Ms Lim's queries on consumer rights in the context of the move-on power.

Ms Lim had asked whether the move-on order would be used on consumers with legitimate grievances against traders - such as in the case of food poisoning, or bank customers who have lost money due to mis-selling of products - if the trader complained to the police that they were interfering with trade.

'So long as the public are not committing... any offences, why should they be told to disperse?' asked Ms Lim.

Mr Shanmugam replied that police involvement would depend on whether the situation endangers law and order.

If the consumers gathered to demonstrate in front of the business, it becomes a cause-based activity and requires a permit.

The prohibition under the POA on the filming of certain law enforcement activities also raised eyebrows. Some MPs were concerned that police abuse cases could be covered up if filming of such activities were not allowed.

Ms Lee Bee Wah questioned the rationale behind the prohibition.

She said: 'If we carry out our enforcement in a humane and civilised manner, then there should be nothing to hide.'

Mr Shanmugam reiterated that the law was not intended to prevent the filming of routine police activities or abuse by the police.

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