Tokyo Convention (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Dennis Tan

(Delivered in Parliament on 9 July 2018)

The Tokyo Convention (Amendment) Bill seeks to introduce new laws dealing with unruly passengers onboard aircraft, arising from the Montreal Protocol of 2014 to the Tokyo Convention.

The incidents of unruly passengers onboard aircraft continue to be an important concern in the industry. As the number of passenger flights around the world are increasing each year and especially with the proliferation of budget airlines all over the world, the safety of passengers and crew onboard all passenger aircraft should remain a priority.

We have read news of unruly passengers causing flights delay, flights cancellation and even unscheduled landing not to mention distress and annoyance among crew and passengers onboard flights having to put up with unruly behaviour. Lives and safety of passengers and crew should not be easily put at risk or be endangered by any unruly passenger. Neither should crew and passengers have to put up with unnecessary delay or inconvenience caused by unruly and unreasonable passengers, unreasonably or wilfully uncompliant with the instructions of the flight commander ie the captain or other crew.

Having good and enforceable laws as well as solid enforcement procedures in this respect may also assist in dealing with or preventing disruptions by passengers with terrorism related intentions. 

I therefore support the adoption of the provisions of the Montreal Protocol of 2014 giving Singapore the jurisdiction as the state of landing or the state of operator to take punitive action against unruly passengers who may have committed offences against penal law or carried out acts which may jeopardize the safety of an aircraft or of persons or property in such aircraft or which jeopardize good order and discipline on board. I would like to ask the Minister to share with this House how many cases of unruly passengers Singapore has experienced in the past 5 years whether for inbound or outbound flights. What are the nationalities of such unruly passengers? How many of these cases would have come under the provisions of this Amendment Bill had such provisions been in force earlier?

Next, while I suppose, after the passing of this Bill, Singapore may be able to seize jurisdiction for applicable cases as the state of landing or as the state of operator, how would Singapore resolve the conflicts of another jurisdiction wanting to exercise jurisdiction. For example, Singapore can be a state of landing while the state of registration or the state of operator is another country who also wants to exercise jurisdiction.

The Montreal Protocol introduced in the Tokyo Convention the concept of in-flight security officers. Under this Bill, we call such ‘in-flight security officers’ by the name ‘air marshals’. The new Section 5(3)(b) under this Bill provides that the aircraft commander may (I quote) “request or authorise but not require any..air marshal to render assistance in restraining any person..”. So under this provision, it seems that the aircraft commander does not need to seek the help of air marshals onboard if he does not wish or, presumably, when he thinks that it is not necessary.

On the other hand, the new proposed Section 5(3B) under this Bill also allows an air marshal onboard to take any measures against any person onboard the aircraft without being authorised by the aircraft commander when he has reasonable grounds to believe that such action is necessary. Under the existing Section 5, the aircraft commander appears to have the ultimate command or responsibility to take suitable actions during the flight. The above-mentioned provisions may well give rise to an element of conflict leading possibly to both the aircraft commander and the air marshal taking independent actions without coordination. The new provisions introduced in Article 6 by the Montreal Protocol and in the proposed amended Section 5(3B) stopped short of stating that air marshals must always defer to the ultimate authority and instruction of the aircraft commander. Will there also be complications affecting states assuming jurisdiction in cases where there is a conflict or disagreement between the aircraft commander and the air marshal?

Next I would also like to ask the Minister whether our existing laws together with the proposed amendments and inclusions under this Bill are adequate to include all offences listed in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)’s Circular 288? Do we foresee any further changes required to adopt all offences in Circular 288?
Finally, I would like to ask the Minister why Singapore has taken about 4 years to introduce this bill. Has there been some apprehension, perhaps shared by the many countries who have yet to ratify the Protocol?

Mr Speaker, I support the Bill.