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Review protocol for vulnerable people under investigation

The recent tragedy involving teenager Benjamin Lim has raised many issues with regard to the handling of young people ("New panel to study investigation protocols"; Tuesday).

The Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore (ACLS), however, cautions against rushing to any conclusion before the coroner's inquiry is completed.

It remains a fact that all of us do not have all the details currently.

However, the ACLS feels that it is an opportune time to invite the authorities to reconsider the approach taken when vulnerable people are the subject of police investigations.

For the purpose of this letter, the ACLS defines vulnerable people as those who are under the age of 21 or those with special needs, which include mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities.

We fully accept that this consultative process should not be hurried and should be done with the benefit of the coroner's findings.

To this end, it bears repeating that the Criminal Procedure Code does not list any measures to be taken when vulnerable people are being questioned by the police.

That being said, the recently instituted Appropriate Adult scheme is a significant step in dealing with issues inherent in the interviewing of those with mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities.

However, more can be done for vulnerable people as a whole.

The ACLS fully intends to engage the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in a thorough dialogue in the months to come.

It is heartening to note that MHA has already started a review process on its own.

When the time comes, the ACLS will explore the feasibility of the following measures (among others) with MHA:

  • Earlier access to lawyers for vulnerable people;
  • The provision of the Law Society's pamphlet of rights to vulnerable people upon arrest;
  • A protocol for informing next of kin upon the arrest or detention of the vulnerable person. This will include informing the next of kin that lawyers can be employed upon the commencement of investigations;
  • The potential expansion of the Appropriate Adult scheme to cover all vulnerable people; and
  • The video recording of interviews of vulnerable people.

The ACLS trusts that MHA will fully consult all stakeholders in due course.

We fully accept that this consultative process should not be hurried and should be done with the benefit of the coroner's findings. We do, however, remain confident that some change of note will result from this entire episode.

In this regard, the ACLS will release its full set of recommendations after the conclusion of the coroner's inquiry.

Sunil Sudheesan
Acting President
Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2016, with the headline 'Review protocol for vulnerable people under investigation'. Print Edition | Subscribe