Law Society sets up panel to study investigation protocols for young suspects

The teen fell to his death from his flat on Jan 26, after he was picked up from school by the police and questioned over an alleged molestation.
The teen fell to his death from his flat on Jan 26, after he was picked up from school by the police and questioned over an alleged molestation. PHOTO: SHIN MIN

Law Society sets up committee following death of teen who was questioned by police

The Law Society of Singapore has set up a special committee to look at investigation protocols for young suspects after a teenager's death following police investigations.

"The recent tragic case of 14-year-old Benjamin has highlighted the issue of investigation protocols, especially in the case of young offenders or suspects," Mr Wendell Wong, co-chairman of its criminal law practice committee, wrote in an e-mail to criminal lawyers yesterday to announce the move.

He will chair the special committee, which will engage the Ministry of Home Affairs and Attorney- General's Chambers.

The teen fell to his death from his flat on Jan 26, after he was picked up from school by the police and questioned at a police station over an alleged molestation. The case has led to public discussions over whether a minor should have an adult with him during police investigations.

The Straits Times understands the 10-man special sub-committee adds to the existing criminal law practice committee, which regularly engages the authorities on issues such as early access to lawyers.

National University of Singapore associate law professor Chan Wing Cheong, one of the 10, said the case has shown the urgency of looking into aspects affecting the vulnerable, as tragic outcomes may result.

Mr Peter Ong, director of Templars Law LLC, who is also on the new committee, said he would like the Appropriate Adult Scheme, currently applicable to those with intellectual or mental disability, to be extended to children under 16.

In countries such as Britain, an "appropriate adult" - a parent, guardian or social worker - must sit in when the police question minors.

Other members on the new committee - which has yet to meet - include lawyers Amolat Singh, Suresh Damodara and Satwant Singh.

Mr Amolat Singh said: "There is a lot of public interest and a lot of disquiet in this case." He said the committee would have to wait for the coroner's inquiry to establish facts of the case - such as whether Benjamin's parents were contacted.

Criminal lawyers welcomed the committee. Mr Laurence Goh hopes one of its recommendations will be the Appropriate Adult Scheme. "At least then the minor will feel assured and wouldn't be as intimidated."

Acting president Sunil Sudheesan of the Association of Criminal Lawyers Singapore (ACLS) said he was glad about the new committee. "The ACLS stands shoulder to shoulder with the Law Society on this."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2016, with the headline 'New panel to study investigation protocols'. Print Edition | Subscribe