New scheme to help persons with developmental disabilities during police investigations

SINGAPORE - Persons with developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disability and autism, will no longer be left unaccompanied when they are called into police stations here to help in investigations.

A scheme was launched on Tuesday to provide all such persons with trained volunteers who act as a bridge between them and police investigation officers.

The scheme, called Appropriate Adults will, address concerns that people with special needs would, among other things, admit to offences they did not commit, provide inaccurate information to the police, or incriminate themselves due to a lack of communication skills.

The launch comes after a pilot run of the Appropriate Adult Scheme which was carried out at Bedok Police Division in 2013.

The trial found that the presence of the volunteers facilitated the interview process and enabled such persons with special needs to understand officers' queries and communicate more effectively.

Said Mr Christopher Goh, a property agent who is a volunteer on the scheme: "Some persons with special needs can be fearful of police or other authority figures and can easily agree to accusations, but they may not be guilty; they could simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Mr Sulinder Singh, another volunteer who is a Singapore Armed Forces specialist, added that volunteers have to abide by strict behaviour guidelines.

"A volunteer's responsibility is to help the special needs person understand why they are being investigated by the police, and understand what the police is asking. The volunteer is not allowed to give opinion or lead suspects to answer the question," he said.

Some 50 persons with developmental disabilities were assisted during the pilot trial.

Now, the Law Society's Pro Bono Services Office, which administers the scheme, is aiming to increase the pool of Appropriate Adults from 60 to 300, in line with the expansion of the scheme to all the six police land divisions.

It has engaged the Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC) and the National Council of Social Service.

Volunteers on the scheme have to be above 21 years old and willing to be activated at all hours of the day.

They also need to have a passion for helping persons with developmental disabilities, and be capable of level-headed and sound reasoning.

Said Law Society president Thio Shen Yi: "Appropriate Adults play a key and unprecedented role towards greater impartiality and fairness in the Singapore criminal justice system for (persons with developmental disabilities)."

"These special needs individuals should not be prejudiced by reason of their inability to communicate effectively," he said.

The Central Singapore CDC will support the scheme's expansion by creating awareness about it, and inviting its community partners to refer interested persons to sign up as volunteers.

Said Central Singapore District's Mayor Denise Phua: "The Appropriate Adults Scheme is a very significant programme, which is widely adopted by criminal justice systems in many developed and progressive countries."

"Central Singapore CDC believes that persons with special needs, like the rest of us, deserve fair and dignified treatment under the law," she added.

Those interested in volunteering with the scheme can register online (http://www.lawsociety.org.sg/registration/AppropriateAdultScheme.aspx).

Enquiries can also be made at 65360650 or AppropriateAdultSecretariat@lawsoc.org.sg

Applicants have to attend a one-day training session and selection process.