Police to try out videotaping interviews with suspects

Workers' Party chairman and lawyer Sylvia Lim has raised the issue of video-recording interviews with suspects in Parliament.
Workers' Party chairman and lawyer Sylvia Lim has raised the issue of video-recording interviews with suspects in Parliament.PHOTO: ST FILE

Pilot programme likely to start next year also involves CNB; lawyers hail move

In a move hailed as "enlightened" by criminal lawyers, the police will test the feasibility of video-recording interviews with suspects.

The pilot programme, which also involves the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), is likely to begin in the first quarter of next year, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) revealed yesterday. It will "involve a limited set of offences and allow for an assessment of the impact on investigations, its effectiveness in different situations and the resources required", before a decision is made on its broader implementation.

Videos in the pilot programme would "allow the courts to take the interviewee's demeanour into account in determining the admissibility or weight to be accorded to the interviewee's statement", said MHA in the statement.

For years, criminal lawyers have been asking for police interviews of suspects to be filmed.

Veteran criminal lawyer Amolat Singh said statements, which are not audio-taped and are generally taken without a lawyer present, play a pivotal role in most criminal cases here. The accused would at times reject the statement, claiming it was not made voluntarily or he was misunderstood, he said.

"Now, judges can just look at the videos," said Mr Singh. "It strengthens the whole system rather than leave things up to guesswork."

Mr Wendell Wong, chairman of the Law Society's Criminal Practice Committee, said: "It will also reduce the time spent on unmeritorious challenges to statements that are taken properly."

The Association of Criminal Lawyers Singapore's acting president, Mr Sunil Sudheesan, called the pilot an "enlightened first step", adding that it would protect both the police and suspects against accusations of "unfair behaviour".

"The benefits of the pilot might encourage other agencies like the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau to adopt such practices in time," said Mr Sunil.

According to MHA, which studied the feasibility of recording interviews with the Law Ministry and Attorney-General's Chambers, stakeholders such as the legal community and the Law Society will be consulted before the pilot's launch. MHA also looked at the adoption of video recording in jurisdictions like the United States and Hong Kong.

Workers' Party chairman and lawyer Sylvia Lim, who has raised the issue in Parliament, welcomed the move yesterday, saying overseas experience shows the use of videos "reduces false allegations of mistreatment" and gives the accused "some protection against undue pressure".

Lawyer and MP Vikram Nair, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, also welcomed the pilot but noted that such videos might lengthen the trial. He said: "This is yet another piece of evidence to be examined by the court."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2015, with the headline 'Police to try out videotaping interviews with suspects'. Print Edition | Subscribe