Greater protection may encourage more victims to report crime

The proposed legal changes that are aimed at protecting vulnerable persons could help more to come forward and minimise further damage to them, said lawyers, law academics and advocacy groups.

Criminal lawyer Hamidul Haq said the automatic issuing of gag orders and in-camera hearing will give victims greater confidence in reporting a crime.

Currently, "gag orders need to be applied for in court and before this can be done, there may be a risk of the information going public", said Mr Haq, a partner at Rajah & Tann Singapore.

He added that social media, in particular, has made it easier to track a person down and may be a platform for "many nasty reactions", causing embarrassment to the victim.

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing family lawyer Michelle Woodworth lauded the move to allow victims to be shielded from the view of the accused person, through a physical screen, while they provide testimony in court.

This would go a long way in reducing stress on the victim, empowering the person to speak without fear and secure redress without reliving the abuse by coming into contact with, or within sight of, the aggressor during the court process, she said.

Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) executive director Corinna Lim said that the recovery process for survivors of sexual assault can be adversely affected if they have to recount their experiences multiple times.

EASIER ON THE VICTIM

Further, taping a victim interview provides a more reliable method of documentation than written notes. In other words, it provides the 'best record' of the interview.

MS CORINNA LIM, executive director of Aware, on the advantage of video-recorded statements.

BETTER SYSTEM

This allows for a more mature system, where some psychiatrists can focus on treatment, while others give expert opinion.

DR LIM BOON LENG, a psychiatrist in private practice, on the proposal to pick psychiatrists from a court-administered panel.

This can be minimised with the introduction of video-recorded statements, which can be used in place of a victim's testimony in court.

Ms Lim said: "Further, taping a victim interview provides a more reliable method of documentation than written notes. In other words, it provides the 'best record' of the interview."

However, she said there is a chance that victims could get confused or block out parts of the incident while giving the video- recorded statement.

A possible option would be for judges to be trained to properly understand victims' behaviour and psychology before the scheme begins, she said.

Other changes in the area of enhancing court procedures include allowing only psychiatrists from a court-administered panel to give evidence on criminal cases.

The courts, in some past cases, have noted that psychiatric expert evidence lacked objectivity and competence. The panel will admit qualified psychiatrists for a term of two years.

Welcoming the move, Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist in private practice, said: "This allows for a more mature system, where some psychiatrists can focus on treatment, while others give expert opinion."

Ng Huiwen

Correction note: The story was edited to correct the spelling  of the name of  family lawyer Michelle Woodworth. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2017, with the headline 'Greater protection may encourage more victims to report crime'. Print Edition | Subscribe