Pick up 'pamphlet of rights' to get it right

It will help public better understand their rights in a criminal investigation

WHEN giving your statement to the police in investigations, if you have any defence that shows you are innocent, you should tell the police and make sure this is written in your statement.

Otherwise, if this is raised for the first time only in court, the judge may not believe it.

This is one of nearly 30 examples on a new four-page pamphlet given out to help the public better understand their rights in the course of a criminal investigation, search or prosecution.

It also includes details of legal aid and pro bono services.

The "pamphlet of rights" is an initiative led by the Law Society of Singapore, which worked with the Attorney-General's Chambers and the Ministry of Home Affairs, with the Law Ministry's support, to produce it.

The idea was mooted in 2012 by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon when he was attorney-general.

After about three years of preparation, some 100,000 pamphlets in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil are now being distributed to police centres and police posts as well as all 107 community clubs and centres.

Members of the public can pick them up for free.

It is also available at the Law Society's Pro Bono Services Office at the State Courts.

Mr Wendell Wong, chairman of the Law Society's Criminal Practice Committee, told The Straits Times that the pamphlet is the first of its kind here and is targeted not just at the accused, but also others such as witnesses.

"You can find this information about rights in various statutes, case precedents, law textbooks, but we thought that the public need to have it distilled in a simple, easy-to-understand format," said Mr Wong, who is also the director of dispute resolution at law firm Drew and Napier.

"This enhances access to information, thereby enhancing access to justice in Singapore... but it is not a substitute for legal advice," he said.

The challenge was to decide what to put in, and to put it down in simple language, he added.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam had said in Parliament last month that the pamphlet will raise awareness of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, which provides legal help to those unable to afford a lawyer.

Said Mr Sunil Sudheesan, acting president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore: "The protection under the Criminal Procedure Code is essentially available to only those who know the law...

"It might be idealistic, but hopefully one day all suspects will be given a copy of the pamphlet at the point of arrest."

Mr Jabez Tan, 41, who was in and out of drug rehabilitation centre and jail for 13 years for drugs and gang-related activities, believes that knowing such information would be helpful.

Mr Tan, now the founder of pork rib soup eatery Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh, said: "When I was arrested, I didn't know what to say or what not to say. Sometimes you may say the wrong things and get yourself into more trouble."


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