SINGAPORE - Should individuals be allowed to opt out of video-recorded interviews when questioned by the police - a new initiative being proposed by the Government?
Should editing of video-recorded interviews be allowed? Should copies of these recordings be handed to defence counsel?
These were some of the concerns raised to the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) during a public consultation period from July to August last year. The ministry had held the consultation to discuss some 50 proposed changes to the criminal justice system.
The changes were tabled on Wednesday (Feb 28) in Parliament under the Criminal Justice Reform Bill and the Evidence (Amendment) Bill. These span more than 50 diverse changes covering the entire criminal justice process, from investigation to court processes and sentencing.
In response to the concerns raised over the video recording of police interviews, the ministry said individuals can indicate their preference to opt out, as some may be willing to give a statement to the police only off-camera. An investigator can take this willingness into account in deciding whether to proceed with the video-recording of the interview.
An insistence on video recording might undermine investigations, the ministry said. It was responding to concerns aired by some that allowing opt-outs might lead to accusations that the individual had been coerced into not video recording the interview.
Editing of video-recorded interviews is required to protect sensitive information on national security or intelligence sources, said MinLaw. It added that if necessary, the court can decide to view or take into consideration the edited portions.
Copies of the videos will not be made available to the defence due to the risk of the recordings being posted online or even sold on the black market, the ministry said.
During the month-long public consultation, MinLaw said, it received feedback from more than 30 contributors representing the public, civil society organisations, banks, technology companies and the Bar.
It also held extensive dialogues with the Law Society and the criminal Bar, and had internal consultations with the judiciary, the Attorney-General's Chambers and other ministries.
While there was broad support for the proposals, there were also a difference of views in some areas.
For instance, MinLaw dropped a proposed procedure to deal with disputes over legal professional privilege during police investigations. Legal professional privilege protects communication between lawyers and their clients from being disclosed.
Respondents expressed reservations about the practical implementation of the procedure, which entails people going to court to determine whether material seized by the police is protected, saying that it would effectively undermine legal professional privilege.
Some respondents were against the proposal that defence lawyers cannot ask questions about the sexual history of an alleged victim of sexual offences, unless the court allows it.
The ministry said it went ahead with the proposal as there is public interest in ensuring that victims are not deterred from coming forward.
However, MinLaw agreed to lower the legal threshold for the court to consider in deciding whether to allow such questions, from "manifestly unjust" to "in the interests of justice". It added that the latter phrase would be left for the court to interpret and apply based on the unique facts of each case.
Another proposal that saw differing views was the regulation of psychiatric expert evidence.
Some felt that the ministry's proposal to allow only psychiatrists who are on a court-administered panel to testify as expert witnesses may have a "chilling" effect in deterring psychiatrists from voicing minority opinions for fear of losing their place on the panel.
MinLaw made it clear that this measure is aimed at ensuring that psychiatrists are objective and give competent opinions; they will not be removed simply because they take a minority view or because a judge rejects their opinion.
However, the ministry accepted suggestions that the selection criteria should not be overly strict and that foreign experts should be allowed to testify in certain cases.
Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity