Why It Matters

Training to help young suspects

Following the suicide of Benjamin Lim, 14, the public called for adults to be present when young suspects are interviewed by law enforcement agencies.

That will happen, come April 17.

Appropriate Adults (AAs), who are volunteers, will be allowed to accompany suspects under the age of 16 during interviews at certain police and Central Narcotics Bureau divisions.

Following an inter-agency review of investigation processes, the National Council of Social Service appointed the Singapore Children's Society to run the scheme for two years.

About 300 trained volunteers are needed by next year and, for it to be successful, people have to get involved and be prepared to be trained.

But there are rules that AAs should adhere to.

For instance, they should not hug the young person even when distress is painfully clear. AAs are encouraged to keep a distance and avoid unwarranted touch unless a child agrees to it.

However, they can intervene to ask for a break, for example, if the young person looks upset or agitated, or unable to understand a question. The AAs should take notes during the interview as this serves as a contemporaneous record, eventually going into investigation papers.

They are not supposed to remain in contact with suspects or their family members after the interview and must declare if they are related to the young suspect.

AAs who are lawyers cannot represent the suspects in court subsequently, to prevent conflict of interest.

Benjamin, who was accused of molesting a child in January last year, was interviewed without an accompanying adult at the police station. Many felt that somebody like an AA should have been present.

So far, retired educators have been roped in as volunteers. Similarly, others experienced in working with youth will be assets to this group.

With training and regular engagement, the pool of active AAs may then be big enough for the scheme to be a success.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2017, with the headline 'Training to help young suspects'. Print Edition | Subscribe