Video recordings will help court assess statements

A children's interview room at the Police Cantonment Complex. Video recording is expected to be introduced in phases, after the laws are passed some time later this year.
A children's interview room at the Police Cantonment Complex. Video recording is expected to be introduced in phases, after the laws are passed some time later this year.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

They will also aid in lessening the trauma vulnerable victims face in recounting ordeal

The use of video recording during interviews will allow a court to consider the demeanour of suspects and witnesses, and assess whether the statements were made voluntarily, and how much weight to place on them.

For vulnerable victims, video- recorded statements are also aimed at minimising the trauma they may face in recounting their ordeal, when these are used in place of testimonies, said the Ministry of Law.

Proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act aim to strengthen the powers of investigators as well as increase the protection for the vulnerable.

It includes allowing a male police or Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officer to search a woman suspected of a terrorist act.

This will enable more effective detection and prevention of terrorist threats, said the Ministry of Law. At present, only a female officer may search a woman suspected of a criminal offence.

Video recording is expected to be introduced in phases, after the laws are passed some time later this year.

Law enforcement officers will be able to decide, based on the suitability of a case, whether to take a statement in writing or via video recording.

Already, officers have been trained on the skills needed for video-recorded interviews, which would be made compulsory for certain crimes, such as for suspects of serious sexual offences.

To prevent the videos from being leaked on the Internet or sold on the black market, several safeguards will be put in place.

EASIER VERIFICATION

With a video-recorded interview, it will be much easier to verify such challenges.

LAWYER SUI YI SIONG, on an accused person challenging the voluntariness of a given statement.

Defence lawyers will be able to view a video-recorded statement only at an approved place, such as a police station. The unauthorised copying, use or distribution of the video will also be an offence.

In 2015, the Ministry of Home Affairs said it would study the feasibility of video-recorded interviews with suspects in a pilot programme. But this did not take place, as the appropriate legislative framework was not yet in place.

Lawyer Sui Yi Siong said that currently, if an accused person challenges the voluntariness of a given statement, the courts will have to go through a "somewhat laborious" process known as a "trial within a trial".

"With a video-recorded interview, it will be much easier to verify such challenges," said the associate at Eversheds Harry Elias.

He added that this will also allow the courts to observe the body language of the accused when answering, and hear the nuance or emphasis in the questions asked.

Meanwhile, the proposed changes to the bail regime will require sureties to prove that they can cover the amount forfeited if a person "jumps bail". This may involve producing Central Provident Fund statements or proof of income or assets.

Electronic tagging will also become a possible bail condition for those at a lower risk of absconding.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2017, with the headline 'Video recordings will help court assess statements'. Print Edition | Subscribe