Police, CNB to consult on video-recording of police interviews

police

The Singapore Police Force (SPF) and the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) will commence consultations on the Video Recording of Interviews (VRI) during investigations, with the view to start a pilot of VRI from the first quarter of 2016.

The authorities said this in a press release on Wednesday, 22 July.

The statement said the consultation is part of the Government’s commitment “to an effective and fair criminal justice system.”

“The feasibility study looked at how VRI has been adopted in the US, UK, Australia and Hong Kong and how the various models of VRI adopted have impacted on their administration of criminal justice,” the statement said. “The inter-agency workgroup found that while Singapore’s existing criminal investigation processes are robust, the implementation of VRI in Singapore will further strengthen confidence in the integrity of our criminal justice system and assist the Courts to try cases more effectively.”

It added that the implementation of VRI will provide the Courts with a video recording of the interview.

“This will allow the Courts to take the interviewee’s demeanour into account in determining the admissibility or weight to be accorded to the interviewee’s statement. It will also provide an objective contemporaneous account of the interview process and allow the Courts to decide on allegations that may be made about the interview.”

The pilot will involve a limited set of offences and allow for an assessment of the impact on investigations, its effectiveness in different situations, and the resources required before a decision is made on a broader implementation of VRI.

“It is envisaged that the pilot will be conducted under the existing legal framework,” the statement said.

Sylvia Lim
Sylvia Lim

The move is a reversal of the government’s position in the past when it rejected calls to introduce VRI, particularly in 2008 when the call was made by then Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Sylvia Lim.

Ms Lim, who is currently the MP for Aljunied GRC and had served in the police force previously, had said that the practice in Australian states, the UK and several states in the US have proved to be good for both the prosecution as well as the defence.

“For the prosecution, it protects police officers from groundless accusations that they mistreated the suspect or did not accurately record what the suspect said,” Ms Lim explained in Parliament then.

“Video recording in other countries was found to have saved lots of Police and court time as more accused persons decided to plead guilty after watching the video recordings,” she said. “For the defence, video recording helped to ensure that there was no mistreatment of the accused during the statement recording and that the record accurately reflected what the accused said.  The technology for video recording is now relatively accessible and inexpensive. If adopted, this practice will encourage all to maintain high standards in law enforcement.”

However, Ms Lim’s suggestion was shot down by the then Senior Minister of State (Law), Ho Peng Kee.

Mr Ho said that the introduction of the VRI in other countries was because of the “loss of public confidence in the police” there.

Ho Peng Kee
Ho Peng Kee

“So the crux of the matter lies in whether Singaporeans have trust and confidence in our legal system and our Police Force. On both counts, this is the case,” Mr Ho said. “Our criminal justice system is reputed for its clean administration, impartiality and efficiency, and the public has trust and confidence in our Police Force.”

Mr Ho also said that the onus was on the suspect to tell the truth.

“Ultimately, the bottom-line is for the suspect to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’,” Mr Ho said. “He should do so even without any videotaping.”

Ms Lim, in her reply, pressed home the point that sometimes accused persons are convicted based on their confessions alone and this was one reason why VRI would be important.

Ms Lim said:

“A lot of weight is given to the statement and, hence, I do not quite understand why the Ministry is not willing to consider video recording because it would at least be an accurate record of what happened during the statement-taking process, whether the contents came from the accused’s mouth or were paraphrases, for example, by the investigating officer because he felt it was more appropriate. Because certain nuances in the language can be very important, can be given much weight during the trial itself. So, I do not quite understand why the Ministry is resistant to this idea.”

Prof Ho stood his grounds and said there was already “an established process” whereby the validity of a statement by the accused can be verified or be thrown out by the Courts.