Young suspect to be accompanied by Appropriate Adults under new scheme

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has announced that young suspect below 16 years old interviewed will be accompanied by an independent volunteer starting from April 2017 under a new Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects (AAYS).

This come after a review by the Education Ministry, Ministry of Social and Family Development, and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), lead by the Ministry of Home Affairs in the wake of Benjamin Lim’s case.
Lim was a 14-year-old secondary-three student from North View Secondary who committed suicide by jumping off from his unit at fourteen storey on 29 January. On that day itself, he was interviewed by the police alone without any adult supervision for his alleged involvement in a case of outrage of modesty.

As a follow up to the public outcry over the incident, the Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam spoke on the matter in a Parliamentary session. While the minister defended the police action on the interview of the secondary-three student but he called for a review of the protocols.

MHA said that the review concluded that existing processes are generally sound, adding that some adjustments will be made to improve coordination between agencies.

The new scheme will be expanded upon the existing AA scheme which was initially introduced in 2015 to provide assistance to persons with intellectual or mental disability (PWIDs) who are required to give a statement to the Police during investigation.

The National Council of Social Service is in the process of selecting and appointing a suitable service provider to administer the scheme.

The volunteer, also called the Appropriate Adults (AAs), should look out for signs of distress, aid communication between the young suspect under the age of 16 and the police when necessary, as well as provide emotional support. The AAs must also remain neutral and not advocate for the young suspect, nor provide legal advice or disrupt the course of justice in any way.

The MHA said that the scheme will be launched in phases, and expands on the existing Appropriate Adult Scheme for suspects with mental disabilities. It will be implemented fully by mid-2019.

Mr K Shanmugam said at the press conference detailing the outcome of a review of the handling of young suspects under criminal investigation, “You have to balance between having to interview quickly in order to make sure there’s no information leakage and the need to consider whether it’s helpful for a 12- or 13-year-old to have someone else present at a police station. The conclusion is yes.”

An implementation committee led by AGC will introduce the AAYS and include multiple government agencies and representatives from the Law Society of Singapore and the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore.

The AAYS will be co-funded by the Tote Board and a social service organisation will be appointed by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) to recruit volunteers, facilitate training, and manage and activate the Appropriate Adults for interviews of suspects by the police and Central Narcotics Bureau..

MHA also noted that the processes in place allow officers to act swiftly after a crime has been reported, which must include conducting enquiries in schools and arresting young people when necessary.

MHA said, “However, the processes also allow officers to act in a sensitive manner… where possible, the police try to avoid criminalising the conduct (and) adopt an expedited process for young suspects.”

On the scheme, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said: “If you ask me whether this will prevent suicides, I’m not so sure I can answer that. But it’s a good thing to do – to give comfort to a young person when being questioned by police. Having someone there will be helpful.”

“But to ask if it can prevent suicide, I wouldn’t know. In fact, if you look at the factors in the Benjamin Lim case, the coroner went out of the way to point out that the police acted sensitively. So it’s really down to the individual,” he added.