The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has announced that individuals below the age of 16 years will only be interviewed by the police accompanied by an independent volunteer starting from April 2017 under a new Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects (AAYS).
This initiative appears to be instituted in large part due to a review of current police interview practices in relation to minors sparked by the tragic case of teenager Benjamin Lim.
As readers will recall, Lim committed suicide after an apparently excessive interview with the police. In that case, the police were criticised for using undue force in the treatment of a minor. Unfavourable comparisons were drawn between alleged police inaction in the wake of the Little India riot and the extreme show of force to a single teenager who has displayed no violence.
While I am heartened that relatively swift action has been taken by the government to reduce the risks of future incidences, I wonder if more can be done to address how police resources are allocated. Is it really necessary to send more than 2 officers to interview a defenceless boy? Could the arrival of a contingent of policemen to his school have spooked Lim thus adding to his trauma? Sadly, we shall never know for sure. However, this is an avenue that ought to be considered adequately and not just swept under the carpet. Why were so many policemen required to interview Benjamin Lim? This has never been directly addressed.
However, this is an avenue that ought to be considered adequately and not just swept under the carpet. Why were so many policemen required to interview Benjamin Lim? This has never been directly addressed.
Secondly, will the presence of a third party volunteer at an interview really solve the problem? Surely, it would be more beneficial for a minor to have with him or her someone with whom he or she is familiar with to alleviate the trauma? A teenager may not understand that this volunteer will be there to safeguard his or her well-being. The volunteer may simply be perceived as someone who is "with the police" which can in fact add to his or her fear - one more strange face in an already daunting experience.
Would this volunteer position be better filled by a family member or a teacher? The presence of a familiar face will alleviate the stress that is being faced by the minor in question and could in fact reassure the minor so that he or she is comfortable enough to speak honestly.
Given that a police interview is in itself unnerving, will the presence of one more unrecognisable face help? While I understand that a family member may not be readily available and the police may be under time constraints, shouldn't the police have to at least demonstrate that all efforts have been made to reach a family member?
In the UK, the practice is that the police have to try and reach a minor's parent or guardian. On top of that, the police also have to ensure that an "appropriate adult" is present. Also, should the cut off age be 16? In line with international norms, shouldn't this be 18?
Especially in a country where you have to be 21 to watch an RA movie or to vote! If we are deemed too immature to watch an RA movie below 21 or to vote for a political representative, how can we be questioned as an adult at 16? Is that not a contradiction?