143 volunteers went through training on Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects

Singapore Children’s Society (SCS) has been appointed by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) to run the Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects for two years with 143 volunteers to begin as Appropriate Adults (AAs) to accompany suspects under 16 during police investigations.

This scheme, which was first introduced in January 2017, was introduced after a review into police procedures after the case of Benjamin Lim.

Lim was a 14-year-old Secondary Three student from North View Secondary who committed suicide by jumping off from his unit on the fourteenth storey on 29 January 2016. He was previously picked up by five police officers during lunchtime at his school.

On the same day, he was interviewed by the police alone without any adult supervision for his alleged involvement in a case of outrage of modesty. Lim was found dead below his block after his mother, Mdm Teng, picked him up from the Ang Mo Kio Police Station for the interview.

Lim was found dead below his block after his mother, Mdm Teng, picked him up from the Ang Mo Kio Police Station for the interview.

The scheme will be rolled out first at the police’s Bedok Division, the Criminal Investigation Department and CNB’s investigation division.

The volunteers have gone through one-day training session for the role for them to better understand their part as an AA in the context of Singapore’s criminal justice system, basic police procedures and how to interact with young suspects.

All the AAs may also intervene during the interview process to help rephrase questions so a child may understand what is being asked, or suggest a break when the child is showing signs of distress. Volunteers may also take notes during the interview.

Boundaries set on the scheme

Unless a child approves, the volunteers are advised not to touch the child while providing emotional support.

The volunteer and the child will also not remain in contact with the suspect or family members after the interview.

AAs must also declare if they are related to the suspect and those who are lawyers are not to represent the suspects in court to prevent conflict of interest.

Director of SCS, Ann Hui Peng, said that 16 Children’s Society staff are also volunteers under the scheme.

She said that the society hopes these volunteers are able to help with more complex cases or step in for activation at odd hours.

She also said that they are going to review processes and collect data every three months and that the quarterly review will likely go on for the first two years.

She also said that based on the volunteers’ feedback and needs, more engagement sessions could be held to help them better perform their role.

Ms Ann said, “Maybe for some of them, they feel that (they) need to know more about how the Investigation Officer (IO) does (his or her) work, so we could invite some of the IOs to come in and do a sharing session.”

SCS also plans to get feedback from investigation officers, volunteers and, eventually, the young suspects themselves, to fine-tune procedures.

She also said that SCS will train the volunteers regularly in their 12-month tenure, making sure that AAs who have handled cases are coping well, hold sharing sessions among volunteers, particularly for those who have been activated, and provide information cards to refresh the knowledge of trained volunteers.

AAs will be mobilised from 17 April.

NCSS noted that it will need 300 volunteers in 2018 when the scheme is expanded to other police and Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) divisions.