In 2017, the Government announced the Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects (AAYS) which allows young suspects under the age of 16 to be accompanied by independent volunteers, called the Appropriate Adults (AAs), during police interviews.
The scheme was launched in phases from April 2017, and is built on the existing Appropriate Adult Scheme for people with mental disabilities.
These AAs are trained to spot signs of distress, offer emotional support and help communication between the young person and the police, but will not advocate for the young individual, provide legal advice or disrupt the course of justice.
Mr K Shanmugam, who was then-Law and Home Affairs Minister, said in Parliament in 2018 that AAYS will be fully rolled out in mid-2019.
“During the pilot phase, from April 2017 to April 2018, Appropriate Adults were activated to provide emotional support to young suspects investigated by the Police and Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) at Bedok Division, by the Police’s Criminal Investigation Department, and by CNB’s Investigation Division,” he said in response to a question asked by PAP’s Rahayu Mahzam.
“He added, “Feedback from investigation officers and Appropriate Adults has been positive. Since April 2018, the scheme has been expanded to cover Police and CNB cases investigated at Clementi, Central, and Tanglin Divisions, as well as cases investigated by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and Singapore Customs.”
“With this expansion, the scheme is expected to support about half of all young suspects investigated by the Police and CNB. The full roll-out is expected to be completed in mid-2019.”
The scheme was implemented following public outcry over the suicide case of Benjamin Lim.
Benjamin 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 2017. 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.
During the initial stage of launching AAYS in April 2017, some teething problems surfaced. For instance, volunteers at times had to deal with long waits for interviews. The Straits Times reported that this issue has since been addressed.
Additionally, lawyers and social workers had also voiced concerns over the scheme.
Veteran criminal lawyer Amolat Singh highlighted that the AA could be activated before the interview is being conducted at the police station.
“There could be some shouting at the child in the car and he might already be shaken to the core. The key is to have the volunteer come in as early as possible,” he told in a report by TODAY.
If that’s not all, the president of Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, Sunil Sudheesan, pointed out that clear guidelines on the young individual who should be given access to an AA have to be laid out. “The key point is to make sure both sides are protected,” he said to TODAY.
Senior social worker from Fei Yue Community Services’ Iris Lin expressed that the youths should be properly explained on the role of the AA, or the scheme may “backfire”.
Not made into a law yet
Although there were many reporting on AAYS when it was first implemented in phases in 2017, news on this scheme has since died down. In fact, not much update has been given on the scheme in recent years.
Although Mr Shanmugam said in Parliament that the scheme will be fully rolled-out in mid-2019, but AAYS has still not made into a law yet.
Given the lack of publicity and awareness, it is unknown if the volunteers are aware that such a plan still exist and recruited for the programme. And whether children are routinely still being interviewed by the police without the accompaniment of an adult.
Despite promises made to parents who are concerned over their children being put under stressful conditions, little has been done to put the pilot scheme into legislation.