Sunday, 8 January 2017

Young suspects to be accompanied by adults during police interviews from April 2017: MHA

Volunteers to offer minors support in police interviews
Appropriate Adult Scheme for suspects aged below 16 to be launched in phases from April
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 7 Jan 2017

Young suspects aged below 16 who have to be interviewed by the police will get support from independent volunteers, in a new scheme following a review of criminal investigation procedures.

These volunteers, who will be present during the interviews, will look out for signs of distress in the suspects and provide them with emotional support.

But they must remain neutral and not provide legal advice or disrupt the course of justice in any way.



Their role comes under an Appropriate Adult (AA) Scheme for minors, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced yesterday.

Similar to an existing AA scheme for offenders with intellectual or mental disabilities, it will be launched in phases from April and be fully implemented by mid-2019.

The first phase, expected to cost around $400,000, will start with about 100 volunteers at the Bedok Division, Criminal Investigation Department of the police and the investigation division of the Central Narcotics Bureau.

The Ministry of Education (MOE), which took part in the review, said it will also introduce more measures to support students under investigation.

When a student is taken from school, these steps include getting a familiar staff member to accompany him or her in the police vehicle, said an MOE spokesman. The companion could be the student's teacher, year head or school counsellor.

Besides informing parents of the arrest as soon as possible, schools will keep in touch "to work out follow-up steps", such as monitoring the child's well-being and offering counselling support, said MOE.

While young suspects will mostly be interviewed in an AA's presence, in exceptional cases, the police may start interviews first, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam. For example, officers may need to speak to suspects quickly to assess if there are accomplices.

More than 7,000 young suspects were arrested by the police between 2011 and 2015 for offences including rioting. But only 15 per cent of such cases were prosecuted in court, said Mr Shanmugam.

MHA added that there is a need to uphold public interest in solving and preventing crime, while balancing the interests of young suspects.

This means "having to interview quickly in order to make sure there is no information leakage" and others involved are picked up, while considering the minor's needs, said Mr Shanmugam.

The inter-agency review of investigation processes for young suspects was announced last March following the suicide of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim, who fell to his death on Jan 26 last year, hours after he was taken from school and questioned by the police over a case of alleged molestation.

Led by MHA, the review saw other adjustments to improve coordination among agencies when a young person is involved.

This includes sharing information about the suspect between the police and schools for a better appreciation of his or her personal circumstances, said MHA.

MOE, the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) were also involved in the review.

A committee to implement the new AA scheme is led by the AGC and includes representatives from government agencies, the Law Society of Singapore and the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore.

Benjamin's father, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lim, called the new scheme "encouraging", but said it might be more reassuring for minors to see a familiar face, such as family members or school staff.

Additional reporting by Ng Hui Wen










Who is an Appropriate Adult?
The Straits Times, 7 Jan 2017

WHO IS AN APPROPRIATE ADULT FOR YOUNG SUSPECTS BELOW 16?

• A trained volunteer, supported by social workers

• A neutral party

• Present in police interviews to assist and provide emotional support

• If necessary, aids communication between suspect and investigation officer


TIMELINE OF APPROPRIATE ADULT SCHEME

January to March:

• Appointment of service provider

• Training of Appropriate Adults

April:

• Phased roll-out begins at Bedok Division (Police, Central Narcotics Bureau), Police's Criminal Investigation Department, CNB's Investigation Division


WHO CAN SIGN UP?

• Those 21 years old and above

• Have a passion to support youth

• E-mail: aays@ncss.gov.sg


WHAT IS DONE IN OTHER JURISDICTIONS?

• Britain and parts of Australia: An Appropriate Adult - a parent, guardian or social worker - must sit in when the police question minors under 18










Experts welcome volunteer support scheme for minors
Parents encouraged by move, but some say more should be done for young suspects
By Seow Bei Yi and Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 7 Jan 2017

Having an Appropriate Adult (AA) present during police interviews has proven to be "more comforting" for vulnerable suspects, said Mr Keh Eng Song, chief executive of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds), which runs an AA scheme for people with mental disabilities.

From April, a similar scheme for young suspects aged below 16 will be rolled out in phases, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced yesterday.

"A volunteer is there to make sure the suspect understands questions being posed by the investigation officer (IO) and, similarly, when the answer is given to the IO, the IO understands too," said Mr Keh.

When the statement is recorded, the volunteer will confirm that it is recorded accurately. "They are not supposed to counsel or say anything, but ensure that the suspect is saying the truth," said Mr Keh.

Besides him, other experts and parents also welcomed the new scheme for minors, though some say more can be done.

Under the new scheme, young suspects will be accompanied by trained, independent volunteers during interviews in criminal investigations. This was an outcome of a multi-agency review of young suspects under criminal investigation, after the death of Benjamin Lim, 14. On Jan 26 last year, he was found dead at the foot of the block where he lived, hours after being questioned by the police over an alleged molestation case.

Veteran lawyer Amolat Singh called the scheme a "step in the right direction". But there may be gaps in the handling of suspects that will need to be addressed, he said.

This includes whether to allow a minor to be alone in a police car with officers. "If such a gap exists, then the effectiveness of the AA will be reduced," he said.

"One way is to have the AA come along with them when they pick up a suspect," he added, although it may be challenging to coordinate this with police operations if officers are taking suspects to the crime scene before taking statements.

AAs in the Minds scheme have been involved outside the interview process, and have been present even at the incident scene, said Mr Keh, adding: "When the suspect needs to be brought down to the incident scene to re-enact certain things, the IOs may also bring the AA down."

Mr Alfred Tan, chief executive of the Singapore Children's Society, foresees a challenge in mobilising volunteers for the new scheme, which would require a large pool.

"How many volunteers will wake up in the middle of the night to attend to police cases?" he said.

He added that while it is suitable to involve volunteers in "straightforward cases" like petty crimes, more complex ones "may require someone more well trained to come on board", such as a counsellor.

While some parents said they are encouraged by the move, others noted that a familiar face might go a long way in giving reassurance.

Project manager Victor Foo, 44, said: "Ideally, it should be someone they are familiar with, such as a teacher or even school principal rather than a stranger."

But he remains concerned about school protocols. "(The authorities) should still wait for the parents to arrive at school, although it may be hard if they are working," said Mr Foo, who has three children aged between six and 10.

When contacted, Benjamin's father, who declined to give his full name, said having an AA present is beneficial not just to suspects, but also parents like himself. "If someone neutral came to tell me that the police were civil, stern, but did not raise their voice... it gives me more assurance that my son, in his last moments, was not in any way mistreated," said the 48-year-old.

However, he expressed concern that the police have the discretion in deciding if an AA should be called. "What if the police decide that it is not appropriate? The young suspect will still be there alone, like Benjamin was."

But he conceded that the scheme is not a foolproof solution to prevent youth suicides. "Nobody can guarantee what is going to happen next, not even the ones closest to a child."










Parliament: Teachers, counsellors to accompany students to police station
The person will be familiar to them and will ensure 'proper handover' at police station
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 11 Jan 2017

Students who are called to the police station for interviews while they are in school will be accompanied by a school officer familiar to them. These officers could be their teachers, the year head or a school counsellor.

Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng announced this in Parliament yesterday, as he updated the House on what the Ministry of Education (MOE) is doing to provide more support to students who are being investigated by the police.

Mr Ng said that the measures follow recommendations made by a multi-agency committee which had studied State Coroner Marvin Bay's suggestions to mitigate the risk for young suspects.



Coroner Bay had presided over the case of North View Secondary School student Benjamin Lim, who was found dead on Jan 26 last year, hours after being questioned at Ang Mo Kio Police Division for allegedly molesting an 11-year-old girl in a lift.

Benjamin was not accompanied by school officers to the police station, as it was not the practice then.

The Ministry of Home Affairs last week announced a new scheme that will allow Appropriate Adults, who are independent, trained volunteers, to accompany young suspects during police interviews.

Mr Ng said the school officer will make sure that there is a "proper handover" at the police station as far as possible.

But if no Appropriate Adult is present, the school officer would "have to make a judgment call to stay with the young person until such an adult shows up", he said.

Whether the school officer will remain at the police station throughout the whole period will also depend on the circumstances at the time, he added.

Besides these measures, the school will provide the police with relevant information on the student being investigated, which will help them better understand the personal circumstances of the student, said Mr Ng.

He also said the police will inform the student's parents of the arrest as soon as possible.

The measures will go into effect next month in all primary and secondary schools, as well as junior colleges.



Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh asked whether the school counsellor could be with the student throughout the police interview.

But Mr Ng said the school counsellor would be known to the student, and would not be considered a neutral party. Appropriate adults are required to remain neutral and not advocate for either side.





Protecting minors suspected of crime
Editorial, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2017


Most teenagers taken in for police questioning would likely feel afraid, whether or not they have done anything wrong. A new scheme to have adult volunteers accompany minors during police interviews should therefore reassure parents that the interests of their children are protected even as the law takes its course. It comes a year after a 14-year-old fell to his death hours after police questioning over an alleged molestation. Like those with intellectual or mental disabilities, persons under 16 deserve the protection of society when they face the power of the law. Other jurisdictions have similar Appropriate Adult schemes in place. In Britain and parts of Australia, a parent, guardian or social worker must sit in when the police question people under 18.

Singapore does not allow parents, teachers or anyone who knows the young person to be present at the interview as that might hinder the investigation process. Instead, young persons here will be accompanied by independent trained volunteers. What matters is that these volunteers are neutral and do not help either the young persons or the police. If a minor is taken to the police station from school, someone familiar to him, such as a teacher or a counsellor, will accompany him in the police car. The police are also to inform the minor's parents as soon as possible.

Figures released by the Home Affairs Ministry help shed light on the challenge of finding the right balance between public and private interests. The police arrested more than 7,000 young suspects between 2011 and 2015 for offences that include rioting. That group would include some who were innocent and others who were first-time offenders, but also repeat offenders involved in serious crimes. The police would want to question the last group without delay so as to track down accomplices, for instance. There is thus a need to uphold the public interest in solving and preventing crime, while balancing the interests of young suspects.

It is apt that the scheme being rolled out is the result of an inter-agency effort and that the National Council of Social Service is involved in its implementation. On its part, the Education Ministry has pledged to work out follow-up steps when such cases arise, and these would include monitoring the child's well-being and offering counselling support. That will be a source of help to parents who are shocked to learn that their child is suspected of a crime. The role of schools is crucial because they are, after all, the institution with which most parents would be most familiar. Still, at the heart of it all is the young person, whose resilience and willingness to face up to wrongdoing is perhaps the key factor in deciding the outcome in such cases. The sad truth is that if the young suspect is unable to accept what has happened, no scheme can save him.




Related
Parliament: Young people under police investigation -10 Jan 2017
Death of 14-year-old student: Police to review the way youth are questioned
Benjamin Lim case: What happened?

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