Singapore

No need for 'knee-jerk reaction'

Should those under 16 be accompanied by adult during police interviews? Minister says:

Should the police allow an appropriate adult to be present when interviewing young persons?

Currently, only people with intellectual or mental disabilities are allowed an appropriate adult - such as a parent, guardian or social worker - to sit in during investigations.

This is known as the Appropriate Adult (AA) scheme, which is run by volunteers.

Since the death of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim, lawyers, MPs, as well as the public have called for the AA scheme to be extended to young persons under 16.

But Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam cautioned against rushing to conclusions based on the case of Benjamin, who was found dead at the foot of a block of flats after police questioned him over the alleged molestation of an 11-year-old girl.

Instead, the minister called for the House to allow the police to review its processes first.

Mr Shanmugam said: "This is not a situation where we should have knee-jerk reactions or come to hasty conclusions.

"Any of our children could have been in Benjamin's position. Any of our daughters could have been in the 11-year-old girl's position."

Ms Denise Phua, MP for Jalan Besar GRC, asked if the AA scheme could be expanded to be manned by trained staff, rather than volunteers.

Mr Shanmugam replied: "What you're really asking is whether we will pay for it. That is something that we will have to look at."

The police review is expected to start only after the Coroner's Inquiry into the case, he added.

SERIOUS CRIMES

It will study what happened in Benjamin's case and also consider the types of young persons picked up for a wide range of offences.

This includes serious crimes such as rioting and murder, said the minister.

In these cases, police will need to move quickly, arrest and investigate before others destroy the evidence.

He said: "Two weeks ago, we stopped a 15-year-old radicalised boy from Indonesia. Should we make distinctions based on the types of offences involved?"

The review will also take into account that police officers may not always follow protocol, he added.

Another suggestion was to consider video recording of interviews with all minors.

This has come up in previous Parliamentary sittings and a pilot programme for video recording of police interviews started this year.

Further announcements will be made when the Home Affairs Ministry has worked through the legal details, said Mr Shanmugam.

He said: "Ultimately, responsibility (for the protocol) is with me, as the minister.

"It is not with individual police officers, their responsibility is to act according to the protocol that is in place... Let's not attack the police officers who cannot defend themselves."

Two weeks ago, we stopped a 15-year-old radicalised boy from Indonesia. Should we make distinctions based on the types of offences involved?

- Mr K. Shanmugam

BY THE NUMBERS

7,196 The total number of young persons required to assist the police between 2011 and 2015. Out of these...

70% Were placed on guidance programmes or had no further action taken against them.

15% Were charged.

15% Are still under consideration.

88% The estimated number of youth offenders referred to guidance programmes since 2007.

1,350 The average number of student arrests in a year

600 Percentage of youths who completed their guidance programmes in 2009 and remained crime-free for at least three years.