Singapore Children's Society to run Appropriate Adult scheme

Singapore Children's Society to run Appropriate Adult scheme

The scheme will see trained volunteers accompanying suspects under 16 during police investigations.

SINGAPORE: The National Council of Social Service (NCSS) has appointed the Singapore Children's Society to run the Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects for two years. The social service organisation was selected after being evaluated on criteria such as volunteer management capability, expertise in service youth offenders and potential for long-term sustainability.

The scheme, which was first announced in January, will see trained volunteers or Appropriate Adults (AAs) accompanying suspects under 16 during police investigations. It was introduced in the wake of a review of police procedures, after a 14-year-old boy, Benjamin Lim, committed suicide after questioning for alleged molest.

A total of 143 volunteers have been trained for the role and volunteers will be mobilised from Apr 17.

The Singapore Children's Society will be responsible for organising a team to run the scheme, and putting in place an activation scheme for the investigation officers to request an AA.

Its director Ann Hui Peng shared that 16 Children's Society staff are also volunteers under the scheme, and it is hoped they can help with more complex cases, or step in for activation at odd hours.

Ms Ann added that based on the volunteers’ feedback and needs, more engagement sessions could be held to help them better perform their role. “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."

One of the volunteers, Mr Henry Wang, said that having such engagement sessions and more training to help spot signs of distress in youths will help AAs be more effective.

He said: “The volunteers come from all walks of life, from different backgrounds. Normally we think that as long as you are a reasonable person, then you should know how to respond appropriately in a normal circumstance. But the thing is that when the young person is being interviewed in that process, anything could happen.”

All volunteers have attended a one-day training session to understand their role as an AA in the context of Singapore’s criminal justice system, basic police procedures and how to interact with young suspects. They may 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.

Mr Sunil Sudheesan, president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers Singapore, said this ensures that all parties involved in the investigation are protected. The notes taken by the AA will be "independent record which eventually goes into the investigation papers", he said. "These investigation papers will be reviewed by the prosecutor handling the case. So if there's any (inappropriate behaviour) from either side, the prosecutor will know about it from quite early on.”

NCSS said 300 volunteers will be needed by 2018, when the scheme is expanded to other Police and Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) divisions. Currently, the AA scheme is expected to start at the Bedok Police Division, the Criminal Investigation Department and the investigation division of the CNB.

On top of the current confirmed pool, about 200 more individuals have expressed interest in the scheme and the Singapore Children's Society said it is planning to hold a training session in the middle of this year.

Source: CNA/ly