Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Private Member’s Motion on Singapore’s Justice System
Sir, I recognise that fairness, access and independence are indeed cornerstones of Singapore’s justice system.
With that in mind, I have several proposals that, I believe, will help strengthen our criminal justice system. Many of what I will share have been discussed previously, but I hope to share further points in details on some of these proposals.
Appropriate Adult Scheme
My first point is about the Appropriate Adult Scheme that I raised in my PQ that Minister addressed earlier. Can I appeal to Minister to re-consider and include foreign domestic workers for a start under this scheme and not all work permit holders?
The scheme allows an independent and trained adult to accompany vulnerable groups who have to give statements to the Police. It is meant to ensure that the vulnerable person is not misunderstood during the interview.
It makes sense to include FDWs in the scheme. After all, when we recently raised penalties for crimes against vulnerable people, we did specifically include FDWs as a class of vulnerable people.
I completely understand the tremendous workload of our police officers and so may I suggest that MHA works with the NGOs for this and it might help ease the workload a little. I would be glad to help facilitate this process.
Video recordings during police interviews
My second point is about video recordings and Minister has addressed this point significantly. Can MHA share the timeline of the full implementation of this video recording and hopefully that this can take place, sooner rather than later.
Language interpretation during police interviews
My third point is about language interpretation. Can we ensure that all suspects are provided an interpreter in their own language and not just in a language they understand? The key words here are “in their own language” which is used in the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) in some sections.
We need to enhance the CPC. The Code is vague. It states that people who do not understand English should be provided interpretation in a language they understand. It provides no clarity on what is the standard of “understanding” and who gets to determine it.
Sir, it is clear that we need to tighten the Code to ensure there is no misunderstanding during the course of a police interview.
I propose that we set high but reasonable standards for language interpretation during police interviews.
First, all police interviews start with the Investigation Officer (IO) informing suspects that they can request for an interpreter.
Second, the suspects should be provided an interpreter in their own language. They should get to declare what this language is and this should be officially recorded.
Third, the interpreter should have professional certification or relevant experience to ensure their services rendered are of suitable quality.
Fourth, new rules should be introduced to mandate that interpreters follow certain protocols. For one, they should stick strictly to interpretation and avoid providing any legal advice or personal inputs. Programmes could be set up to accredit interpreters who receive training in this regard.
Fifth, the police interview should not start unless the interpreter is in the room.
Sixth, the interpreter should arrive with minimal delay. Otherwise, a suspect may accept the absence of an interpreter to avoid being detained for an unduly long period of time.
Seventh, the interpreter should not only translate the final statement, but also interpret what the police officers and the suspect say.
Some of these points were addressed by Minister Shanmugam earlier and I’m glad he has stated that some changes will be made but I hope that all the points I raised above will be considered.
Sir, I recognise that there may be operational and cost considerations to having interpreters quickly and universally available.
But, we cannot have a situation where police questions can be misunderstood, and we cannot allow suspects the opportunity to later claim that they had misunderstood questions.
In the grand scheme of things, the cost of interpretation is a small price to pay for the procurement of justice.
Sir, in conclusion, I propose three things:
One, the introduction of the Appropriate Adult Scheme for foreign domestic workers.
Two, the mandatory video recording of all police interviews.
Three, the mandatory provision of language interpretation during police interviews, with high standards set to ensure professional quality, prompt availability and no misunderstanding.
Time and again, we have seen cases turn on the uncertainty of what happens in the interview room. When this occurs, it does a disservice to suspects, police officers, prosecutors, judges and all Singaporeans.
My proposals will help alleviate these problems.
Watch the speech here.