betty July 5, 2022

SINGAPORE – A scheme under which a trained adult accompanies young suspects during law enforcement interviews will be expanded to cover suspects aged 16 and 17.

The Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects (AAYS) currently applies to suspects under the age of 16.

Minister of State for Home Affairs and Social and Family Development Sun Xueling said from April next year, the age threshold will be increased in phases, with the aim to complete the expansion by October next year.

She added that MHA is working on building up the trained adult volunteer pool.

“It is accepted that young suspects may require more support during interviews. Thus, as far as possible, police will interview young suspects in a police station, away from their school or place of employment,” said Ms Sun, who was responding to Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (Chua Chu Kang GRC).

She added that if interviews need to be done at the school or place of employment, the police will avoid drawing unnecessary attention or causing embarrassment to the young suspect by dressing in plain clothes and using unmarked vehicles, for example.

Ms Sun also said that volunteers undergo structured training, including a one-day session conducted by the Singapore Children’s Society. Their training is also supported by the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, the Law Society of Singapore and the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

On whether parents could volunteer to be an appropriate adult, she said: “The parents of suspects may have conflict of interest, or may be perceived to have a conflict of interest, so we will not allow parents of the suspects themselves to be the appropriate adult.”

She added that if parents want to volunteer to be appropriate adults for young suspects not related to them, this would be encouraged.

The scheme’s expansion comes after Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim in November last year said MHA was reviewing expanding the AAYS to cover those aged 16 and 17.

He estimated then that the current pool of 351 volunteers would have to be doubled to cover this group, and that training, which has to be conducted face to face, has been made difficult amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The review came after the death of Justin Lee, 17, on Sept 16 last year from a fall from height. He had earlier been arrested by Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers before being charged in court with drug trafficking.

He was not assigned an appropriate adult during questioning since he was 17 at the time. He also informed officers then that he had been diagnosed with depression.

A similar appropriate adult scheme provides support for the mentally vulnerable, such as those with mental disabilities or mental health issues. However, CNB said last October that Justin was observed not to show signs of distress during the interviews.