Justin Lee death: Expanding age range of Appropriate Adult scheme may delay police interviews – Faishal

·Assistant News Editor
·4 min read
SCREENGRAB: Gov.sg YouTube channel
SCREENGRAB: Gov.sg YouTube channel

SINGAPORE — Expanding the age range of the Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects (AAYS) may result in delays in police interviews and inadvertently place more strain on individuals being investigated, said Minister of State (MOS) for Home Affairs Faishal Ibrahim in Parliament on Tuesday (2 November). 

Under the scheme, suspects aged below 16 must be accompanied by an Appropriate Adult (AA) or trained adult volunteer for police interviews. And while the scheme is currently being reviewed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Associate Professor Faishal said that expanding the scheme is not a straightforward matter. 

"We will need more volunteers to support the expansion to cover more young suspects. We also need to provide face to face training to ensure that the volunteers are well equipped to perform their roles," said Prof Faishal, who pointed out the current constraints on conducting such training due to safe distancing measures.

The MOS revealed that there are currently 331 volunteers for the AAYS, and 320 volunteers for the Appropriate Adult Scheme for Persons with Mental Disabilities (AAPMD), which covers suspects with intellectual disabilities. 

He estimated that if the AAYS were to expand in order to cover suspects aged 16 and 17, the pool of volunteers would have to double. "If this age limit is further increased to 21, this would be even more significant."

Prof Faishal added, "Without a sufficient pool of appropriate adults, interviews will be delayed until an appropriate adult is available. This could add more strain on the person who is being investigated."

Death of Justin Lee

Prof Faishal was responding to a supplementary question from Aljunied Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim, after responding to parliamentary queries on the death of 17-year-old Justin Lee. Justin, who was one of Lim's constituents, died in September following a fall from height after he was charged over suspected drug offences. 

The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), which gave a detailed account of the events leading up his arrest and detention, maintains that he was “treated professionally and fairly” during investigations. This came after Justin's mother Cecilia Ow made several allegations online about her son's encounter in a four-page letter sent to Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam.

Prof Faishal told the House that during his first interview, Justin had informed the investigation officer (IO) that he had previously been diagnosed with depression. "Justin answered questions without any signs of distress, and did not appear to be in need of any assistance. Justin was composed and coherent, able to logically articulate the flow of events, including sharing about his research on drugs and his trafficking modus operandi," 

Lim had pointed out that in 2019, with regard to the definition of a child, the Children and Young Persons Act was amended to extend the cutoff age to 18. She asked if MHA would commit to extending the AAYS to those aged 18 and below. Prof Faishal noted that the results of the AAYS review would be released in a few months. 

The AAYS was introduced in 2017 following the death of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim from suicide a year earlier while he was under police investigations for molest.

Up to CNB's discretion

Choa Chu Kang MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim also asked about CNB’s protocols when conducting drug-related investigations involving young persons with a history of medical or mental health conditions. 

In response, Prof Faishal said that if it is made known to the officers that a person under investigation has medical or mental health conditions and requires special attention, prior to bringing the person in to assist in investigations, CNB officers would contact the parents or school first, if operationally feasible. 

"Under these circumstances, they will activate an Appropriate Adult to be present during the interview," added the MOS. Furthermore, if the person displays any medical or special needs during the interview, officers would pause the investigation and activate support measures, such as activating an Appropriate Adult or sending the person to the Institute of Mental Health for assessment. 

CNB would also obtain medical reports to assess if the person is mentally fit for prosecution. If the person is observed to be capable of being interviewed, officers would carry on with the interview.

"The point is that they will use their discretion, based on their observations," said Prof Faishal. 

Stressing that Justin's demise took place some eight months after he had been arrested and released, the MOS said that one could only engage in conjecture as to what had occurred in that period.

"What else happened? I think it is difficult to say," he said.  

If you are feeling distressed, you can call SOS' 24-hour hotline at 1767 (1-SOS). You can also email pat@sos.org.sg.

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