Published: 08 November 2022
Mr Leon Perera: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs for each of the past five years, what is the mean and median time that has elapsed between a person being arrested for a capital offence and being given access to counsel.
Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law:
1. The Home Team does not track data relating to the time between a person’s arrest and when he/she is given access to counsel.
2. The Constitution ensures that accused persons have right of access to counsel. The Courts have upheld that this access to counsel must be granted after a ‘reasonable time’. What constitutes ‘reasonable’ depends on the individual facts of each case, balancing the accused’s right to legal representation, and the public interest in ensuring thorough and objective investigations. We have to give our law enforcement agencies reasonable time to obtain evidence and get to the truth.
3. At the same time, we have put in place measures to safeguard the interests of accused persons.
4. We have implemented video recording of interviews (VRI) for certain categories of crime, to strengthen the robustness of investigations and statement taking. VRI provides an objective account of the interview, and allows the courts to factor in the interviewee’s demeanour when determining the weight to be accorded to the interviewee’s statement.
5. We have also set up the Public Defender’s Office, to render criminal legal aid to eligible persons charged with non-capital criminal offences but are unable to afford legal representation. This complements the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme run by the Law Society, and the Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences run by the Supreme Court.
6. Ultimately, our criminal justice system is designed to enable us to get to the truth, in the interests of society. Arrested persons should tell the truth in their statements, regardless of whether they have had access to counsel, and we expect that their counsel will advise them to tell the truth. Likewise, the law enforcement agencies will fairly and objectively investigate the case, including exculpating the arrested persons if the investigations do not bear out the grounds of arrest.