Have blind faith

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ST Feb 28, 2008
Record interviews? People trust police

VIDEO or audio recordings of police interviews with suspects are not done here because there is a high degree of public confidence in the police force and its actions.

Senior Minister of State (Law and Home Affairs) Ho Peng Kee explained yesterday that there is also an established process for an accused person to challenge statements attributed to him.

This process is known as a 'trial within a trial', where a confession can be verified or thrown out by the courts - and there have been cases when this has happened.

Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim called for Singapore to follow the practice of the United Kingdom and Australia and implement video recording to safeguard individual rights.

In response, Associate Professor Ho said the reason other countries introduced the practice was a 'loss of confidence in the police and a public outcry to get the police to show what they were doing' and that 'in Singapore, this is not the case'.

He also said that when it came to serious cases such as murder, the prosecution was unlikely to proceed on the basis of a confession statement alone. This is because of the advent of forensic science and the ability to cull evidence from different sources.

He also turned down a suggestion by Mr Michael Palmer (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) that the Legal Aid Bureau introduces different means testing criteria for different types of cases.

Mr Palmer made the call because of what he saw as the gap between those who could afford Legal Aid and those who could not.

Prof Ho said means testing had been reviewed several times - the most recent in July last year when the income ceiling for an applicant with two children to qualify for legal aid was increased to $2,600 a month from $1,900 previously.

And where an applicant is ill and unable to work, the Director of Legal Aid can exercise discretion and consider income for the last six months instead for the whole year.

One obvious concern Mr Ho has failed to address is the possibility of the police creating false claims that an accused confessed or made certain incriminating remarks. All Mr Ho has said to address fears is this: You should have faith in your police. Why? Because we're Singapore.

No doubt, we should all trust our police officers to be man and women of integrity. But needless to say, such a concern cannot be fully addressed with such a radical faith. It remains a fact that the possibility still exists where a police officer might abuse the system. Given this possibility, such a safeguard is necessary to protect our fundamental freedoms.

That said, it is also important to at least show the police's willingness to implement safeguards to maintain their credibility. Surely there is no harm in portraying the police force as a professional one, thereby maintaining the people's confidence and support for the police.

Mr Ho's failure to address these two concerns is worrying. More worrying is the fact that he simply shoves aside this issue without even explaining how such a simple measure could possibly hinder the legal process. It seems to be that the implementation of this safeguard not only ensures credibility, but is also an easy process. How much could a voice recorder possibly cost?

The message Mr Ho has sent with his utter disregard for the notion of a fair trial is this: You don't need to question us cos we're smarter and much better than everyone else. You can trust us no matter what. No worries, for we're incorruptible Singapore.

Yes we gave them our trust,

And Mas Selamat managed to do a prison break.