Some of the proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) make me wonder just how far this government will go to tilt the playing field in their own favour, even when it means compromising on the fundamental rights that people in many other developed countries enjoy. The CPC is the law which governs how the police should handle persons accused of crimes, among other things.
Clause 258 of the new CPC allows for statements from accused persons to be admitted as evidence in court even if the accused was not told that he was not obliged to make the statement, that the statements could be used against him, or if the recording officer did not fully comply with the rules governing the way statements are collected.
In the US, police officers are obliged to issue the Miranda warning when they arrest suspects and before they are interrogated. The Miranda warning will be familiar to many who watch a lot of American TV. It reads: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you…”
Clause 258 renders it completely unnecessary for our police to inform suspects of such rights. As far as the government is concerned, they only need to show that the statement from the accused was not made as the result of a threat, inducement or promise. However they have turned down proposals to videotape all interrogations, despite the ease of doing so with today’s digital technology.
It is amazing that the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) could baldly say that “there’s no incentive for police officers to practise deception”. How did they reach the conclusion that there wouldn’t be such an incentive, when everything is our system is skewed towards securing fast convictions? MinLaw’s argument is that we have “one of the most highly admired police forces in the world”! That is truly a non sequitur argument — it just doesn’t follow.
As for the right to a lawyer (an attorney), it is a right only in a very superficial sense, since the accused can be denied the right to see his lawyer for the duration of the investigation period, and after he has given all his potentially self-incriminating statements to the investigators. The revised CPC does not make it any easier for the accused to get assistance from a lawyer earlier. It makes it only marginally easier for the defence lawyer to obtain the statements his client gave to the investigators.
In Singapore, a defence lawyer is provided to destitute accused persons only in capital (death penalty) cases. In all other cases, accused persons have to rely on the charity of the Law Society.
I am all for strict punishment for criminals, especially those who commit violent acts against others. However a person is only a criminal after he has been sentenced for his crime by a judge. Not everyone who is accused of crimes is a criminal. Until he is sentenced in court, he should be given a fair chance to defend himself without having the rug pulled from under him.