The longstanding debate in the legal community is whether such accused persons in Singapore should have a right to earlier access to their lawyers. Once again this debate has resurfaced, and this time it has made it to the mainstream media. Here's the ST report on it:
ST Oct 20, 2005This is a rather tricky issue for the lay public to understand. There are many layers to the situation. It is difficult even for law students. When Mr Wang was a law student, notwithstanding that he was regularly on the Dean's List for Academic Excellence, Mr Wang was so intimidated that when preparing for his 4th year Law of Evidence exam, he gave up on the topic completely and focused on other topics. Only when Mr Wang became a Deputy Public Prosecutor and started to see this aspect of the law operating in real life, did Mr Wang finally figure out how it really works.
Lawyers seek early access for
Law Society awaits minister's response to paper submitted
late last month
By K.C. Vijayan
SEVERAL lawyers have called for more to be done to allow arrested suspects early access to legal counsel.
They said they do not regard this week's government response - which indicated no change is imminent - as a step forward in expediting access to lawyers.
The Law Society submitted a paper to the Minister for Law late last month on the early access issue as well as early disclosure of statements or documents to be used for trial against the accused.
'We are waiting to hear if and how the discussion can move forward,' Law Society president Philip Jeyaretnam said yesterday.
On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng told Parliament that an accused person would have access to legal counsel when police were about to or had wrapped up investigations, but not during the arrest and throughout the interviews.
Mr Jeyaretnam said 'Singapore has become a striking exception internationally on this issue.
'There is absolutely no reason to think our lawyers are less trustworthy or our police less capable than anywhere else so as to justify Singapore's refusal of early access to counsel.'
A check by The Straits Times showed that in Britain, a suspect is allowed one phone call to contact a lawyer at the time of arrest.
The lawyer helps explain to the arrested person his or her legal position when police statements are taken.
Mr Jeyaretnam said early access to counsel would not impede police investigation.
'At the very least, early access should be the general rule, with the exception being made for certain categories of hard-core cases.
'The current practice leads to over-reliance by the police on confessions whose truth may be in doubt as they are taken from an accused before he has seen a lawyer.'
The issue of access also surfaced in the recent case of factory supervisor Leong Siew Chor who was charged with the murder of Chinese national Liu Hong Mei on June 18 but was allowed to see a lawyer only 21 days later.
Former Law Society president Peter Low stressed it was important for a lawyer to see an accused person as soon as possible because whatever statement is made to the police without the presence of a lawyer and not under oath can be used against him in court.
Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore president Subhas Anandan said yesterday that there is now increasing public awareness about the issue of access.
'The authorities should work towards a target to allow access at least within 48 hours, aligning this with the period within which the accused person has to be produced in court from the time of arrest.'
He urged that the practice be reviewed against the backdrop of what other countries with similar legal systems did.....
For the purposes of this blog, Mr Wang will have to oversimplify the issues and present them in a way that his lay readers can grasp. Hopefully, Mr Wang will still be able to accurately capture the essence of the issues. A simple factual scenario will be helpful to illustrate:
1. SingaporeClassics, a blogger, has been murdered.
2. The police suspect that Anthony did it. They arrest Anthony.
3. Either Anthony did it, or he did not do it.
4. If Anthony did not do it, he only needs to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as the truth is known to him. No one needs a lawyer to be able to tell the truth.
5. If Anthony did kill SingaporeClassics, Anthony can now do one of two things. He can admit to it, or he can lie and deny it.
6. If he admits to it, good for society. The bad guy is caught. Justice is served.
7. If he lies and denies it, well, the police will either believe it, or they won't, and investigations will continue as the police follow up on other clues.
Why do some people argue that accused persons should have early access to a lawyer? It goes back to Stage 5 above. The concern is always with accused persons who don't understand what's happening and don't have lawyers to advise them. They end up making self-incriminating statements to the police. In other words, they don't lie well and they end up giving themselves away.
Mr Wang's opinion is simply this. If a person really committed the crime and then, due to his lack of legal advice, he fails to lie well and ends up making self-incriminating statements, well, why should we be concerned? The point is that he really did it. He's really guilty. Aren't we glad that the truth came out?
Now, Mr Wang will wait patiently for Anthony to say something.