Today, Minister Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs, defended the actions of the Singapore Police Force in the Benjamin Lim case. He said that there is no evidence so far to suggest that Benjamin Lim’s suicide as a result of anything the police did. Specifically, Minister Shanmugam said: “There is nothing so far to suggest that Benjamin was mistreated by the Police.”
Minister Shanmugam also criticised the website “The Online Citizen” for embarking on a “planned, orchestrated campaign, using falsehoods.” Specifically, Minister Shanmugam strongly denied the insinuation that Benjamin was intimidated into admitting to molesting the girl.
It may well be that the police didn’t intimidate Benjamin. Or it could be that Benjamin only “admitted” to the crime out of teenage angst with the statement “You say I’m guilty, I’m guilty then!” What exactly happened during the interrogation? What exactly did the police officer say? What were his exact words? What was his body language? Even if the police officer didn’t mean to intimidate the teenager, were his words or body language intimidating to the teenager? We will never truly know.
Could this have been avoided? Or at least could we have been less uncertain? Definitely. If the interrogation had been recorded on video, then we would know exactly what the officer said to the teenager, how he said it, his tone of voice, his body language. We would also know how the teenager responded. Then we would beyond any doubt that the police did nothing wrong. And this is why I think the SPF is also a victim in this unfortunate situation.
Again, I want to quote Lord Chief Justice Hewart: “it is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”. Now that we have the technology to be “manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to” ensure that justice is done, what’s stopping us from doing so?
Of course, it is possible that there are good reasons why we shouldn’t do it. If that is the case, then it should be openly discussed and debated in Parliament. The Minister would have to openly defend any reasons for not recording on video interrogations, clearly explaining why doing so would compromise the ability of our law enforcement agencies in discharging their duties.
It would therefore be interesting to see how the pilot of video recording of interviews (VRI) pan out. As it stands currently, I believe that the benefits of video recording of interviews by the police far outweigh the costs. If we had had implemented VRI before Benjamin was interrogated, then we would be able to know beyond any doubt that the police’s action didn’t directly cause Benjamin to commit suicide.
But… we don’t have such a system in place. And with the media attention and sensationalisation on the internet, there are doubts about what the police did or did not do. So unfortunately, the SPF has become another victim in this incident.
[Featured image: CNA file photo of Minister Shanmugam in Parliament]