Why suspects need quick access to lawyers

In Uncategorized on 05/03/2016 at 12:56 pm

Writing in the society’s Singapore Law Gazette for February,the president of the Law Society questioned the manner of the Benjamin Lim’s arrest. He said, “early access to counsel is a necessity in ensuring sustainable confidence in our criminal justice system”.     b

This is something that M Ravi and Ms Teo Soh Lung (Remember them? One’s a bi-polar sufferer who is not allowed to practice law until he gets bette; the other  was detained under the ISA in the 80s and who is a retired lawyer.) have been going on for years: why an accused person should be entitled to legal counsel in a fairly short period of time from the time of arrest.

Ms Teo wrote this several yrs ago:

On 7 May 2014, the Court of Appeal in James Raj s/o Arokiasamy v PP delivered a very disappointing judgement. It ruled that an accused person is not entitled to counsel within 48 hours. It effectively ruled that it is perfectly in order for the police to deprive an accused person of a lawyer of his choice for 29 days. That is a very long time. Unless a person is deranged, confessions would have been obtained by the dozens and no lawyer will be able to assist his client in proving that those confessions were involuntarily given.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the decision in Jasbir Singh made in 1994. In Jasbir’s case it was decided that an accused person is entitled to counsel within a reasonable time. Two weeks was considered reasonable.

The right to legal counsel

Read (Watning very long) and one can understand the importance of access to legal counsel.

In a case in Iceland, where a group of suspects had no access to legal advice, innocent people pleaded guilty to murder.

The methods of the Icelandic police weren’t unique. They convinced themselves that a group of petty criminals on the fringes of society were a gang of hardened killers. But they didn’t find the evidence to back up their hunch, they were left with just the confessions that were extracted after months of solitude and mental torture.

But this isn’t just a tale of forced confessions or police brutality. It’s still not known why the people who found themselves in the cells could not decide if they did or didn’t commit the crimes. The effects still linger.

And remember this happened in a liberal, democtatic Nordic state, not a de-facto one party state, where so long as the police are following “protocol” nothing they do is wrong and web should not question their actions.  “My ministry has the responsibility to ensure that protocols are in place… If there are questions about the protocol, I will answer, as I am doing now… The responsibility is mine. Let’s not attack the police officers, who cannot defend themselves. They are doing their job, every day, in difficult circumstances.” says minister Shamugam.

Here’s another case

Ugandan schoolboy Tumusiime Henry was 15 when he was accused of murder the first time. While he waited almost two years for the trial to begin he was accused of a second murder. But then he met an American lawyer who slowly realised it was up to him to come to the rescue of an innocent teenager.




  1. In Japan, there was such a high conviction rate that there were concerns about the legal process. So it proved to be. A spate of convictions were now overturned because the suspects confessed under intense interrogation without access to counsel.

  2. I vaguely remember it was LKY’s idea not to have accused easy or early access to lawyers as that will impede expeditious police investigations i.e. interrogation, torture, prolonged high-stress tactics, etc. Particularly in dealing with gangs in the 60s and 70s, and later drug traffickers. Same line of thought as what led LKY to very early on abolishing the jury system. I know LKY often recounts Western justice system and anecdotes of powerful criminals getting away scot free or merely slap of wrist with ludicrous scorn. Of course in S’pore, just replace powerful criminals with powerful PAPies.

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