You have the right to remain silent … Or do you?

“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 provided for you …”

Singaporeans familiar with films or television drama series originating from the United States are bound to have come across scenes in which a police officer reads the suspect their “Miranda rights” and the “Miranda warning” during arrest.

The “Miranda rights” and the “Miranda warning” were enacted by the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court via its decision in Miranda v Arizona. Under the U.S. Fifth Amendment, a criminal suspect has the right to avoid self-incrimination during police interrogation.

However, what Singaporeans might not necessarily know is that such a right to remain silent during police interrogation may not easily be invoked here, and may in fact be detrimental to a suspect when applied, said Singaporean human rights lawyer M Ravi.

In a video titled “The Erosion of Rights in Singapore” published on Wed (24 Jul) on his RAVIsion YouTube channel, M Ravi recounted a conversation he had with a friend of his, who told him that that he will exercise his right to silence during police questioning until he sees a lawyer and obtains legal advice.

“His jaw dropped to the floor when I told him that the right of silence was abolished by the government in 1976,” said M Ravi, adding that “if he did not answer the questions [posed] by the police, his silence will be adversely interpreted against him in a court of law”.

“Your immediate access to a lawyer upon arrest has also been curtailed in favour of granting the police priority in its investigation,” he stressed.

While the Singapore Constitution guarantees citizens access to counsel, the courts have “repeatedly decided that this access to counsel can be given within a ‘reasonable’ time period to be determined by the police”, noted M Ravi.

Back in 2014,  the court upheld a 20 year-old Court of Appeal decision that allows for accused persons to be denied access to a lawyer for up to two weeks or more after their arrest and detention.

In his judgement for a case that M Ravi was representing, Justice Choo considered the issue of what amounts to a “reasonable time” between an individual’s arrest and his freedom to contact a lawyer.

Referencing a 1973 High Court decision, Justice Choo observed that it is arguable that the Court’s reference to “reasonable time” did “not mean that the police ought to be afforded a ‘reasonable time’ for investigations, as the Court of Appeal in Jasbir Singh thought… but rather intended no more than to acknowledge that, while an arrested person should be entitled to consult counsel immediately after arrest, there has to be a ‘reasonable time’ for any necessary or unavoidable delay occasioned by practical or administrative concerns, eg, having to transport the arrested person to the place of remand or having to contact the counsel of the arrested person’s choice.”

“In other words, the police can detain you for an extended period without you being advised by a lawyer as long as it is deemed a reasonable period, although the police may have to explain their reasons in court if asked to do so,” he warned.

M Ravi highlighted that should someone undergoing police investigations signs a statement to the police, the police is not required by law to provide them with a copy of said statement.

However, citing the example of social worker and civil rights activist Jolovan Wham’s case, he added that someone who refuses to sign the statement for the above reason, they could be charged for not signing the statement.

Right to silence a “constitutional” one: M Ravi

M Ravi also argued that the removal of the right of silence during police interrogations is a reflection of the “erosion of rights in Singapore” referred to in the title of his video.

“Do you know [that] when we were ruled by the British, we had greater protection of our rights compared to now? … In Singapore in the last 50 years, we have seen certain rights either being abolished or curtailed to the point we no longer know what exactly those rights are, even if they still exist,” he said.

Singapore’s criminal justice system, he said, is “very much based on a crime control model as opposed to the due process fair model” where “the repression of crime and removing of legal technicalities that ‘handcuff’ the police” are prioritised over “the fundamental due process of law and giving effect to our constitutional rights”.

While facilitating the efforts of authorities in combating crime is important, he questioned if the curtailment of constitutional and basic rights of individuals is justified in light of such repression.

Restoring the right to silence during police interrogations in Singapore, is “in fact, a crucial part of the legal process, and it is a constitutional right to protect us from incriminating ourselves during police interrogation or interviews”, M Ravi further argued.

“Few Singaporeans are even aware that they have this right or how to make use of this right. This is especially important, as you can be convicted on your statement alone. I repeat, you can be convicted on your confession alone,” he warned.

 

* Article first appeared on The Online Citizen.

 

 

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9 Responses to “You have the right to remain silent … Or do you?”

  • Harder Truths:

    Welcome to Communist Island – the $G reality show running for 55 years.

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  • Cecil Chua:

    This video explains why the right to silence is important:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2F08An28lE

    The right to silence BTW isn’t just American. It is enshrined in British common law. Basically, civilized places have such laws.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNJOaB9tCfY

    The right to silence is very important to protect innocent people.
    (1) It is not possible to prove innocence. It is only possible to prove guilt. Thus, nothing you say can ever help you. It can only harm you. Notice the Miranda wording, “ANYTHING you say can and WILL be used…” The reason it is not possible to prove innocence is because if you are not guilty of one crime, you might be guilty of another.
    (2) You could say something accidentally that implicates you or say something that is misconstrued that implicates you. You then get charged for a crime. Even if you are innocent, why go through the hassle of an arrest? I couldn’t have committed the murder. I left my house at time X, and was at location Y at time Z. Person A saw me at time Z. The police then say, “In order for this to occur, you must have been traveling at speed B. That is speeding and you have broken the law.”
    (3) You can be charged for lying, even if you make an honest mistake or tell the truth. What can happen is you say something like, “I was out of town on the day.” Someone else says (mistakenly) they saw you in town on the day. You get arrested and charged based on that person’s testimony. They were mistaken, but no one can contradict them other than you and of course, the judge doesn’t believe you. If you remain silent, you avoid the arrest- being in town is not a crime and nothing else the police have ties you to the crime.

    Cecil Chua

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  • Spineless Sinkie Syndrome:

    Just say you lost your voice lah, then *cough cough* and keep up the act of rasping and making your voice as unintelligible as possible when responding to duplicitous questioning.

    If they ask you to sign anything, don’t if you don’t understand what you are signing. Just write back on the same document (since you cannot speak intelligibly) that you do not understand legal terms and need independent advice before signing anything. Simple tactic to defeat oppressive interrogations.

    If they “force” you to sign any document, draw a picture where you are supposed to sign or write or sign it with letters as N.A.

    Of course, if you happen to be in a polise state, this will aggravate them and potentially make your stay with them longer than necessary. Its a risk only you can weigh, based on your situation then, on whether to play for as along as possible or give up your legal rights.

    - If you find yourself being interrogated in North Korea, you better cooperate, it doesn’t matter what you do, say or write since everyone outside of their system will know you were under duress and forced to admit to anything.

    - If you are in Singapore context, you can play the rasping game just to delay until you get access to proper legal advice, if you think anything you say could severely disadvantage you later in court proceedings.

    - If you are in the US, then of course, you definitely can shut up until you get access to legal advice.

    Even if you are “forced” to write any statement, put it in as ambiguous a format as possible with full of loopholes and escape clauses, and lots of re-framing of the question.
    E.g.) Qn: Do you know this person who was at the crime scene on DD/MM/YY?
    Ans: This person was at the crime scene? I can’t remember now what I ate for breakfast on DD/MM/YY. Maybe this person does look and seems familiar to some film star in a movie I watched before?

    As to why you lost your voice suddenly, just make up some reason no doctor can actually verify e.g.) having migraine at that time / forgot to take your usual medication / allergic reaction that causes voice box to lose voice etc.

    Fact of medical science: Migraines, Allergic reactions are difficult to trace to a definitive source and can happen anytime, suddenly disappear and reappear, and may or may not repeat.

    So there you have it… if you can’t have human rights, then at least learn some medical science so you still can exercise some “wayang” skills.

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  • LOYALTY IS GONE:

    Stupid Sinkies brought all the pains upon themselves.

    It must be clear by now that old school taught / parents taught virtue of “LOYALTY” is rubbish, meant nothing, gain nothing.

    Giving 1 millions a day, One day, One Million Dollars, to foreign students to displace your children future.

    Cutting & Limiting numbers of own U-Grads “by GRADES” while proclaiming the needs to attract more international Talents. WTF failed policy is that.

    If meritocracy is not limited to within, then what Race are we? we better think how to vote for change to safeguard and protect our children future.

    Mr Ravi, please come out with more education video on Self Protection during coming election, election safeguarding, assembly of 1, in time of disorderly assembly, etc…. thanks.

    your subscriber.

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  • 5 yr old even knows:

    LOYALTY IS GONE:
    Stupid Sinkies brought all the pains upon themselves.

    It must be clear by now that old school taught / parents taught virtue of “LOYALTY” is rubbish, meant nothing, gain nothing.

    Giving 1 millions a day, One day, One Million Dollars, to foreign students to displace your children future.

    Cutting & Limiting numbers of own U-Grads “by GRADES” while proclaiming the needs to attract more international Talents. WTF failed policy is that.

    If meritocracy is not limited to within, then what Race are we? we better think how to vote for change to safeguard and protect our children future.

    Mr Ravi, please come out with more education video on Self Protection during coming election, election safeguarding, assembly of 1, in time of disorderly assembly, etc…. thanks.

    your subscriber.

    Dumb sinkies and their future generation are surely daft..

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  • Pedo Pell:

    But the 70% insist.

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  • 7th moon:

    Our constitutional right to ‘remain silent’ can be revived if only we VTO! Otherwise it’s simply an exercise in law academia.

    Perhaps such rights should be restored to political arrest cases, like the Marxist case. As for criminal cases like the killing at Orchard Tower, the earlier we enact the charge the better.

    You can see the difference in harm right away. So the right to remain silent for Orchard Tower killing maybe flaw.

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  • TruBlu:

    WE ARE NO MORE republic OF singapore,we have become a gra$$land with gra$$rooter$ behaving like and being treated like PRINCELING$???

    EVEN our CIVIL SERVANTS KOW-TOW to them during their cause of duty?!!!

    look around and you know what i mean.

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  • Out the Pariah:

    Why such horrible sub-human who torture women as they wish could work in the justice department?

    Not logical at all, guess the locals are not so bright

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