Court to hear lawyer's bid for access to teen client

Court to hear lawyer's bid for access to teen client

The State Court is due to hear an application today for one of the five teens accused of vandalising a Toa Payoh HDB block to be allowed access to his lawyer.

Defence counsel Choo Zheng Xi made the application when he could not get permission from the police to speak to his client last week. It is understood that he offered to meet the teen in the presence of the police so as not to affect investigations but this was also denied.

The suspect is one of five Singaporeans, all aged 17, who were charged last Saturday with vandalism. They are accused of spray- painting graffiti at the top of a 22-storey HDB block in Lorong 4 Toa Payoh. The expletives painted in red were seemingly directed at the ruling People's Action Party and the police.

The five - Boaz Koh Wen Jie, Chay Nam Shen, David William Graaskov, Goh Rong Liang and Reagan Tan Chang Zhi - are in remand at Tanglin Police Division.

They are being investigated in connection with other similar cases, the court had heard earlier.

Mr Choo, who declined to name his client, is also seeking a court gag order on his client's identity given that he is a minor.

His application comes in the wake of a High Court decision earlier this year which ruled that the onus is on police to explain why they are not ready to allow defence lawyers access to accused persons remanded for ongoing investigations.

Justice Choo Han Teck's judgment in the case of alleged hacker James Raj Arokiasamy suggested that the police would have to show how allowing a detained person access to counsel would hinder investigations.

Last week, the apex court ruled when the case came up on appeal that a 1994 precedent had made clear that an accused person has to be allowed access to counsel within a reasonable time.

Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan, however, argued then that a time limit cannot be imposed because "reasonable time" would vary from case to case and cannot be a fixed period.

For instance, a shoplifter taking a can of beer would not need the same amount of time for investigations as a serial burglar breaking into 20 homes or a white collar crime involving 250 victims and $3 million, he told the court.

Lawyers say the latest application could serve as a test case in regard to whether access to counsel for a suspect would affect investigations.

The suspect's age may also factor in the outcome.

The Public Prosecutor's view in relation to the police position is expected at today's hearing.

This article was published on May 14 in The Straits Times.

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