New panel to review cases against Home Team officers

An independent review panel will be set up by the year end to assess the findings of internal investigations carried out on Home Team officers accused of serious misconduct, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said last Thursday.

It will review whether the allegations are substantiated and ensure the investigation is thorough and done fairly, said Mr Teo, who is also the Home Affairs Minister.

The panel, which will include prominent community leaders as well as senior lawyers and former veteran police officers, will report directly to the minister.

Mr Teo said the move will strengthen the existing systems of investigating alleged wrongdoing or misconduct by the officers. Experts interviewed agree with him, saying it will ensure greater impartiality.

Said MP Edwin Tong, a lawyer who is also deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law: "It is a reflection of the Home Affairs Ministry, driven by the fact that they want to inject a greater sense of impartiality."

Retired detective Lionel De Souza believes that it will ensure "proper checks and balances and avoid any miscarriage of justice". Added a former senior investigator with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID): "If you are investigating your own officers, there is a chance you may show leniency or favouritism.

"The panel, however, would form their views outside of police influence, and that's better."

Mr Tong, a Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP, agrees with the suggestion that the decision to form the panel could be prompted by the perceived erosion of public confidence in the Home Team, following the conviction of senior officers in recent years and the Little India riot.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it has got to do with that," he told The Straits Times.

Nominated MP Eugene Tan said as much during the debate on the ministry's budget.

He pointed to two recent events that had conspired to undermine the image and standing of the Home Team.

One is the seemingly inadequate response of the police to the Little India riot.

The other is the lack of coordination among Home Team agencies that led to a security breach at Woodlands Checkpoint.

Malaysian teacher Nurul Rohana Ishak, 27, slipped past the checkpoint in January by tailgating a car.

She is charged with criminal trespass, among others.

Mr Teo, in describing the scope of the panel's work, said the cases it would review include those that have resulted in death or serious injury as well as those that obstruct or pervert the course of justice.

It will also probe cases which are of public interest, he added.

"We will not tolerate wilful misconduct, abuse of power or a lack of integrity. This is not only fundamentally wrong at the individual level, but also tarnishes the Home Team's reputation," said Mr Teo.

In spite of recent lapses, Singapore has a strong record of safety and security, the minister noted.

Overall crime is at its lowest in 30 years, with 29,668 cases last year, down from 31,015 in 2012.

The ministry's own survey in 2012 found that more than 90 per cent of Singaporeans feel safe in their neighbourhood.

Also, Singapore was ranked second out of 99 countries in terms of order and security by US-based World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index 2014.

Japan topped the list.

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