What is the Appropriate Adult Scheme in Singapore?

Last updated on August 21, 2023

police woman investigating a teen boy with an adult present

Tom, a 15-year-old with a diagnosed intellectual disability, has limited cognitive abilities and struggles with understanding complex information and making informed decisions. He becomes a suspect in a theft case and is arrested by the police. During the investigation process, he is unable to understand the questions posed to him by the investigation officer due to his vulnerability and he panics.

In Singapore, there is a scheme called the Appropriate Adult Scheme that is intended to support individuals like Tom. Given his vulnerability and the potential challenges he may face during the legal process, the Appropriate Adult Scheme would come into play to ensure his rights and well-being are protected during the process of investigations.

This article will cover the following topics related to the Appropriate Adult Scheme:

What is the Appropriate Adult Scheme?

The Appropriate Adult Scheme is a system designed to safeguard the rights and welfare of individuals that may require additional help during police investigations. It allows an independent, trained volunteer (i.e., an Appropriate Adult) aged 21 and above to be present with young or vulnerable persons during interviews with agencies such as the police and Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB). 

Types of Appropriate Adult Schemes and Who are They for?

There are two types of Appropriate Adult Schemes.

1) Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects (AAYS)

The first is the Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects (AAYS) which currently applies to suspects under the age of 16. Appropriate Adults (explained below) are currently activated for all cases involving young suspects under the age of 16.

2) Appropriate Adult Scheme for persons with intellectual or mental disability (PWIDs)

The second is the Appropriate Adult Scheme for persons with intellectual or mental disability (PWIDs) who are required to give a statement to the police during investigations. This may include detainees, victims or witnesses suspected of having an intellectual disability, Autism Spectrum Disorder and/or mental health issues. If it is made known to the officers that the subject has medical or mental health conditions and would require special attention, prior to bringing the person in for the investigation, the police will contact the parents or school first, if operationally feasible. 

If the subject displays any medical or special needs during the interview, officers will pause the investigation and activate support measures such as an Appropriate Adult as well.

Alternatively, the authorities will be able to identify suspects who are vulnerable by administering a test that determines if the apprehended suspect is likely to suffer from any intellectual disability.

Who is an Appropriate Adult?

Appropriate Adults refer to the trained volunteers under the Appropriate Adult Scheme. They are usually adult individuals and are objective parties who are not related to the young/vulnerable individual and their families. Their role is usually to facilitate communication between the police and the vulnerable person. Further, they act as an advocate for the person’s rights and interests, ensuring that they understand the questions asked and the implications of their responses.

It is important for the Appropriate Adults to declare any conflicts of interest, or if they have been legally trained or worked in law enforcement to ensure objectivity as much as possible. It is also crucial to note that the objective of the Appropriate Adults is not to offer legal advice, which would fall under the purview of a lawyer.

What is the Purpose of the Appropriate Adult Scheme?

The Appropriate Adult Scheme is intended to support young and/or vulnerable persons if they find themselves part of law enforcement investigation processes. These processes can be especially distressing to individuals who might not have sufficient understanding or awareness of what is going on.

Facilitate communication

During investigation interviews, the Appropriate Adult would facilitate effective communication by clarifying any questions posed by the authorities which may be challenging for the young/vulnerable persons to understand. At the same time, Appropriate Adults can assist in ensuring that the authorities understand what the young/vulnerable persons are expressing when answering questions posed by authorities.

For example, during police interviews, the appropriate adult would ensure effective communication between the young/vulnerable person (Y)  and the police. He would observe the interview and intervene when necessary to clarify or rephrase questions to ensure that Y understands them. If the Appropriate Adult observes that Y is struggling to express himself or provide coherent responses, the Appropriate Adult can help to interpret his statements, ensuring that Y’s intentions are accurately conveyed.

Another area where an appropriate adult could assist in is clarifying legal terminology. For vulnerable persons, legal terminology and concepts can be challenging. The adult would play a vital role in simplifying and explaining complex legal terms, ensuring the vulnerable person comprehends the questions asked and the implications of his answers. The adult may use layman’s terms, visual aids, or other supportive techniques to enhance the vulnerable person’s understanding.

Emotional support

Appropriate Adults are professionally trained to look out for signs of distress in young/vulnerable persons and lessen the interrogative pressure on them. This is important as they go through a potentially stressful process during interviews. Hence, one of the aims of providing emotional support is to prevent young/vulnerable persons from mishandling the stress and harming themselves as a result.

Even though investigation processes are potentially stressful for everyone, it would be more concerning when a vulnerable and/or young person is concerned because of its impact on their well-being. Young suspects may lack the emotional and psychological resilience to cope with the stress and pressure associated with the investigative process (as compared to an adult). This can lead to heightened anxiety, fear, and distress, potentially exacerbating any existing vulnerabilities or mental health conditions they may have.

Furthermore, distressing investigative procedures can have long-lasting psychological and emotional impacts on vulnerable, young persons. It may result in trauma, increased vulnerability, and a negative perception of the criminal justice system.

For instance, the Appropriate Adult scheme was extended to include minors below 16 years old after the death of Benjamin Lim, a 14-year-old boy, who committed suicide after he was questioned by the police over an allegation involving outrage of modesty. Benjamin was taken from school and questioned at the Ang Mo Kio Police Division without his parents or teachers present. The case of Benjamin sparked public concern as State Coroner Marvin Bay said that the police and his school had taken steps to engage him sensitively. However, an ‘additional refinement’ could be for a school counsellor to have accompanied Benjamin to the police station. What this means is that the investigation processes could be potentially refined, to give greater attention to young suspects’ emotional state during and after the processes. In fact, in response to this case, various experts put forth their recommendations that touched on communicating clearly and directly with a young suspect, putting their worst fears at rest and offering a reassuring presence.

Prevention 

By having a responsible adult present during police interactions, the scheme also acts as a safeguard against coercion, intimidation, or other forms of improper conduct that could impact the fairness of the investigation. It could also prevent instances of potential abuse or mistreatment of vulnerable individuals.

When Might Appropriate Adults Not be Activated?

As set out in the Parliamentary Oral Reply in April 2023, the Minister said that Appropriate Adults were activated for all cases where the agencies have requested these Appropriate Adults based on the activation criteria (i.e., young/vulnerable person).

However, there could be extenuating circumstances which require these agencies to exercise discretion not to activate an Appropriate Adult for the interview. Some examples that were cited were “urgent interviews [that] may be required to prevent the disposal of evidence, detain accomplices still at large, or prevent the commission of another offence”.

The Appropriate Adult Scheme ensures that vulnerable individuals can effectively communicate and understand the processes and proceedings involved in their interaction with the police. This is particularly important for PWIDs as well as young individuals.

Facilitating clear and meaningful communication helps prevent misunderstandings, ensures that the person’s statements are accurately recorded, and reduces the risk of coercion or false confessions.

If your loved one is a young person/minor and/or a PWID who has been charged with a criminal offence, you should consult a criminal defence lawyer for further guidance. A criminal defence lawyer can help to:

  • Clarify the purpose of the Appropriate Adult Scheme;
  • Explain eligibility, where they can inform you about who qualifies as a vulnerable individual under the Appropriate Adult Scheme;
  • Explain the role of the Appropriate Adult.
Arrest and Investigation
  1. Singapore’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction: What Does It Mean?
  2. What is the Appropriate Adult Scheme in Singapore?
  3. Stopped by the Singapore Police For Spot Checks, Etc: What to Do
  4. Tasers, Batons, Shields & Firearms: When Do the Police Use Them?
  5. Seized Assets in Money Laundering Investigations: What Happens To Them?
  6. Juvenile Crime: What If Your Child is Arrested in Singapore?
  7. What Happens When You Voluntarily Surrender to the Police
  8. What is Entrapment and is It Legal in Singapore?
  9. How to Write a Letter of Representation to AGC in Singapore
  10. What to Do If Your Loved One is Under Police Investigation
  11. Your Right to a Lawyer After Being Arrested in Singapore
  12. Police Investigation Process for Crimes in Singapore (4 Steps)
  13. Arrest Warrant Issued Against You in Singapore: What to Do
  14. Police Arrest Procedure in Singapore
  15. Arrestable and Non-Arrestable Offences in Singapore
  16. What Should You Do If You Witness a Crime in Singapore?
  17. Can the Public Make a Citizen's Arrest in Singapore?
  18. What to Do If You’re Being Investigated for a Criminal Offence in Singapore
  19. "Right to Remain Silent" to Singapore Police: Does It Exist?
  20. Police Custody in Singapore: What You Should Know
  21. Search Warrant: The Issuance and Execution of It in Singapore
  22. Penalties for Lying to the Authorities in Singapore
  23. Can You Say No to a Lie Detector Test in Singapore? And Other FAQs
  24. Surrender of Passport to the Police and How to Get It Back
  25. Extradition: What If I Flee After Committing Crime in Singapore
Bail
  1. The Essential Guide to Bail and Personal Bonds in Singapore
Prosecution
  1. What is Private Prosecution?
  2. Magistrate’s Complaints, Private Summons and Private Prosecutions in Singapore
  3. Prosecutorial Discretion in Singapore
  4. Composition Offers and Fines for Criminal Offences in Singapore
  5. Plea Bargaining in Singapore: All You Need to Know
During Criminal Proceedings
  1. Using the Defence of Diminished Responsibility in Singapore
  2. Legal Defences in Criminal Law: Special Exceptions
  3. Giving False vs. Wrong Evidence: What’s the Difference?
  4. Writing Character References For Court: What’s Their Purpose?
  5. When Can I Raise the Defence of Provocation in Singapore?
  6. Can I Use the Defence of Intoxication in Singapore?
  7. TIC: Guide to Charges Taken Into Consideration in Singapore
  8. How to Adjourn or Postpone a Criminal Court Hearing
  9. The "Unusually Convincing" Test in "He Said, She Said" Cases
  10. Death of a Party in a Legal Case in Singapore: What Happens?
  11. What is Acquittal & How Can One Be Acquitted in Singapore?
  12. Falsely Accused of a Crime in Singapore: Your Next Steps
  13. Burden of Proof in Criminal and Civil Cases in Singapore
  14. When is a Witness Testimony Unreliable in Singapore?
  15. Legal Defences in Criminal Law: General Exceptions
  16. Making Objections at Trial in the Singapore Courts
  17. Can I Represent Myself in a Criminal Court Case in Singapore and How?
  18. Claiming Trial as an Accused
  19. Pleading Guilty in Singapore: Consequences & Withdrawal of Plea
  20. The Defence of Unsound Mind in Singapore: What is It?
  21. Gag Orders in Singapore: Whose Identity Can be Protected?
  22. Mitigation Plea: How to Plead for Leniency in Court in Singapore
After Criminal Proceedings
  1. Recidivism: What Happens If You Reoffend in Singapore?
  2. Guide to Filing a Criminal Appeal in Singapore
  3. Criminal Motion: What is It and How to File One in Singapore
  4. Guide to Filing a Criminal Revision in Singapore
  5. Presidential Clemency in Singapore
  6. Repatriation or Deportation from Singapore: How Does It Work?
  7. Criminal Records in Singapore
  8. Visiting a Loved One in Prison or On Death Row in Singapore
  9. Getting Parole (Early Prison Release) in Singapore
Types of Sentences After Committing an Offence
  1. Fined for an Offence: What to Do If I Can't Afford to Pay Them?
  2. How Long Is Life Imprisonment in Singapore? And Other FAQs
  3. Corrective Training and Its Consequences in Singapore
  4. Consequences of Receiving a Stern Warning in Singapore
  5. Probation: Eligibility and Whether It Leaves a Criminal Record
  6. How Can Adult Offenders Get Probation in Singapore?
  7. Reformative Training in Singapore: When Will It be Ordered?
  8. Are You Eligible for a Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO)?
  9. Caning in Singapore: Judicial, School & Parental Corporal Punishment
  10. 7 Detention Orders in Singapore: When Will They be Ordered?
  11. Day Reporting Order: Eligibility and Offender's Obligations
Being a Victim
  1. Ragging and Bullying: Their Penalties and What Victims Can Do
  2. Laws Protecting Informers/Whistleblowers in Singapore
  3. Counterfeit Medicine/Health Products: Redress for Victims in Singapore
  4. Breach of Protection Orders: What Can Victims Do?
  5. Using Your Right to Self-Defence When Attacked in Singapore
  6. Compensation for Crime Victims in Singapore: How to Obtain
Offences Against the Human Body
  1. Voluntarily Causing Hurt Penalties in Singapore (Non-Arrestable)
  2. Murder vs Culpable Homicide in Singapore (and Penalties)
  3. Is Suicide Illegal in Singapore? Will I Be Punished for Trying?
  4. Kidnapping Scam: Penalties & Responding to a ‘Kidnap Call/Text'
Sexual Offences
  1. How are Sexual Offenders with Special Needs Penalised?
  2. BDSM Gone Wrong: Potential Legal Issues with Sexual Kink Practices
  3. The Offence of Attempted Rape in Singapore: Law & Penalties
  4. Cybersexual Crimes in Singapore and Their Penalties
  5. Incest and Family Sexual Abuse: Penalties and Victim Protection
  6. Falsely Accused of Rape in Singapore: What to Do
  7. Sexual Misconduct in Singapore: Offences and What Victims Can Do
  8. Rape Laws in Singapore and How Offenders Can Be Punished
  9. Legal Age for Sex in Singapore and Common Sexual Offences
  10. Consent in Sexual Offences in Singapore and What Victims Can Do
  11. Accused of Molest: Outrage of Modesty in Singapore
  12. What Can Victims of Sexual Harassment in Singapore Do?
  13. What is the Law on Sexting in Singapore?
  14. Revenge Porn: What If Your Nudes are Leaked in Singapore?
  15. Crime of Voyeurism in Singapore (Penalties and Defences)
  16. Date Rape: What to Do If Your Drink Has Been Unlawfully Spiked?
  17. STDs: Can I Go to the Police If a Partner Infected Me in Singapore?
Vice-Related Offences
  1. Alcohol Breathalyser Test in Singapore: Can You Refuse it?
  2. Are Sex Toys and Sex Dolls Legal in Singapore?
  3. Singapore's Legal Smoking Age & Common Smoking Offences
  4. Is Vaping Illegal in Singapore?
  5. Legal Drinking Age and Drinking-Related Laws in Singapore
  6. Is Watching, Downloading or Filming Porn Illegal in Singapore?
  7. Child Pornography in Singapore: Offences and Penalties
  8. Laws on Procuring Sex Workers & Sexual Services in Singapore
  9. Singapore's Drug Laws: Possession, Consumption and Trafficking
  10. Gambling Legally (at Home, in Public or Online) in Singapore
  11. The Offence of Human Trafficking in Singapore and Its Penalties
Property Offences
  1. What is a Protected Area and Place in Singapore?
  2. Penalties For Buying Stolen Goods in Singapore
  3. Penalties for Committing Theft in Singapore
  4. Committing Robbery in Singapore: What are the Penalties?
  5. Penalties for Dishonest Misappropriation of Property in Singapore
  6. Vandalism Laws: Penalties for Damaging Property in Singapore
  7. Criminal Trespass in Singapore: What Happens If You’re Caught?
  8. Penalties for Littering Offences in Singapore
Cybercrime
  1. What is a POFMA Correction Direction and How to Appeal
  2. Penalties for Cheating/Scamming and What Victims Can Do
  3. Penalties for Impersonating Someone and Victim Redress
  4. Singapore Fake News Laws: Guide to POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act)
  5. Laws and Penalties for Doxxing in Singapore (With Examples)
White-Collar Crimes
  1. Tax Evasion in Singapore: Penalties and Examples
  2. Criminal Breach of Trust (CBT) in Singapore: What is It?
  3. All You Need to Know About Corruption in Singapore
  4. A Guide to Singapore’s Anti-Money Laundering Laws
  5. 5 Things You Need to Know about Insider Trading
  6. Dishonest Assistance and Knowing Receipt: The Case of David Rasif
Road Offences
  1. Charged with a Traffic Offence in Singapore: What to Do
  2. DUI: Here are the Penalties for Drink-Driving in Singapore
  3. What Happens If You’re Caught Speeding in Singapore?
  4. Road Rage: What is It and How are Offenders Sentenced in Singapore
  5. Penalties for Dangerous Driving for Singapore Drivers
  6. Fatal Traffic Accidents: Are Drivers Always Punished?
  7. Guide to E-Scooter and PMD Laws for Singapore Riders
  8. Is it Legal for Drivers to Carpool in Singapore?
Animal-Related Offences
  1. Taxidermy of Animals in Singapore: Is It Legal?
  2. Legal and Illegal Pets in Singapore (HDB/Private Property)
  3. Is It Illegal to Feed Stray Animals in Singapore?
  4. Animal Abuse in Singapore: Offences, Penalties & How to Report Abuse
Offences Relating to Public Peace and Good Order
  1. Radicalisation and Terror Attack-Related Penalties in Singapore
  2. Causing a Public Nuisance in Singapore: What are the Penalties?
  3. Causing Public Alarm in Singapore: Examples & Penalties
  4. Public Assemblies and Processions in Singapore
  5. Misbehaving in Public: 5 Things You Need to Know
  6. Racial Enmity: Sections 298 and 298A Penal Code Explained
  7. Religious Cults in Singapore: Are they Illegal? Penalties & More
  8. Penalties for Financing Terrorist Operations in Singapore
Gang and Riot-related Offences
  1. Penalties for Unlawful Assembly and Rioting in Singapore
  2. Is Joining a Gang Illegal in Singapore?: Being Recruited and Penalties
  3. Organised Crimes: Penalties/Orders Syndicates Face in Singapore
Marriage-Related Offences
  1. Bigamy: Is It Legal to Marry a Married Person in Singapore?
  2. Marriage Offences in Singapore Involving Minors, Same-Sex, Etc.
  3. What are Sham Marriages and Are They Illegal in Singapore?
Certificate of Clearance
  1. How Do You Apply for a Certificate of Clearance in Singapore?
Other Criminal Offences
  1. Penalties for Abetting Minors or Committing Crimes Against Them
  2. Misusing the Singapore Flag and Other National Symbols
  3. What are the Penalties for Committing Forgery in Singapore?
  4. Arson and Fire-Related Offences and Their Penalties in Singapore
  5. Offences Against the Dead and What Family Members Can Do
  6. Laws on Prohibited, Replica and Self-Defence Weapons
  7. Laws to Tackle High-Rise Littering in Singapore
  8. Penalties for Attempting to Commit a Crime in Singapore
  9. Penalties for Assaulting a Person in Singapore
  10. Is Dining & Dashing Illegal in Singapore?
  11. Expats Charged With Offences in Singapore: What to Expect
  12. What are the Penalties for Hiring Phantom Workers in Singapore?
  13. What Are Ponzi Schemes? Are They Illegal in Singapore?
  14. Modification of Cars, Motorcycles, Etc: Is It Legal in Singapore?
  15. Penalties for Illegal Immigration and Overstaying in Singapore
  16. Criminal Intimidation: Penalties for Making Threats in Singapore