Measures to Prevent Forgery of Witness Statements and Dependence on Single Police Officer’s Submission of Witness Statements.
Mr Murali Pillai: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs in relation to the decision of State Coroner on 18 October 2021 to re-open eight coroner’s inquiries that were earlier concluded as a result of an allegation that the investigation officer who handled the cases had forged statements from relevant witnesses, what systemic steps will the Singapore Police Force take to ensure that there is no over-dependence on a single officer’s representation that material witnesses have been interviewed by the same officer.
Mr K Shanmugam: I will answer this Parliamentary Question (PQ) with another PQ filed for a later sitting by Mr Lim Biow Chuan on a similar issue.
Mr Murali Pillai asked how we ensure that there is no over-reliance on a single officer during investigations, and Mr Lim Biow Chuan asked about the safeguards in place to prevent forgery of statements by investigation officers.
Statements recorded by an Investigation Officer (IO) are required to be reviewed by his/her supervisor as part of the overall assessment of the investigations. IOs are required to keep records of investigative steps such as the recording of statements in their field book. Supervisors will perform regular checks of the field book to ensure that investigations are properly carried out. The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) also acts as an additional layer of checks to ensure that all relevant evidence has been obtained, and that any evidence relied upon is, on the face of it, credible and reliable. We are also implementing technological solutions to reduce errors and further safeguard the process. For example, some statements can already be signed electronically in real-time by the interviewee. When the investigation process is fully digitalised, statements will be recorded electronically by default, and the statements will be locked at relevant junctures to prevent tampering of statements.
These are generally effective, but as Members will understand, sometimes an errant officer may try and bypass these safeguards. However, Members who are lawyers will understand that the nature of the Court process and the examination of evidence means that such errant behavior is unlikely to affect a matter in a substantive way.
In every investigation, all relevant evidence, including forensic evidence, and CCTV footages are likely to be followed through. AGC will review the evidence, documents, and interview relevant witnesses. A key witness’ statement would have been examined by the AGC and examined against other evidence. Accused persons, victims and witnesses are generally also required to testify during a Court trial. All such evidence will be considered holistically by the Court. So, documents or evidence that is not real is likely to be picked up if it is material.
For the specific affected cases under the Coroner’s Inquiries, AGC has reviewed them, and is satisfied that the forged statements had no material impact on the outcome of the cases. In all these cases, there was other direct and relevant evidence (e.g. CCTV footage, witnesses statements and forensic reports), that supported the eventual outcomes. The forged statements were not central to the matters. In fact, the State Coroner has already completed his hearings for seven of the eight re-opened Coroner’s Inquiries, and re-confirmed the findings that the deaths in all those cases were caused by unfortunate traffic misadventures. The remaining case has been adjourned pending further investigations into issues that did not arise from the forged statements.
Our public officers have to carry out their functions professionally, and with integrity.
We cannot completely prevent individual acts of misconduct; it may still happen from time to time. But what is important is that we act firmly and swiftly against any such misconduct whenever we discover them, including charging the offending officers in Court.