January 9, 2024
SINGAPORE – Prosecutors handling cases involving the death penalty are scheduled for mandatory check-ins with an in-house psychologist, in an initiative by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to support its officers’ mental well-being.
Attorney-General Lucien Wong highlighted these initiatives on Jan 8 in his speech at a ceremony to mark the opening of the legal year.
He said a team of AGC officers has been trained as para-counsellors, to act as the first line of support when prosecutors face traumatic incidents in the course of their work.
A one-stop portal also offers resources such as support networks, wellness videos and relaxation techniques. And workshops are organised regularly to help supervisors better identify and address mental health issues within their teams.
Mr Wong said: “All these initiatives are founded on the recognition that secondary trauma and vicarious trauma affect the legal profession and each organisation at various levels, in different ways.”
He noted that a number of the initiatives are targeted at prosecutors in the AGC’s crime division, because they are the legal service officers who are most exposed to the trauma of victims, and to the mental health and social issues faced by accused people.
He said these officers may have to examine traumatic material for the purposes of the criminal process, or get a victim or an accused person to provide details of trauma.
Mr Wong recalled hearing a prosecutor say she would never forget the cries of children from the videos that she reviewed in a case of sexual abuse.
He added: “It is therefore important that we support our prosecutors’ mental well-being, by de-stigmatising mental health issues and encouraging the seeking of help for such issues.”
An AGC spokesperson later told The Straits Times that prosecuting and investigating cases involving child sexual abuse materials can exact a heavy emotional and psychological cost.
Some cases involve thousands of video clips, and in some videos, victims can be seen trying to cover their faces and are clearly distressed, said the spokesperson.
In her speech, Ms Lisa Sam, the newly elected president of the Law Society of Singapore, said the society is committed to safeguarding its members’ mental and social well-being, particularly that of its younger members.
She noted that lawyers and judges work long hours, often extending into weekends, public holidays, and overseas family holidays.
Ms Sam cited how applications filed by lawyers at 7.30pm are approved by judges at 9.30pm that night.
She said these round-the-clock working hours often disrupt the balance between lawyers’ other commitments as parents, children to ageing parents, and as volunteers.
She said the Law Society plans to release a guidance note to help lawyers maintain a sustainable legal practice while adhering to legal and ethical obligations owed to the court.
The society has other existing support schemes for its members, including a helpline for those facing issues at work, and counselling administered in conjunction with a third-party service provider.