In Singapore, society is protected by the law, to which we are all accountable as citizens for our safety and the protection of the public. Deeming certain acts as criminal offences is a strategy used around the world to deter, punish and rehabilitate criminals in line with common, shared values and principles. Because Singapore’s justice system applies to everyone, it’s important to understand how it works even if you haven’t committed a crime.
1. What is deemed a criminal offence in Singapore?
Actions can be deemed punishable criminal offences in a number of ways in Singapore. The first is the Penal Code of Singapore, which outlines the core principles of criminal law and a range of general offences such as theft, causing hurt, murder, rape, mischief and defamation. While not an exhaustive list, the Penal Code aims to be the foundation on which most of the criminal legal system is based. Actions can also be deemed criminal offences through statutory laws passed by Parliament or common law established by judges in court. Crimes cover a wide range of acts considered to be against the safety and best interests of society, including minor offences such as shoplifting and trespassing as well as more severe crimes like extortion, murder and treason.
2. What happens if you are caught committing a criminal offence?
Being caught committing a crime means you face the possibility of arrest and punishment at the discretion of the justice system. If you are a first-time offender committing a minor crime, such as theft, it’s possible to escape arrest and receive a warning depending on the severity and circumstances of the offence. However, you may be arrested and taken to a police station to be formally charged with a crime, which will usually require you to attend a court hearing at a later date.
3. What types of penalties are there?
If found guilty of a crime, you may be sentenced to a form of punishment considered appropriate for the nature and severity of the offence under Singaporean law. Punishment for shoplifting in Singapore is often a fine, while more serious offences like assault, murder, drug trafficking and treason can be met with imprisonment and caning. A combination of punishments or other specific penalties may be incorporated into your sentence based on the nature of the offence, such as a loss of demerit points for driving under the influence.
4. What happens after pleading guilty for a criminal offence?
Pleading guilty to a crime means that you admit responsibility for committing the offence, and you may be advised to do so by your lawyer depending on the circumstances of your case. If you plead guilty, your case will be transferred to the Plead Guilty (PG) Court, where your punishment will be decided. Here, your criminal defence lawyer will argue for the fairest possible sentence – judges often agree to impose a lighter sentence if the offender has pleaded guilty and shows remorse for their actions.
5. Will I be arrested if I commit a criminal offence?
Not everyone who commits a crime will be arrested by the police. A police officer may take your statement and let you off with a warning if it’s a minor offence and you have been cooperative, or they may not have enough cause to arrest you until more evidence is gathered. If you are caught committing a more serious crime or are deemed to be an immediate danger to anyone else, you may be placed under arrest and placed in temporary custody. Some crimes require police to obtain a warrant before making an arrest, while others do not.
If the police believe you have committed an offence following an investigation, they submit this to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) who will decide whether or not there is enough evidence to charge you with a crime. For most crimes of minor to moderate severity, you will be released from custody after being charged and assigned a date to attend court for a hearing. However, if you are charged with a serious offence, a judge may order you to remain in custody until your case is heard and a verdict is reached.