Many of us associate the words ‘warrant’ with a burly officer kicking down a door to conduct a search, while ‘arrest’ conjures images of scuffling, handcuffs and an uncomfortable ride to jail in the back of a police car. But while something resembling these scenarios may occur under specific circumstances, a warrant of arrest is usually a far less dramatic procedure than what we might see in the movies. Nonetheless, it should always be taken seriously and it’s important to understand what it means.
What is a warrant of arrest?
A warrant of arrest is an order issued by the court for an alleged offender to be taken into custody. The arrest is carried out by law enforcement – usually the police – and can involve officers locating the offender to place them under arrest or a written demand that they surrender themselves at a police station.
Why may a warrant be issued?
The courts issue warrants of arrests for three main reasons:
1. Non-arrestable offences
Law enforcement officers are only able to place you under arrest without a warrant if you are suspected of committing an arrestable offence as set out in the Penal Code. For other offences, they must obtain a warrant from the courts before taking action. Having a warrant issued against you may mean that you have been accused by the police of committing a non-arrestable offence.
2. Failure to pay fines
From speeding to illegal parking, many minor offences in Singapore carry a fine as punishment. If you fail to pay the full amount on time and ignore subsequent warnings, the courts may issue a warrant for your arrest. Note that for many traffic offences, the issuing of a warrant will prevent you from renewing your driving licence or road tax.
3. Missing a court hearing
The courts will often issue individuals with a summons, which is an order to appear before a judge on a specific date. As with unpaid fines, the courts don’t look kindly on those who ignore a summons. Offenders who fail to turn up to a hearing on the specified date will often have a warrant issued against them.
How do I know if there is a warrant for my arrest?
Other than instances where a law enforcement officer executes a warrant by seeking out the offender directly, a letter is sent to the relevant individual advising them of the warrant. The letter contains instructions on how to proceed, including the requirement that they surrender themselves to the relevant law enforcement agency.
Where there is difficulty getting in touch with the offender – due to being overseas, on the run or missing for any other reason – the letter will be issued to their last known address, a notice may be published in the newspaper and the courts can choose to seize their property until they are found.Police and other law enforcement officers are permitted to place an offender under arrest using reasonable force if they ignore the warrant and fail to surrender themselves.
Do I need a lawyer if a warrant is issued against me?
If you have not been arrested, you can speak to a lawyer for advice and guidance. Warrants of arrest are part of the criminal justice system in Singapore, which means it’s important to seek out the services of a criminal lawyer – as opposed to a lawyer specialising in civil disputes in areas such as divorce, property and contracts.
You are not required to hire a lawyer and can represent yourself if you choose to contest your charges in court. However, the legal system can be overwhelming and having an experienced criminal lawyer by your side ensures you understand the process, receive fair and just treatment and have your rights protected.