Criminal Law: Understanding the Arrest Process in Singapore
Persons arrested or investigated for alleged crimes often find themselves worrying about the curtailment of their liberty, what is going to happen next in the investigation process, and how legal representation can help them.
In this article, we explain in accessible terms about the arrest process in Singapore, what happens when you have been arrested, and address some commonly asked questions about the criminal law process in Singapore.
Arrest without a warrant
A police officer may arrest a person without a warrant where he/she is reasonably suspected of being involved in an arrestable offence. In practical terms, this means that the police are legally empowered to, for example, arrest a suspect at the scene of crime. Such an arrest must be made on the grounds of credible information and founded on some definite fact which throws suspicion upon the person arrested: Section 64(1)(a) Criminal Procedure Code. Common examples of arrestable offences include, but are not limited to:
- Fighting in public places
- Rash or negligent driving
- Theft and robbery
- Voluntarily causing grievous hurt, with a dangerous weapon.
A list of arrestable offences is tabled in the Third Column of the First Schedule to the Criminal Procedure Code. Section 25(1) of the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) also states that a Central Narcotics Bureau officer or authorized police officer may arrest and search without warrant a person reasonably suspected of committing an offence under the MDA (eg. drug consumption, possession or trafficking).
A person may also be arrested without a warrant for a non-arrestable offence if on the demand of the police officer, he/she refuses to give his name and residential address: Section 65(1) Criminal Procedure Code.
Persons who are arrested without warrant can only be detained in custody without warrant for a period not exceeding 48 hours, after which they must be brought before a Magistrate’s Court: Section 68(2) Criminal Procedure Code.
Read more: Singapore Arrest Process Flow-chart
Arrest with a warrant
Where the offence is not an arrestable offence, the police or respective law enforcement agency must obtain an arrest warrant from the Court. Without obtaining a warrant, the police are not ordinarily allowed to make an arrest.
An example of a non-arrestable offence is the offence of causing hurt (different from grievous hurt using a dangerous weapon), for which the police will first conduct an investigation after a police report has been made. Thereafter, they will decide whether to obtain an arrest warrant against the suspected offender.
A person arrested with a warrant must be produced to Court without unnecessary delay: Section 74 Criminal Procedure Code. Depending on the offence, these persons may be offered bail.
Private arrest by a citizen
A non-police officer can also effect arrest in certain circumstances. The right of private arrest arises in the following situations.
- First, a private person is allowed to arrest any person who commits an arrestable non-bailable offence in his view or presence: Section 66(1) Criminal Procedure Code.
- Second, a victim can apprehend a person, who commits an offence against the victim or the victim’s property, if the person refuses to give his name and residential address and/or provides one that the victim has reason to believe is false.
The person making the arrest must hand over the suspect to a police officer or nearest police station without unnecessary delay: Section 66(2) Criminal Procedure Code. If the person has committed a non-arrestable offence, the police officer must re-arrest him.
Commonly asked questions
WILL I BE INFORMED OF WHY I AM BEING ARRESTED?
After being arrested, the police must inform you as soon as possible of the grounds of your arrest. While there is no specific timeline for such information to be given, ordinarily the police can only detain you for a maximum of 48 hours upon arrest. After such time, they must produce you before a magistrate and make an application to further remand you. At this stage, a family member may wish to contact a criminal lawyer to enquire if you can have access to legal counsel.
DO I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE DEFENDED BY A LEGAL COUNSEL?
While every detained person has the right to consult a criminal law specialist of his choice, such rights arise only after a reasonable time after arrest – and not immediately upon arrest. This is to avoid interference with police investigations, ensure that effective investigations are carried out and that the public is adequately protected. These principles were recently affirmed in a 2014 case involving the alleged “Messiah” hacker James Raj Arokiasamy, heard before the Court of Appeal (comprising the Chief Justice and two other High Court Judges).
Nevertheless, if access to counsel is denied, the police bear the burden of proving that access would impede police investigations.
Similarly, where an arrested person is a foreign national, there is no right to consular access before any statements are recorded.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER ARREST?
Detention at the police station
Upon being arrested, you will likely be searched and taken back to a regional police headquarters, where the police would remand you for interviews and statement-recording to gather evidence for their investigations.
Any personal belongings that you have with you will have to be surrendered to the police. They will make a log of these belongings and you will be asked to verify it. A copy of the list will also be given to you.
Upon being arrested and detained, you may request to make a phone call to your family members or criminal lawyer. However, such request may be rejected if it could interfere with investigations.
After the interview session, you may be remanded in a police lock-up at the station for further investigations. Alternatively, you may be released, placed on bail and called back for further investigations at a later time. When you are released, you may wish to contact a criminal lawyer to discuss your options.
Recording of statements
Whilst in custody, you will be interviewed as to your role in the alleged offence(s). The answers and information you give the police are recorded in a statement: Section 22 Criminal Procedure Code. Pursuant to the 2018 amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code, statements may now be made in writing or in the form of an audio-visual recording.
It is advisable to recollect all the facts as best as you can and inform them to the recording officer: while you need not say anything that incriminates yourself, subsequent material changes in the version of events you present (eg. in further statements recorded by the police, or in your testimony in Court), may reflect adversely on your credibility.
After recording, the long statement will be read back to you for your verification, for your signature against any necessary corrections/additions/amendments and at the bottom of every page as indicated by the recording officer. As the long statement often forms an important piece of evidence against you in the event of a court trial, it is prudent to look through it carefully and correct any discrepancies at the time of recording, rather than waiting for later.
If you do not understand or are fluent in English, you may request for an interpreter for assistance in a language you understand.
Seizure of crime exhibits and other forensic evidence
Other than recording of statements from you, you may also be taken to the crime scene to assist the police in recreating the events of the alleged offence, seizing of relevant exhibits, etc: Section 34 Criminal Procedure Code.
Other forensic investigations you may be asked to assist in may include: drawing of blood samples for DNA testing, fingerprint dusting, etc. Such samples might become valuable evidence in a court trial to connect an arrested suspect to the crime.
When will I be released?
An arrested person can only be ordinarily detained for a maximum of 48 hours. If the police wish to detain you beyond the initial 48 hours, they would present you before a magistrate (judge) in court or via video link. In court, the investigating police officer must give reasons for detaining you further. The magistrate then decides whether you should be further detained or be placed on bail.
If the police do not detain you for more than 48 hours, you will likely be put on police bail (or personal bond) to ensure you report to the station or to attend court when required. The arrested person can be released after he/she has arranged for a bailor, a Singaporean citizen or permanent resident.
When will I know whether I will be charged?
After the investigation officer has completed the initial fact-finding and gathering of evidence, the police will submit the results of the investigations to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), where public prosecutors will make the decision on whether to institute charges against you in Court.
Depending on the available evidence, the Prosecution may decide to proceed with charges, issue a stern or conditional warning in lieu of prosecution, or take no further action. This decision will be conveyed to you through the police investigating officer.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A DECISION HAS BEEN MADE TO CHARGE ME?
If a decision is made to charge you, the investigation officer will arrange a meeting at the police station to serve and read to you a notice in writing about the charge that you will be prosecuted for: Section 23 Criminal Procedure Code. This is known as the cautioned statement.
The police must serve and read to you a caution prior to taking your statement. This informs you that if you rely on a fact in your defence in court which was not revealed in your ‘cautioned statement’, the judge at trial may be less likely to believe you.
The purpose of a ‘cautioned statement’ is to give you a formal opportunity to reveal facts and defences that you intend to rely on at trial for the offences which you have been charged with. It is therefore important to state all material facts even if it means repeating some points from your long statement(s).
As with the long statement, you may request for an interpreter for assistance if you are not fluent in English.
After recording, the cautioned statement will be read back to you and given to you for verification. Look through it carefully, ensure that you correct any discrepancies, sign against the necessary amendments and at the bottom of every page as indicated by the police officer.
Even if you disagree with the offence you are accused of, signing the charge sheet does not mean that you are admitting to the charge. It just acknowledges that you have read and understood the charge(s) being brought against you.
If you refuse to sign the charge, your refusal to do so will be recorded and may be presented to the court.
A copy of your cautioned statement must be given to you (unlike the long statement).
How Legal Representation can help you
After the police have recorded a cautioned statement from you, a date will be fixed for your first mention in Court. This will usually be in Court No. 26 of the State Courts.
In the course of this process, you may decide to engage a Singapore criminal law lawyer to help you with the following matters:
- a) sending in representations to the AGC to request that the Prosecution process on lesser or different charges against you, or that the charge(s) should be withdrawn;
- b) appearing on your behalf in Court, including applying for any necessary adjournments and presenting your plea in mitigation for an appropriate sentence.
This article was contributed by Gloria James-Civetta & Co.