Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty of what lies ahead are natural when you or your loved ones have been charged with a crime in Singapore. It is therefore important to familiarise yourself with the criminal justice system in Singapore so that you will understand what to expect and how you can prepare yourself.
The following is a primer on the criminal justice system in Singapore, from the time of the arrest to the court proceedings.
A police officer may arrest an offender when there is reasonable suspicion that the offender has committed an arrestable offence. Serious offences are generally arrestable – such as rape, drug offences and offences that pose a threat to the public.
While you are in police custody, the police can interview you and take statements from you. Within 48 hours of the arrest, the offender may be released on bail or brought to court by the police.
If you are brought to court, the court can determine if you should be granted bailor need to be detained for further investigations. While most offences are bailable, certain serious crimes that involve the death penalty or life imprisonment may not be bailable.
Police investigations can take anywhere from a few days to years. Whether you are innocent or guilty, it is recommended that you should engage a criminal lawyer as soon as possible.
The Criminal Mentions Court
The first stage of any criminal proceeding is the Criminal Mentions Court, where the accused is formally charged by the prosecution in open court. Here, you can choose to claim trial (contest the criminal charge) or plead guilty (admit to the criminal charge).
Before you are formally charged in court, the police will take a ‘cautioned statement’ from you. This is an opportunity for you to state your defence. If you have a valid defence (such as being elsewhere when the alleged crime happened, or if you were exercising your right to self-defense), it is important to state these in your cautioned statement.
You should speak to a criminal lawyer to assess if you have a valid defence.
Not attending the Mentions Court can lead to an arrest. If you cannot attend the Mentions Court due to a valid reason, you or your lawyer will need to apply in writing or through ICMS to request a change of date. Your criminal lawyer can also represent you in certain instances where you are unable to attend court.
If you choose to plead guilty, you can be sentenced by the court on the spot (generally applicable for traffic offences or minor offences only) or be transferred to another court scheduled on a later date for a PG (Plead Guilty) mention.
The PG mention starts with the statement of facts being read out to you. These are the facts that pertain to the offence you are charged with. After the reading is complete, you will be required to confirm if you agree with the facts.
If you do agree, the court will issue the sentence after hearing the sentencing submissions by the prosecution and the defence. If you disagree with any part or all of the SOF, your guilty plea will be rejected, and the case proceeds to trial.
It is recommended that you engage a criminal lawyer to assist you in seeking the lowest possible sentence.
You may decide to claim trial at the first step when you attend the Mentions Court or subsequently during the court proceedings.
The process of the trial involves the prosecution and the defence presenting evidence that the court will evaluate before determining if you are guilty or not. While the prosecution presents evidence against you, you can defend against the charges by presenting evidence in your favour. You can ask the court for time to engage a criminal defence lawyer to present your case.
The pre-trial conference
If you are choosing to claim trial, you are required to attend a pre-trial conference. The aim of this is to deal with administrative and other relevant matters as a preparatory step for the trial. Here is where you will inform the judge of the evidence you intend to present and the witnesses that will be called.
The judge determines if CCDC (criminal case disclosure conference) applies to your case. If the judge determines so, the CCDC process begins. This is a formal system where the prosecution and you disclose the case’s information to each other.
Preparing for trial
There is a lot of preparation to be done before the case goes to trial. You will need to gather evidence that the court can rely on. These materials can be in the form of:
- Video recordings
- Witness statements
- Phone records
- Computer data
- Social media messages
If you are charged with a crime, it is important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. The decisions you make in the early stages of your case can have a significant impact on the outcome. Whether you choose to plead guilty or claim trial, it is best to let experienced criminal lawyers to handle the process to achieve the best outcome for you.