Understanding How the Singapore Criminal Legal System Works

Investigation and arrest by law Enforcement Agencies

A criminal case begins in a law enforcement agency. There are various law enforcement agencies in Singapore. While the Singapore Police Force (‘SPF’) is the most commonly known agency, there are various others tasked with investigating and apprehending offenders who commit certain specific and more serious offences. Examples include the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (‘CPIB’) which is tasked with investigating corruption-related offences in Singapore while the Central Narcotics Bureau (‘CNB’) is tasked with investigating drug-related offences.

A criminal case begins where an officer from any of these agencies encounters an offender while he is committing the act and apprehends the alleged offender right away. Alternatively, an officer may receive information from informants and other sources on the basis of which he could commence investigations over a period of time where he tries to gather evidence to establish whether the suspected offender has in fact been engaged in an offence.

Prosecutorial discretion by the Public Prosecutor

Since criminal acts are considered to be offences against the public in general, a Public Prosecutor is in effect a lawyer who “represents” the general public and formally brings the charges for an offence against the alleged offender. The Public Prosecutor considers the evidence gathered by the law enforcement agencies and has the discretion to decide whether to commence a criminal prosecution. This discretion is exercised based on the strength of the evidence, the severity of the offence as well as public interest in maintaining a safe environment for citizens to live in.

Criminal prosecution in Court

Where a Prosecutor proceeds with criminal prosecution, the matter will come for trial before the Singapore Courts. In Court, the Prosecutor will present the evidence gathered by the law enforcement agencies against the accused and try to prove that the accused is responsible for the crime he is being charged of. The accused will himself have a chance to present his own evidence and arguments in defence of the charges brought against him. He may do so by himself or through his lawyer. Finally, based on the evidence and arguments presented by both parties, the judge will make a finding as to the guilt or otherwise of the accused person.

Importance of a lawyer

You should engage criminal defense lawyers from a reputable and experienced law firm, because a trained lawyer will be familiar with the proceedings in Court. A lawyer will be able to ensure that the Prosecutor has sufficiently proven his case and shown all the legal elements that must be met to prove a crime. He would also formulate and present appropriate arguments and evidence where justified to defend against the charge. Even where an accused person intends to plead guilty, a lawyer plays an important role in ensuring that the accused person receives a fair sentence.