Singapore's Criminal Law And Justice System

For most of the 19th Century the criminal law which was applied in the three Straits Settlement of Singapore, Penang and Malacca was that of England.4 min read

Singapore Under English Common Law

For most of the 19th Century the criminal law which was applied in the three Straits Settlement of Singapore, Penang and Malacca was that of England, in so far as local circumstances were permitted. There was little doubt that English common law crimes were recognized in these territories at the time. Certain problems, e.g. the application of certain Indian Acts, however, arose in 1871 and the Straits Settlements Penal Code was passed. It came into operation on 16 September 1872. The Code is practically a re-enactment of the Indian Penal Code.

Straits Settlements Penal Code

The original Code, as amended on numerous occasions, presently states the law of Singapore. The most recent amendment was made by the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 1984 which came into effect on 31 August 1984. The effect of this amendment was that minimum penalties were provided for certain offenses. The last major amendment of the Code prior to 1984 took place in 1973 when punishments for certain offenses were enhanced.

Prior to 1870 the law relating to Criminal Procedure in force in Singapore was mainly found in the Indian Act XVI of 1852. As a consequence of the passing of the Straits Settlements Penal Code in 1871, the Criminal Procedure Ordinance V of 1870 was passed which replaced the Criminal Procedure Act XVI of 1852 but continued the English system of Criminal Procedure and made it applicable to the Penal Code.

This was found impracticable as the Penal Code did away with the division of crimes into felonies and misdemeanors and the Criminal Procedure Ordinance VI of 1873 was passed accordingly. The Ordinance VI of 1873 marked the passage of the English Criminal Law in favor of the Indian. The Ordinance did away with indictments and instituted charges for all criminal offenses; it abolished the Grand Jury and Special and Common Juries.

Code of 1902

A new Code of Criminal Procedure was enacted in 1902. The present Code was passed by the Legislative Council on 28 January 1955. It repeals and re-enacts with the amendments the previous Code. All offenses under the Penal Code are inquired into and tried according to the Criminal Procedure Code.

As a rule, the investigation of offenses is dealt with by the police. Besides the police officers, there are also custom officers, immigration officers and narcotic officers who are empowered to investigate limited offenses in contravention of custom, immigration and drug laws. The police operate under the supervision of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

How Is Criminal Prosecution Handled?

Criminal prosecution in Singapore is instituted by the state which is represented by the Attorney General's Department, with some exceptions like private summons which are brought by individuals for certain minor offenses or nuisances. The Attorney General's Department is headed by the Attorney General, assisted by the Solicitor General and a staff of deputy public prosecutors, all of whom are legally qualified and recruited through the Legal Service Commission. The Attorney General is appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister from among persons qualified as Supreme Court judges.

The prosecuting department of each investigative agency mentioned above is also empowered to prosecute only minor cases not involving points of law or complex legal issues under its jurisdiction. The Attorney General, who is also the Public Prosecutor, controls and directs prosecutions in Singapore, with the assistance of several Deputy Public Prosecutors.