Common Questions About Singapore Criminal Law

by 13 June 2021Criminal Defence, Knowledge & Insights

Singapore’s legal system is based on English common law, meaning that the majority of legal decisions are judge-made. Criminal law is one facet of our legal system, covering general criminal offenses such as assault, theft, extortion, grievous hurt, and more. The other facet is civil law, usually dealing with contracts, property, and family relations.

In this article, we answer some of the most commonly asked questions about criminal law in Singapore.

What is Criminal Law in Singapore?

Criminal law in Singapore is largely statutory in nature, and is outlined by various statutes including the:

  • Penal Code
  • Arms Offences Act
  • Kidnapping Act
  • Misuse of Drugs Act
  • Vandalism Act

What is the Penal Code in Singapore?

The Penal Code explains and outlines what constitutes a criminal offence in Singapore, as well as the maximum punishments for each crime. There are over 500 sections in the Penal Code across 24 chapters covering a wide range of offences, including:

  • Bribery and corruption
  • Criminal force, intimidation, and assault
  • Drunk driving
  • Sexual crimes
  • Trespassing
  • Theft and robbery
  • Homicide
  • Misappropriation of property
  • Offences relating to religion

Can You be Detained Without Trial for a Criminal offence in Singapore? 

The Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act is a statute that grants the government power to detain suspected criminals without trial, as long as the purpose is to maintain public safety, peace and good order.

The Act is used as a last resort in serious cases where a crime has been committed and victims or witnesses are unwilling to testify in court for fear of retaliation. It is commonly used in cases related to secret societies, organised crime, drug or human trafficking, and loansharking.

What is Considered a Criminal Record in Singapore?

You will hold a criminal record in Singapore if you are convicted of any of the following:

  • Registerable crimes in Singapore
  • Offences committed within Malaysia and those registrable under Malaysia law
  • Banishment, expulsion or deportation from Singapore or Malaysia
  • Banishment, expulsion or deportation from any other country where official records are provided by the relevant authorities of those jurisdictions

Registerable crimes are listed in the first and second schedules of the Registration of Criminals Act (RCA), which includes offences under multiple statutes and acts. Some minor offences (such as most traffic offenses) are non-registerable, meaning that they won’t appear on your criminal record even if you are convicted.

It is also possible for certain minor convictions to become “spent”. This does not mean that your criminal record will be erased, but it does mean that you can withhold disclosure of your criminal record in certain cases. This is also covered under the RCA.

What are the Principles and Objectives Underpinning Punishments for Crimes in Singapore?

Sentencing is imposed by the court, and is defined by the following four pillars:

  • Retribution: Punishment is intended to commensurate with the culpability and seriousness of the crime committed. Examples include fines, caning, imprisonment, and the death penalty.
  • Deterrence: Punishment is intended to discourage others from committing a similar act (general) or to discourage the offender from re-offending (specific). Examples overlap with the retribution pillar, and include fines, caning, imprisonment, and the death penalty.
  • Prevention: Punishment is intended to physically incapacitate the offender from causing further harm, and examples include detention, imprisonment, and disqualification from driving.
  • Rehabilitation: Punishment is intended to help the offender reform and prevent re-offence. Examples include probation, corrective or reformative training, and community sentences.

What are Community-based Sentences?

Community-based sentences give judges more flexibility in their sentences so that they are no longer restricted to jail time or fines, and can mete out punishments that better fit the crime. Community sentences are only eligible for offenders who have not been sentenced before to more than 3 months’ imprisonment.

Examples of community sentences include:

  • Mandatory Treatment Order: The offender has to undergo psychiatric treatment in lieu of imprisonment for a maximum period of 36 months.
  • Short Detention Order: The offender is detained in prison for a maximum of 14 days.
  • Day Reporting Order: The offender is electronically tagged and required to report to a Reporting Centre on a regular basis.
  • Community Work Order: The offender is required to perform supervised community work that has some association with the offence committed.
  • Expanded Community Work Order: The offender is required to work with a Voluntary Welfare Organisation to make reparations to the community, for a period of 40 to 240 hours.
  • Expanded Conditional Discharge: The offender is discharged as long as they fulfil specific conditions set by the Court, such as participation in rehabilitation programmes.

Need Legal Advice? Our Team of Top Criminal Lawyers is Here to Help

We understand how distressing it can be to face a criminal case. Our team of top criminal lawyers in Singapore has deep expertise in both domestic and transnational criminal law. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you achieve the best possible outcome for your case. We are dedicated to safeguarding your needs and protecting your interests, and you can trust us to ensure that your case goes as smoothly as possible, from investigations to hearings, to appeals.

About the author

About the author

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan is the Founder and Managing Director of Tembusu Law. He is also the founder of LawGuide Singapore, a prominent legaltech startup which successfully created and launched Singapore’s first legal chatbot in 2017.


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