The Singapore Criminal Procedure Code 2010 ("Code"), passed in Parliament on 19 May 2010, was assented to by the President on 10 June 2010. It will come into operation on such date as the Minister may appoint. The major changes introduced in the Code were the result of extensive consultations and discussions amongst relevant government agencies and various stakeholders in the legal industry. The public was likewise invited to give comments on the proposed changes. The Code was last revised in 1995.
Key Features Of The Code
We set out below the key features of the Code.
Criminal Jurisdiction Of Subordinate Courts
The Magistrates' Courts shall have jurisdiction to try any offence for which the maximum term of imprisonment provided by law does not exceed five (5) years or which is punishable with a fine only. The District Courts shall have the power to try any offence for which the maximum term of imprisonment provided by law does not exceed ten (10) years or which is punishable with a fine only.
The Code enlarges the jurisdiction of Subordinate Courts. Section 9 empowers the Public Prosecutor to authorise a Magistrate's Court to try an offence which is triable by a District Court but not by a Magistrate's Court. Additionally, it authorises a District Court to try certain offences which are not ordinarily within its general jurisdiction.
Under section 10 of the Code, prosecution of certain offences may not be instituted except with the consent of the Public Prosecutor. Section 10 further provides that a person may be charged, arrested, remanded or released on bail, or a warrant of arrest may be issued or executed against him, notwithstanding that the requisite consent of the Public Prosecutor has not been obtained. However, in such an instance, the case cannot be further prosecuted until that consent is obtained. The Public Prosecutor's consent needs to refer to a particular offence but may be expressed in general terms, and must, as far as practicable, specify the place in which and the occasion on which the offence was committed. The validity of the Public Prosecutor's consent is one (1) month. The provision of section 10 also applies in respect of every consent of the Public Prosecutor to institute criminal proceedings under any other written law.
Part IX of the Act introduces a disclosure framework in the Subordinate Courts requiring the prosecution and the defence to exchange relevant information about their respective cases before trial. A criminal case disclosure conference is held for the purposes of settling the following matters:
- the filing of the Case for the Prosecution and the Case for the Defence;
- any issues of fact or law which are to be tried by the trial judge at the trial proper;
- the list of witnesses to be called by the parties to the trial;
- the statements, documents or exhibits which are intended by the parties to the case to be admitted at the trial; and
- the trial date.
If either party fails to serve its case, or files an incomplete Case for the Prosecution or Case for the Defence, as the case may be, or advances an argument at trial which is inconsistent with its previously filed case, the court may draw any inference it thinks fit. In addition, where the prosecution fails to comply with its obligations under this Part, the court may order a discharge not amounting to an acquittal in relation to the charge.
The criminal case disclosure procedure will apply to an offence specified in the Second Schedule of the Code and to be tried in a District Court. The accused may opt out of the system if he prefers. For Magistrate's Court cases, the procedure will apply if all parties consent.
Admissibility Of Accused Person’s Statements
Section 258 of the Code states that "where a person is charged with an offence, any statement made by the person, whether it is oral or in writing, made at any time, whether before or after the person is charged and whether or not in the course of any investigation carried out by any law enforcement agency, is admissible in evidence at his trial". It further provides that "if that person tenders himself as a witness, any such statement may be used in cross-examination and for the purpose of impeaching his credit". The statement is also admissible in evidence if it is made to a police officer above the rank of sergeant.
Under section 258, the statement of an accused person is inadmissible if it was made as a result of threat, inducement or promise having reference to the charge against the accused, such that the statement was no longer given by the accused person of his own volition. (At the second reading of the Criminal Procedure Code Bill in Parliament on 18 May 2010, it was highlighted that Explanation 1 to section 258 is a codification of this admissibility test that was developed by the courts in Seow Choon Meng v Public Prosecutor  2 SLR(R) 338;  2 SLR 853 and Gulam bin Notan Mohd Shariff Jamalddin v Public Prosecutor  1 SLR(R) 498; [1999 SGCA 12.)
The Code provides for important provisions on appeals such as allowing the appellate court to frame an altered charge on appeal. There is also a new provision on “leapfrog” appeals.
When hearing an appeal against an order of acquittal or conviction or any other order, the appellate court under section 390 is allowed to frame an altered charge (whether or not it attracts a higher punishment) if it is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence for it to do so based on records before the court. This is a codification of case law as decided by the Court of Appeal in Lee Ngin Kiat v PP  2 SLR 511. The Code provides the following safeguards in instances when the appellate court decides to frame an altered charge:
- If the offence stated in the altered charge is one that requires the consent of the Public Prosecutor, then the appeal must not proceed without such consent being obtained (unless the consent had already been obtained for a prosecution on the same facts as those on which the altered charge is based).
- The appellate court is required to ask the accused if he intends to offer a defence to the newly-framed charge.
- The appellate court will then have to decide, based on the nature of the defence and the records before the court, whether to convict the accused of the newly-framed charged or order that the accused be tried in a court of competent jurisdiction.
Section 396 of the Code is a new provision on "leapfrog" appeals. This allows both the prosecutor and the defence to state a case directly on a question of law arising at a trial before a Subordinate Court for the opinion of the High Court, to the Court of Appeal. A "leapfrog appeal" may be made, for example, where the High Court is already bound by a prior decision of the Court of Appeal on the point of law being stated.
A "leapfrog" appeal may only be allowed if leave of the Court of Appeal is sought and obtained.
New Sentencing Options
The Code also provides for new sentencing options which allow judges to sentence offenders so that the punishment fits the offence better. This means judges are no longer restricted to sentencing criminals to jail or fine, which could have an adverse effect on their families and jobs. The options include community-based sentences whereby offenders are ordered to do community work or attend a reporting centre regularly for supervision and counseling.
The change in the criminal justice system in Singapore through the enactment of the Code is in keeping with the changing norms in the conduct of criminal cases. The Government through the new Code remains committed to striking the right balance between the rights of the society to secure conviction of a person who commits an offence, and the rights of an individual to be in a position to adequately defend himself and secure an acquittal.