Every year, about 12,000 people face criminal charges in court without a criminal lawyer. While it is not compulsory to be represented by a lawyer, it may be useful to hire a lawyer given the difficulties of self-representation and the potentially serious consequences of a criminal conviction.
What is a criminal lawyer?
All practising lawyers can defend you in court against a criminal charge. However, a criminal lawyer is a lawyer who specialises in criminal law or has substantial experience and expertise in criminal matters. He/she would likely be more competent in dealing with criminal cases and the criminal legal system, and can thus better handle your case.
Do you need a criminal lawyer?
You may need a criminal lawyer if:
- You have been charged with committing a criminal offence.
- You want to institute a private prosecution against someone. This means that you, instead of the Public Prosecutor, are seeking to prove in court that someone has committed a criminal offence.
Fig 1.1 Examples of Criminal Offences
|Possible Scenario||Charges you may face|
|An acquaintance you had consensual sex with accuses you of molest or rape||Rape (s 375 PC)
Sexual Assault (s 376 PC)
|Someone suddenly punches you and you defend yourself by fighting back||Voluntarily causing hurt
(s 321 PC)
|A friend approaches you to ask you to lie to the police if/when they ask questions about his/her whereabouts or activities||Giving false information to a public servant (s 182 PC)
Abetment of a crime (s 107 PC)
|You see someone drop his/her wallet and you pick it up without returning it to him/her||Theft (s 378 PC)
|Wrapping a rubber band around a stray cat’s neck because it is “fun” to do so||Cruelty to animals (s 42 Animals and Birds Act)|
|Abandoning your pet dog or hamster because you cannot care for it and/or it is not “cute” anymore||Breach of duty of care of animal owners (s 41C Animals and Birds Act)|
This article will focus on the situation where you have been charged with committing a criminal offence.
In deciding whether you should hire a criminal lawyer to assist you in defending a criminal charge, here are some factors to consider:
#1 What are you being charged with?
The first thing to consider is what offence you are being charged with. This is important because it determines the possible sentences you may receive should you be found guilty of the charge. Offences and sentences vary in severity. The more severe the offence and sentence, the more critical it may be that you obtain legal assistance.
#2 At which stage is your case?
The second thing to consider is the stage at which your case is at. There are various stages each case will go through, and a number of important legal steps to be taken at each stage:
Case Stages Legal steps
1. Investigation You should know your legal rights in the context of an investigation, and the process of applying for bail.
2. Confirmation of charge(s)
4. Court Mention The charge is formally read to you and you must decide whether to plead guilty or contest the charge at trial. Representations to the Prosecution to reduce or withdraw the charge(s) can be made at this stage or before.
5. Pre-Trial Conference
You file applications and documents relating to your case.
6. Trial You present your case to the Court. The Court will decide whether you are guilty of the offence and if so, what sentence to give.
The more advanced your case, the more complicated the legal issues may be. Therefore, it is in your interest to seek legal assistance early so that your lawyer has sufficient time to take your instructions and formulate a defence strategy. Otherwise, the need for legal assistance may become more acute the further the case progresses.
#3 What can a criminal lawyer do for you?
You should consider how a criminal lawyer can add value to your case and increase your chances of success.
First, a criminal lawyer can assist in your application for bail (if needed). Once the charge is confirmed, your lawyer can write representations on your behalf. Representations are formal letters to the Prosecution requesting for your charges to be reduced, compounded or dropped entirely. In representations, your lawyer can assist in putting forward your version of events and substantiating this with legal arguments.
If the Prosecution decides to continue pressing charges, your lawyer can also help you to make an informed decision about whether to plead guilty or claim trial (contest the charges in court). Where applicable, he/she can also request for a private meeting with the Prosecution (CCMC) to discuss and exchange relevant information for the case. With his/her legal experience and expertise, he/she can advise you on the likelihood of conviction and potential sentences you may face. This will allow you to make the decision on whether to plead guilty or claim trial.
Finally, your lawyer can use his/her knowledge and experience to convince the court to decide in your favour. Not only will your lawyer have an intricate understanding of the law, he/she will also be familiar with court procedures and the process of preparing a case. If you decide to claim trial, your lawyer can put forward evidence and legal arguments to show that you did not commit the offence. Even if you decide to plead guilty, your lawyer still plays an important role in convincing the court to order the lowest possible sentence.
#4 How much would it cost to hire a criminal lawyer?
Finally, you should also consider the cost of hiring a criminal lawyer to assist you in your case.
Legal fees charged by different lawyers can vary quite widely. This variation may be in terms of the payment structure, or in terms of the actual amount charged.
When it comes to payment structure, there are three main payment structures:
- Fixed fee: a fixed amount for all work done
- Deposit: a fixed non-refundable amount paid before the work is completed
- Hourly rate: a fixed amount for every hour of work done
These payment structures may be used alone or combined together. For example, some lawyers may charge an hourly rate in addition to an initial deposit. Generally, the most common payment structure is the hourly rate. It is also important to note that in Singapore, lawyers are not allowed to agree with you that you will only pay the legal fees if the case succeeds.
The actual amount charged may vary quite widely between different lawyers. However, there are several factors that may help you estimate the cost of hiring a criminal lawyer:
- The lawyer: The more experienced the lawyer, the more likely the lawyer will charge a higher fee.
- Time and expense spent on the case: The more complex your case, the more time and expense will need to be spent on your case. However, in some cases, a senior lawyer may delegate simpler tasks to a junior lawyer, to lower the legal fees.
How to deal with legal costs
You could also consider various ways of managing legal costs. These include:
- Asking for a cost estimate: before hiring a lawyer, you can ask him/her to give you a rough estimate of how much the legal fees would be.
- Arranging for a fee cap with your lawyer: this is a limit on the amount your lawyer can charge you.
- Seeking legal aid: the Law Society administers the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, which provides legal aid subject to a means and merits test. This means that they consider your financial circumstances and whether having a lawyer would help your case.
Need a criminal lawyer?
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.