It is not uncommon in any society for disagreements and conflicts to arise, oftentimes leadings to one party feeling as if they have been ‘victimised’ in some way. In Singapore, we are often told that we should make a police report if we believe that we are a victim of an offence, as the police will ensure that justice is done. Boasting a highly respected police force, it is no surprise that the recently released World Justice Project (WRR) Report ranked Singapore as the safest country in the world.
Hence, when victims seek help from the police, they typically expect police investigation to take place regardless of the severity and nature of the offence believed to be committed. Contrary to such a popular belief however, the police do not actually wield unrestricted powers with regard to investigating and arresting suspects. Furthermore, police resources are not unlimited and investigative work takes time (amongst other resources). As such, not every alleged offence or incident may be investigated in depth if the police are of the view that it is not a matter for the police to be involved in. Under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), the police are indeed empowered to arrest an alleged offender without a warrant only if an arrestable offence has been committed, or if the police reasonably suspect that an arrestable offence has been committed. The difference between arrestable and non-arrestable offences is explained further below.
Arrestable and Non-Arrestable Offences
Arrestable offences typically include more serious crimes such as drug trafficking or rape, and does not require a warrant for the police to arrest the suspect (Section 2 of CPC). The list of arrestable offences can be found here in the First Schedule of the Criminal Procedure Code.
In contrast, non-arrestable offences are offences for which the police “may not ordinarily” arrest without a warrant. Thus, notwithstanding the evidence a victim can provide to the police, the police still has to assess the facts of the complaint to determine if an arrestable offence has been committed before proceeding.
Where a non-arrestable offence is likely to have been committed, the police can only take down the information, record the identities and complaints of the parties involved according to the procedure set out in the CPC (see for instance Sections 16 & 17 of the CPC), but cannot arrest a suspect without a warrant.
If the matter is non-arrestable, and the police form the opinion that your matter/complaint will not be investigated further, you still have room for some redress. If you do believe that an offence has been committed against you notwithstanding the police’s opinion/view of your case, you may file a Magistrate’s Complaint at the State Court’s Community Justice Tribunals Division (CJTD).
What is a Magistrate’s Complaint?
A Magistrate’s Complaint serves as form of remedy for victims of non-arrestable offences. It is a complaint filed by any individual who is seeking redress for an offence he believes has been committed against him, but is not taken up by the police for further investigations or prosecution. Such an individual will be referred to as the complainant, while the accused will be referred to as the respondent.
Before making a Magistrate’s Complaint, it is useful to know the type of outcome you wish to seek. It is also important to consider whether a civil action is the more appropriate recourse, as the two have potentially different outcomes.
Magistrate’s Complaint or Civil Suit
If what you are seeking for is compensation from the alleged act (depending on whether it is actionable), it is more appropriate to pursue a civil action to claim for the damages suffered. A civil action gives you the opportunity to hold the respondent liable for the offence committed against you, and (if successful) to be awarded compensation for the harm suffered by you. This can be a complex and expensive process, and is certainly recommended that you engage a lawyer to represent you in court. If you are unable to afford one, you may consider seeking free legal advice from lawyers at pro-bono clinics organised regularly across Singapore.
If you wish to represent yourself without a lawyer, you may find out more information on the procedure to do so from the State Courts website. Do note that self-representatives (litigants in-person) are still expected to follow all the legal procedures and requirements in the course of proceedings, regardless of whether one is legally trained.
In contrast, the outcomes of successful Magistrate’s Complaints are usually judicial sentences rather than compensation. This is because the purpose of a Magistrate’s Complaint is punitive rather than compensatory. Its procedure is relatively simple and cost efficient at $20, and one typically does not require a lawyer throughout the entire case.
Thus, you should file a Magistrate’s Complaint if your desired outcome is for the alleged offender to receive punishment for his actions. The entire process involves broadly an evaluation by the court staff, followed by a filing of documents and making payment. You will subsequently be presented before the Magistrate to affirm or swear the truth of your complaint, before receiving the appropriate order.
How can a Magistrate’s Complaint be made?
A Magistrate’s Complaint can be made at the Magistrate’s Complaint counter at the CJTD of the State Courts upon the submission of a Magistrate’s Complaint form. This form can be printed from the State Court’s website, or collected from the counter at the CJTD. At the same time, a counter staff will guide you through the application process of a Magistrate’s Complaint, explain the possible outcomes of such a complaint, as well as request for a translator if necessary.
Most importantly, you should be able to establish what is the criminal offence committed in order to proceed. You may wish to consult a lawyer if you are unsure what the criminal offence is.
A copy of your NRIC (or Passport), police report, as well as all other relevant documents such as medical reports and photographs should be brought along when making the Magistrate’s Complaint. A $20.00 fee will be charged for making a Magistrate’s Complaint.
What Happens after making a Magistrate’s Complaint?
After filing a Magistrate’s Complaint at the CJTD, the complainant will be presented before the magistrate in his chamber, and examined under oath. This means that a complainant will be made to affirm or swear to the truth and accuracy of the information in the form submitted, for which lying subjects the complainant to criminal prosecution.
In his chamber, the Magistrate seeks to understand the complaint. Besides reading the form submitted, he may request for the complainant to provide further evidence to support the complaint, or ask questions to have a better understanding of the situation.
Having considered the information provided by the complainant, the Magistrate will then exercise his discretion and make one of the following orders:
- Issue a Summons for a person to assist with the complaint
- Direct the police to investigate into the complaint
- Direct the complainant and respondent to mediation
- Postpone the complaint for parties to negotiate a settlement
- Dismiss the complaint
Issue a Summons for a Person to Assist with the Complaint
The Magistrate might require the assistance of specific individuals such as witnesses or experts to better understand the case, and may accordingly issue summons for them to appear before the Magistrate on another date.
It is not uncommon for a Magistrate’s Complaint to involve individuals whose particulars are not known by the complainant. In such a situation, the Magistrate may direct the police to ascertain the particulars of such individuals, so that it allows the complainant to make a more informed decision on the course of action he wishes to take.
Direct the Police to Investigate into the Complaint
If the Magistrate is convinced that the complaint does involve a criminal offence that is not trivial, he will direct the police to investigate into the complaint. Only if such an order is made, can the police then investigate into the case and report the findings to the court. After which, the Public Prosecutor will then consider the findings of the police investigation, and exercise his discretion whether to prosecute the respondent or not.
If the Public Prosecutor decides to prosecute the respondent, a summons will be served on the respondent informing him of the offences committed, as well as a date which he must attend a court hearing. If he pleads guilty at the hearing, he will be sentenced accordingly when the verdict is decided. If he pleads not guilty, the case will go to trial, and the respondent will be given a chance to prove his case. At the end of the trial, the Court will decide whether the respondent is guilty of the offences charged.
Direct the Complainant and Respondent to Mediation
If the Magistrate feels that the complaint does not warrant an investigation, he may order the parties involved to attend a closed-door criminal mediation session either at the State Courts or Community Mediation Centre.
While both venues share a similar aim of helping the parties reach an agreeable solution through mediation, those conducted at the State courts will be mediated either by a Magistrate or a Justice of the Peace (JP) in his chamber, while those at the CMC will be mediated by neutral mediators from a panel of trained mediators. If a settlement agreement can be reached via mediation, the complaint will be dismissed and the case will be closed.
If a settlement agreement cannot be reached through mediation, you may consider privately prosecuting the respondent by way of a private summons. This requires you to firstly prepare the necessary charges against the respondent, as well as pay a fee of $20 for each summons. Subsequently, the summons must be served on the respondent by you, to inform him that a complaint was made against him. Overall, a private prosecution is a relatively complex process, and it is highly recommended for a lawyer to be engaged when commencing private prosecution.
Once the summons have been served on the respondent, he will be informed of a date which he must attend a court hearing. If he pleads guilty at the hearing, he will be sentenced accordingly when the verdict is decided. If he pleads not guilty, the case will go to trial, and both the complainant as well as the respondent will be given a chance to prove his case in front of a judge. At the end of the trial, the Court will decide whether the respondent is guilty of the offences charged.
Postpone the complaint for parties to negotiate a settlement
If the Magistrate believes that the parties can resolve their issue by negotiating a settlement, he may order for the complaint to be postponed for the parties to do so. In such an event, the Magistrate will provide a separate date for the parties to be presented before him if they eventually fail to negotiate a settlement.
Dismiss the Complaint
Lastly, the Magistrate has the discretion to dismiss the complaint if it does not fall within the ambit of a criminal offence. The complainant may consider pursuing a civil claim in this regard.
Have a question about Magistrate’s Complaints?
If you have any questions about Magistrate’s Complaints, you may request a quote with Jonathan Cho or get a Quick consult with other lawyers from a transparent, flat fee of $49 and expect a call back within 1-2 days to get your questions answered.
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.