When Can the Police Arrest Someone?: Arrestable and Non-Arrestable Offences in Singapore

Last updated on May 25, 2018

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In recent years, multiple incidents have surfaced where punches were thrown and the police was called in, but no arrests were made.

In such cases, the police officers present at the scene merely restricted themselves to recording the identities of the parties involved, as well as questioning witnesses.

This has perplexed many Singaporeans. When will an arrest be made?

Is the Alleged Offence Committed Arrestable or Non-Arrestable?

Upon arrival at the scene, the police will assess the situation and determine whether an arrestable offence might have been committed.

If an arrestable offence has been committed, or the police reasonably suspect that an arrestable offence has been committed, the police is empowered to arrest the alleged offender without a warrant. The police will follow the arrest procedure while doing so.

If the alleged offence appears to be non-arrestable, this does not mean that the police cannot arrest the alleged offender. Rather, it means that the police will need a warrant before they can make the arrest.

This is because the police cannot make an arrest without a warrant. It is up to the victim to decide whether he would like to take further action on the case.

What Happens if the Case Involves a Non-Arrestable Offence?

The police would gather witness reports and record the identities of parties involved. This is for report-writing purposes afterwards. The police would also ensure that any injured persons receive medical treatment.

Finally, the police would advise possible victims of non-arrestable offences to file a Magistrate’s Complaint at the Community Justice Tribunals Division (CJTD) of the State Courts.

Upon receiving the Magistrate’s Complaint, the Magistrate will decide if the case is worth pursuing, whether through State Prosecution, mediation or private prosecution. In the process, the Magistrate may issue a warrant for the alleged offender’s arrest.

Which Offences are Arrestable?

For offences found in the Penal Code

If an offence is found in the Penal Code, you can check whether it is arrestable by referring to the Third Column of the First Schedule of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).

Offences labelled as “may arrest without warrant” are arrestable, while offences labelled as “shall not arrest without warrant” are non-arrestable.

For offences found in other legislation

If the offence is found in other legislation, you will have to check that legislation to see if the offence is arrestable.

If the legislation does not say anything on this issue, the default rule under the Third Column of the First Schedule of the CPC is that:

  • Offences punishable with death, or 3 or more years of imprisonment, are arrestable
  • Offences punishable with less than 3 years of imprisonment, or with a fine, are non-arrestable

The following are examples of arrestable offences under the Penal Code:

  1. Unlawful assemblies or rioting
  2. Impersonation of a public servant
  3. Obstructing a public servant in his duties, or threatening a public servant
  4. Affray (Fighting in public places)
  5. Fouling the water of a public spring or reservoir
  6. Driving rashly or negligently
  7. Commission of obscene acts in public
  8. Rape
  9. Theft and robbery
  10. Criminal trespass
  11. Assault or use of criminal force to a person with intent to outrage modesty (molest)
  12. Acts or attempts that cause or can cause death, including suicide, murder, or rash acts
  13. Voluntarily causing grievous hurt
  14. Voluntarily causing hurt with a dangerous weapon

It is worth noting that unlike the offences of voluntarily causing grievous hurt or voluntarily causing hurt with a dangerous weapon mentioned above, the “basic” voluntarily causing hurt offence is a non-arrestable offence. Persons alleged to have voluntarily caused hurt to others cannot be arrested if the police do not have a warrant for their arrest.

Victims should therefore file a Magistrate’s Complaint to have the court look into the matter and decide whether to issue an arrest warrant.

(Victims are also recommended to file a police report before that. The court often asks for a police report when the Magistrate’s Complaint is being filed.)

In addition, arrests can also be made if a person:

  1. Possesses housebreaking tools without a good excuse for doing so
  2. Possesses stolen property
  3. Obstructs police affairs
  4. Is an army deserter
  5. May be about to commit an offence
  6. Commits a non-arrestable offence in view of police, and offers a fake identity or place of residence
  7. Offers a fake identity or place of residence
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