Arson and Fire-Related Offences and Their Penalties in Singapore
Apart from the damage that can be caused by fire, the legal consequences of you being charged with fire-related offences can be serious. There are a number of offences in Singapore relating to fire and each comes with heavy penalties.
This article will discuss:
- What is arson?
- Whether mischief by fire is an arrestable offence
- How will offenders be sentenced for mischief by fire in Singapore?
- Will people convicted of mischief by fire have a criminal record?
- Other fire-related offences and their penalties in Singapore
- The next steps to take
If you have been involved in arson or other fire-related offences, read on to find out more about what you should know and can do.
What is Arson?
Arson refers to the act of deliberately setting fire to a property. In Singapore, an arsonist may be charged for the offence of mischief by fire. There are two forms of mischief by fire defined in the Penal Code.
The first is when the offence is committed with the intent to cause damage to any property. This carries a punishment of an imprisonment term of up to 7 years, and a fine.
The second form of mischief by fire is when the offence is committed with the intent to destroy a building such as a house or place of worship. This carries a harsher punishment of either life imprisonment, or an imprisonment term of up to 10 years, and a fine.
An example of mischief by fire with the intent to destroy a building would be setting a family flat on fire. In 2018, in a state of anger, a man poured cooking oil into his mother’s wardrobe and threw burning papers into it. He then proceeded to set fire to his mother’s mattress and his younger brother’s wardrobe. He had done all these with the intention of destroying the entire unit. As a result, he was sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment.
Is Mischief by Fire an Arrestable Offence?
Both forms of mischief by fire are arrestable offences. An arrestable offence is one where the police can arrest a suspect without a warrant.
For example, if the authorities discovered that a person had set fire to a place or thing(s) and therefore reasonably suspect that an offence has been committed, the alleged offender can be arrested without a warrant.
Once the suspect has been arrested, it is up to the police or the court to decide whether to release them on bail.
How will Offenders be Sentenced for Mischief by Fire in Singapore?
In deciding the sentence for offenders convicted of mischief by fire, the court may consider the following factors:
- The extensiveness of the damage caused by the fire, with reference to the costs of reinstating a property or place. Where the fire resulted in extensive damage, a harsher sentence may be imposed.
- Whether the offender has past criminal records, and if so, whether these records are of similar nature. For example, if the offender has multiple violence-related offence records, it may reflect the offender’s propensity to commit violent offences, and warrant a stiffer sentence.
- Whether, at the time of the offence, the offender’s judgement was impaired due to his/her psychiatric condition. If this can be established, the court may consider imposing a more lenient sentence. However, if it is found that the offender’s judgement had not been impaired despite him/her having a psychiatric condition, then the fact that the offender was under a psychiatric condition at the time of the offence may have little impact in reducing the offender’s sentence.
- Whether the offender had pleaded guilty instead of claiming trial. Where the offender chose to plead guilty, this may be a mitigating factor and attract a lighter sentence.
Will People Convicted of Mischief by Fire have a Criminal Record?
Yes, if you are convicted of mischief by fire, you will have a criminal record.
However, you might still have the opportunity to have your criminal record treated as spent after a certain period of time. This simply means that your record will be wiped clean. To qualify for having your record spent, you must first meet the following criteria:
- If you were given a prison sentence, your imprisonment term must have been not more than 3 months;
- If you were given a fine, the fine imposed on you must have been not more than $2,000;
- You must not have any other conviction on your criminal record; and
- You must not have any previous spent record on the register.
If you meet these criteria, you then have to remain crime-free for at least 5 consecutive years, starting from the date of your release from prison, or from the date that your sentence was passed if you were given a fine. Once you accomplish this, your record will be spent automatically, and you will be able to legally declare that you do not have a criminal record.
Other Fire-Related Offences and Their Penalties in Singapore
Apart from mischief by fire, there are other fire-related offences in Singapore you could be charged with.
Causing or contributing to risk of fire
A person may be liable for an offence of causing or contributing to risk of dangerous fire where the fire:
- Is likely to cause or causes hurt or injury;
- Endangers human life;
- Causes damage or diminishes the value of any property;
- Causes grievous hurt; and/or
- Causes death.
Note that where a person deposits, drops, places or throws a cigarette or any part of a cigarette, and a fire occurs at that same place within 60 minutes, the person will be presumed to have caused the fire, unless he/she is able to prove otherwise.
The severity of the punishment depends on the consequence(s) of the fire. For example, a fire that endangers human life attracts an imprisonment term of up to 1 year and/or a fine of up to $5,000. However, if the fire causes death, an offender will be sentenced to up to 7 years of imprisonment and/or fined.
Criminal intimidation involving a threat to destroy property with fire
Criminal intimidation is an offence under the Penal Code. It is committed when there is a threat to cause injury to either the body, reputation or property of a person, or the body or reputation of anyone that person knows, while intending to:
- Cause alarm;
- Cause that person to do an act that he is not legally required to do; or
- Stop that person from doing an act that he is legally entitled to do
Under the Penal Code, a threat to destroy property with fire is an aggravated form of criminal intimidation. In such a case, the offender will be sentenced to up to 10 years of imprisonment and/or fined.
False alarm of fire
Under the Fire Safety Act, you could also land yourself in trouble if you knowingly give a false alarm of fire to the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). The maximum punishment for such an offence is a fine of up to $5,000 and/or an imprisonment term of up to 3 months.
Causing a fire hazard
As an owner or occupier, causing a fire hazard at a building is also an offence under the Fire Safety Act. This includes any omission(s) or act(s) that causes a fire hazard. Examples of fire hazards include:
- Overcrowding of a building that makes escaping in the event of fire more difficult
- The failure to maintain and/or repair faulty fire safety equipment
- Obstruction of a fire escape route
SCDF may take immediate prosecutorial action where there are serious fire safety risks. This means that it can charge parties where an offence is believed to be committed. The SCDF may also enter any premises that may contain evidence of offences under the Fire Safety Act, conduct investigations and take statements for possible fire safety violations, and take action against any party who supplies or installs non-compliant fire safety products.
An offence under the Fire Safety Act carries a punishment of up to 6 months’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $10,000. On top of that, where the offence continues after conviction, a further fine of up to $1,000 per day or part thereof can be ordered.
If you have been a victim of arson or a fire-related offence, you should make a police report about the arson so that the perpetrator may be arrested as soon as possible, and investigations can commence.
If you have been charged with mischief by fire and/or fire-related offence(s), you have a choice to represent yourself. Nonetheless, there are benefits to discussing your options with a criminal defence lawyer. An experienced criminal defence lawyer will be able to provide a realistic assessment of your case and the possible options you have moving forward.
The criminal defence lawyer could also represent you in criminal proceedings to bring out any appropriate defences and/or mitigating factors to obtain the most favourable outcome for you.
Feel free to consult our experienced criminal defence lawyers for assistance today.
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