Can the Public Make a Citizen’s Arrest in Singapore?
On your way home from work, you notice a robbery taking place. An old lady is being held at knifepoint and she is about to surrender her valuables. Sizing up the situation, you notice that the robber is a slightly built man of about 1.67m while you, standing at nearly 1.9m, with 20 years of Aikido training under your belt, can certainly overpower him, knife or no knife.
Can you, as a civilian, arrest the robber before he does any harm to the old lady?
This article will discuss:
- What is a citizen’s arrest?
- When can you make a citizen’s arrest?
- What happens if the alleged offender is harmed or dies while the citizen’s arrest is being made?
- What happens after you have made a citizen’s arrest?
In limited situations, Singapore law allows private individuals who are not police officers to arrest a person who is believed to have committed an offence. This is known as an “arrest by a private person”, or sometimes referred to as a “citizen’s arrest” or “civilian’s arrest”.
When Can You Make a Citizen’s Arrest?
Under section 66(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), 2 conditions must be satisfied before a private individual is permitted by law to arrest a person who commits an offence:
- The offence must have been committed in the view or presence of the private individual making the arrest; and
- The offence which has been committed must be an arrestable and non-bailable offence. Arrestable and non-bailable offences refer to offences for which police officers are legally empowered to make an arrest without a warrant, and for which the court has the discretion to decide whether to grant bail.
In practice though, it is unlikely that a layperson (who is not trained in the law) will be thinking about the differences between arrestable and non-arrestable offences, or bailable and non-bailable offences, if he or she sees a crime being committed and decides to intervene.
In such circumstances, a layperson is most likely to act based on whether they think that the action or conduct they are witnessing is illegal.
Other situations where a citizen’s arrest can be made
Where a person commits an offence against the private person or the private person’s property
Section 66(6) of the CPC also provides that a private person can arrest a person who commits an offence against the private person, or the private person’s property, if at least one of the following conditions are met:
- The name and residential address of the person is not known;
- The person gives a residential address that is outside of Singapore; or
- There is reason to believe that the name or residential address given by the person is false.
In this situation, there is no requirement that such offence be an arrestable, non-bailable offence before the private person can arrest the person.
You may also wish to remind the person whom you have arrested that he will be found guilty of an offence if he forcibly resists the arrest or assaults you.
Where the person has been issued a warrant of arrest or has run away/is in hiding
Do note that a private person may also arrest any person against whom a warrant of arrest has been issued, but the person has run away or is in hiding such that the warrant of arrest cannot be executed against him or her.
What Happens If the Alleged Offender is Harmed or Dies While the Citizen’s Arrest is Being Made?
When making the arrest, it is important to ensure that you do not use excessive force on the person, and that you detain the person only until the police arrives.
If the alleged offender is harmed or dies in the process of being arrested, there may be potential legal consequences. In such cases, an autopsy would usually be conducted to determine the cause of death, and a coroner’s inquiry could be held if the cause of death remains unclear.
Depending on the findings of the State Coroner, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) may decide if it wants to prosecute the persons who made the arrest. This may be done if there is evidence to suggest that their actions are related to the alleged offender’s death.
The AGC will also need to consider the intentions of the individuals who made the arrest to determine if they should be charged. For example, whether they intended to harm the alleged offender, or if their intention was to merely restrain the alleged offender, which negligently resulted in the alleged offender’s death.
In November 2019, a 46-year-old man died after he was detained by 5 members of the public for allegedly taking upskirt videos of a woman at Little India MRT station. According to news reports, the man had been pinned down by the members of the public, who released their grip on the alleged offender after he started vomiting and fell unconscious.
An autopsy later revealed that the man was found to have died from hypothyroid cardiomyopathy and no excessive force (which was initially thought to be the cause of death) was used to detain him.
However, the State Coroner noted in her findings that the members of the public made no attempt to reposition or actively monitor whether the man was well after he had vomited. The stress of being on the run and/or the subsequent restraint could have also contributed to the man’s death.
While no excessive force was used in this case, it was clear that the members of the public were not aware of the medical risks associated with restraining methods. This case also prompted lawyers to remind members of the public that while they can make a citizen’s arrest if they see a crime being committed, they must not break any laws in the process, for example, by causing hurt to the alleged offender.
What Happens After You have Made a Citizen’s Arrest?
When you have made the arrest, you must, as soon as possible and without any unnecessary delay, hand over the arrested person to a police officer or take the arrested person to a police station.
After the arrested person has been handed over to the custody of a policy officer, there are a number of situations that could happen next:
Release of the alleged offender if no offence has been committed
If there is no reason to believe that the person whom you have arrested has committed any offence, he or she will be immediately released from custody.
In such a situation however, you could face criminal charges for making a wrongful arrest. You could also face a civil lawsuit from the person whom you had arrested.
Re-arrest by a police officer if that person has committed an arrestable offence, is subject to police supervision or is known to be a habitual robber, housebreaker or thief
The person whom you have arrested must be re-arrested by a police officer if he or she is a person whom a police officer may arrest without a warrant.
Such persons could include a person who may have committed an arrestable offence, is subject to police supervision, or who is known to be a habitual robber, housebreaker or thief.
Re-arrest by a police officer if non-arrestable offence is committed and person refused to give his/her name and residential address
The person may be re-arrested by the police if there is reason to believe that the person whom you have arrested has committed a non-arrestable offence, and he or she either:
- Refuses to give his/her name and residential address when required by a police officer;
- Gives a residential address outside Singapore; or
- Gives a name or residential address that the police officer has reason to believe is false.
That person may also be released upon signing a bond to appear before a Magistrate.
If the person refuses or is unable to sign the bond as required, he or she will be brought before a Magistrate’s Court and may either be ordered to be detained in police custody until he/she can either be tried in court, or released upon signing a bond.
There may be situations where a member of the public might want to intervene to protect someone’s safety if they believe a crime is being committed.
However, members of the public who conduct citizen’s arrests may not understand the relevant laws or the potentially adverse consequences of making such an arrest, which have been outlined above.
Making a citizen’s arrest can often be an unpredictable, and sometimes high-risk, situation, where the person making the arrest as well as the alleged offender, and even other members of the public could be placed in a potentially dangerous situation.
Therefore, the best option if you are in doubt as to whether you can legally make a citizen’s arrest might be to call the police, given the potential risks involved.
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