Causing Public Alarm in Singapore: Examples & Penalties
You might think that the public would not be alarmed if you brandished a toy gun in public. This was what a 19-year-old man did when he carried a shotgun-like object in public. His actions caused passersby to be alarmed which resulted in the police investigating the matter. This is an example of public alarm.
Although instances like the one above are rare, causing public alarm is a serious offence. Offenders can be punished under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) and face hefty penalties. Read further to learn more about the potential consequences of causing public alarm.
This article will cover:
What is the Offence of Causing Public Alarm?
The offence of causing public alarm can be found in section 4 of the POHA. This section states that an individual or entity must not use any threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour/communication that causes the other person to feel alarmed.
To better understand how the elements of section 4 POHA are applied, we will be using an example of a man waving a sword in public.
The elements under section 4(1) POHA are as follows:
This would refer to a company, association or group of people. It does not need to be a business. The man waving his sword would be considered an individual.
Threatening, abusive or insulting
This means that most people would find the accused’s actions, words or any such communication to be threatening, abusive or insulting. These 3 terms can be understood in their ordinary meaning i.e., the meaning that the general public would understand in their daily use.
The act of waving a sword in public would be viewed as threatening. This is because a sword is a weapon and a passerby who sees the man waving the sword would think that he would want to injure people with it.
Seen, heard or perceived
This element suggests that the victim must see or hear the threatening, abusive or insulting action(s) or gesture(s). This is important in establishing why the victim was alarmed.
For example, the passerby who sees the man waving his sword would be alarmed by this sight as he would perceive that he might be in danger or face a threat to his safety.
Cause harassment, alarm or distress
This element is fulfilled as long as the victim perceives the act to have caused them harassment, alarm or distress. This is even if the act was not directed at the victim.
For example, if a man brandishes his sword into the air, and the public is alarmed by this, the man would be found guilty of an offence even though he did not direct the sword to the public or any one person in the crowd.
The Offence of Intentionally Causing Public Alarm
Under section 3 of the POHA, a person can be found guilty of intentionally causing public alarm. This may happen if a man brandishes his sword at the public, with the intention to cause them harassment, alarm or distress.
This is unlike section 4 of the POHA, where a person can be found guilty of causing public alarm even if they did not intend to cause public alarm. The penalties for intentionally causing public alarm are heftier as well (see below).
What are the Penalties For Causing Public Alarm?
If you are guilty of causing public alarm under section 4 of the POHA you will face a fine of up to $5,000 upon conviction. However, if you were found to have intentionally caused public alarm under section 3(1) of the POHA, you will be fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed for up to 6 months upon conviction.
Under section 9 of the POHA, the court can also make a community order after convicting the suspect. This means the offender must perform unpaid community service under the supervision of an authorised officer.
Is Causing Public Alarm an Arrestable Offence?
Causing public alarm is an arrestable offence. Under section 18 of the POHA, police officers can arrest, without a warrant, anyone whom they think is offending any of the provisions under the POHA.
You may refer to our other article for a detailed overview of the differences between arrestable and non-arrestable offences.
Are There Any Applicable Defences to the Offence of Causing Public Alarm?
Yes, section 4(3) POHA outlines the defence for causing public alarm. You can use this defence if you satisfy the following elements:
- You do not think that the words, behaviour or communication would be heard, seen, or perceived by the victim as threatening, abusive or insulting; and
- Your conduct was reasonable.
These two elements above must be proven through the use of relevant facts that occurred at the time of the incident.
An example of a situation where this defence can apply is an umpire firing a bullet into the sky during a track and field event to signal the start of the race. People who do not know that there is a track and field race would perceive the gunshot to be threatening because they might think that there is a gunman who is shooting at people. Here, the two elements of defence are satisfied because the shots that were fired were not directed at any person when the gun was pointed in the sky. Second, the umpire was carrying out his duties by signalling the start of a race to the participants. This is an essential part of the competition.
However, if you are unable to prove this defence, you would be guilty of the offence of causing public alarm under section 4(2) POHA.
Causing public alarm involves exhibiting threatening, abusive or insulting actions, behaviour or words which cause the public to feel alarmed. This is a serious offence because you do not need to carry out the action intentionally for you to be potentially charged and prosecuted for committing the offence.
If you encounter a person displaying such behaviour or communication that can be deemed to be causing public alarm, you should stay calm and make your way to a safe place, if possible, before contacting the police.
On the other hand, if you have been charged with causing public alarm, you should consult a criminal lawyer for further advice. A criminal lawyer will be able to assess your case and advise you on how you should proceed with your case, including the applicability of any defences.
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