Causing a Public Nuisance in Singapore: What are the Penalties?
You may have come across a 2017 video circulating online, of a young couple quarrelling with an elderly man over the use of a table at a hawker centre in Toa Payoh. The couple even verbally abused and shoved the man.
The video was met with shock and condemnation from netizens, who demanded that action be taken against them. The couple was eventually arrested by the police for causing public nuisance, as well as for other offences.
This article aims to explain:
What Does It Mean to Cause a Public Nuisance?
Causing public nuisance
A person commits an offence of causing public nuisance under the Penal Code if he causes either common injury, danger or annoyance to the public or people within a vicinity.
Public nuisance can be contrasted with that of private nuisance. The former refers to acts of nuisance committed against any class of the public or community, while the latter generally refers to acts committed against one or a limited number of individuals.
What are considered acts of public nuisance?
Given that public nuisance has been defined in a broad manner, consisting of acts that could cause injury, danger or annoyance to the public, such acts run the gamut from loud shouting in a public setting to gesticulations and even to obstructions of people or traffic. However, whether an act falls within the definition of public nuisance under the Penal Code ultimately depends on the individual facts of the case.
Bad hygiene practices that pose a health risk to the public could also fall within the ambit of public nuisance. In fact, there was an increased incidence of acts of public nuisance in Singapore in 2020-2021 amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. In July 2021, a man was charged with causing public nuisance for refusing to wear a mask on a train and for speaking to other commuters without putting on a mask.
One may also alternatively be charged with causing nuisance under section 11 of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (MOPONA), if he commits any of the following specific acts:
- Putting up any advertisements against or on any public spaces without consent;
- Bathing or washing oneself or any other person, animal or thing on any public space or by the side of any water areas.
- Wilfully intruding into a bathing place to cause trouble or inconvenience to a person bathing there, or by washing any animal at or near that place
- Disposing a pet’s carcass in a way as to be a common nuisance;
- Placing any dead animal on or near a public road;
- Spitting in public areas; and
- Leaving a ferocious dog or animal unmuzzled, or urging any dog or animal to attack, worry or put in fear any person or animal
What are the Penalties For Causing a Public Nuisance in Singapore?
A person charged with causing public nuisance under the Penal Code may face a fine of up to $2,000. If the offender had known that he will or will probably cause common injury, danger or annoyance to the public, or if he is a repeat offender, he may face imprisonment of up to 3 months, or a fine of up to $2,000 or both.
A person charged with causing nuisance under section 11 of the MOPONA is liable to a maximum fine of $1,000.
You may wish to note that a person may, in the course of causing public nuisance, commit other offences. Therefore, he may also be charged and punished for any other additional offences committed.
Examples of incidents involving public nuisance and other related offences are described below:
Refusal to wear a mask and to comply with COVID-19 regulations
As mentioned in the section above, the man who was charged with public nuisance for refusing to wear a mask on the train during the COVID-19 pandemic was separately charged with using threatening words towards on-duty police officers. He was also found to have flouted the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations for not wearing a mask in public.
Uttering of racist remarks and assault
Next, the police arrested a man in July 2021 for allegedly shouting racist remarks against two groups of men and also assaulting one of them. His acts were likely to have caused annoyance to the public and disturbed the public peace.
The man was subsequently investigated for not only the offence of causing public nuisance, but also for 3 other offences, namely uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the racial feelings of any person, voluntarily causing hurt and intentional harassment.
Flipping a signboard which hit a child
Turning to another case, a group of teenagers were investigated by the police in November 2021 for causing public nuisance and dishonest misappropriation of property. They had flipped a yellow “wet floor” sign, causing it to hit a child, and had therefore likely injured and caused annoyance to the child.
How are Young Offenders Sentenced For Causing a Public Nuisance in Singapore?
At times, a young person may cause a public nuisance in a moment of folly. Where the offender is young, the courts will prioritise rehabilitation when sentencing young offenders. This means that the court will aim to pass a sentence that helps the offender reform.
However, this does not necessarily mean that a young offender will get off lightly. In deciding the appropriate sentence to be meted to a young offender, the court will take into account the relevant facts and circumstances of the case.
Young offenders may be sentenced to probation for causing public nuisance. A probation order, which is usually ordered for offenders aged 21 and below, is a non-custodial punishment where the offender is allowed to remain in the community while being supervised by a probation officer for a time period of 6 months to 3 years. Several conditions may be imposed under the probation order, such as the offender being required to perform community service, to be placed under electronic monitoring and to be subjected to a curfew.
In February 2020, two teenagers were charged with causing public nuisance at a supermarket, for drinking from two bottles of fruit juice on a refrigerated shelf and then placing them back. This act was considered a form of public nuisance as it was committed around the time when Singapore was on alert for the COVID-19 disease and hence the act posed a serious public health threat.
The two teenagers were eventually sentenced to 9 months’ probation and had to perform 60 hours of community service.
A few months later, in August 2020, another incident of public nuisance involving a young offender was reported. An 18-year-old student spat over a fourth storey railing at a shopping mall, towards several diners at the ground floor, causing a public health risk. He was eventually charged for causing public nuisance and similarly sentenced to 9 months’ probation and 60 hours of community service.
Is Causing a Public Nuisance an Arrestable Offence?
The act of causing public nuisance is an arrestable offence in Singapore. An arrestable offence is one for which the police can arrest a suspect without a warrant.
Therefore, if a police officer arrives at a scene and determines that an act of public nuisance has occurred, or reasonably suspects an individual of causing a public nuisance, that individual can be arrested without a warrant.
Will People Convicted of Public Nuisance Have a Criminal Record?
If you have been convicted of public nuisance under the Penal Code or the MOPONA, you will not have a criminal record, as the offence is not one that will leave a criminal record.
If you commit an offence of causing public nuisance under the Penal Code in Singapore, you may be liable to a fine of up to $2,000 and potentially an imprisonment term of up to 3 months. For public nuisance punishable under the MOPONA, you may be liable to a maximum fine of $1,000.
Unlike the MOPONA, there are no prescribed circumstances under which an act would be deemed to be a form of public nuisance under the Penal Code and hence whether an act attracts liability is highly dependent on the facts of the case.
It is likely that the offence of public nuisance has been defined broadly to provide law enforcement agencies with extensive powers to arrest and charge people who misbehave in public. This in turn helps to maintain the peace and stability of our society.
If you have been charged with causing public nuisance in Singapore, you may wish to consult a criminal lawyer. He or she may be able to advise you on the possible defences you could raise and the likely sentence you might face if you are found guilty.
Should you eventually be convicted of committing a public nuisance offence, a lawyer may also be able to prepare a mitigation plea and seek a lighter sentence for you.
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