Claiming Trial as an Accused

Last updated on March 12, 2019

Before one claims trial, there have to be few preceding events. First, one allegedly commits a crime. Then, he is arrested, and subsequently officially charged in court. Being officially charged in court means that an interpreter will read to the accused his offences, and explain them to him. Next, the accused will be asked how he wishes to plead to the charge. He can choose to plead guilty or not guilty, the latter meaning that he disputes the charge and thus claims trial.

If the accused claims trial, a pre-trial conference will be arranged for his case. The accused might then be put on bail, or placed in pre-trial remand till his pre-trial conference.

The following infographic is a summary of the criminal trial process in Singapore:

criminal trial process
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Pre-Trial Conference

The purpose of a pre-trial conference is to inform the judge of the progress of the case, allowing him to determine if the case is ready to proceed to trial. Trial dates will be fixed only when all parties are ready for trial. The accused can choose to engage a lawyer to represent him during the pre-trial conference and the subsequent trial. Alternatively, the accused can choose to represent himself for the criminal case.

Procedures at the Pre-Trial Conference

A form of a pre-trial conference is the criminal case disclosure conference, which is mandated by section 159 and 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

It is crucial to note that a criminal case disclosure conference will be arranged for offences that will be tried in a District Court, and are listed in the Second Schedule of the Criminal Procedure Code. (List of offences is provided at the end of the article).

The prosecution and accused will attend the conference, which will be presided by a Magistrate or District Judge, and they will settle and confirm the following matters, as stated in Section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code:

  1. The filing of the Case for the Prosecution and the Case for the Defence;
  2. Any issues of fact or law which are to be tried by the trial judge at the trial proper;
  3. The list of witnesses to be called by the parties to the trial;
  4. The statements, documents or exhibits which are intended by the parties to the case to be admitted at the trial; and
  5. The trial date. 

The Magistrate or District Judge presiding over the conference cannot conduct the subsequent trial for the accused. Where the accused informs the court that he intends to plead guilty during the conference, the court will fix a date for his plea to be taken.

Where the prosecution fails to serve the Case for the Prosecution, the court may order a discharge not amounting to an acquittal regarding the charge. The Case for the Defence must contain a few crucial contents, as stated in Section 165 of the Criminal Procedure Code:  

  1. A summary of the defence to the charge and the facts in support of the defence;
  2. A list of the names of the witnesses for the defence;
  3. A list of the exhibits that are intended by the defence to be admitted at the trial; and
  4. If objection is made to any issue of fact or law in relation to any matter contained in the Case for the Prosecution —
    1. A statement of the nature of the objection;
    2. The issue of fact on which evidence will be produced; and
    3. The points of law in support of such objection.

After the Case for the Defence has been served on the prosecution, the prosecution must serve the accused copies of these documents within 2 weeks:

  1. All other statements given by the accused and recorded by an officer of a law enforcement agency under any law in relation to the charge or charges which the prosecution intends to proceed with at the trial;
  2. The documentary exhibits they will refer to in court and
  3. Criminal records, if any, of the accused.

Where the defence fails to serve their case to the prosecution, the prosecution need not serve any of the aforementioned documents, and they may still use any of these documents in trial.

If any of the above rules are not adhered to, for example, if the prosecution fails to serve the Case for the Prosecution on the accused, or if the contents of either Case are not complete, or if either the prosecution or defence puts forward a case that is inconsistent with the Cases that they have served and filed, the court can draw a negative inference as it thinks fit.

Where a criminal case disclosure is not held, the court may fix a date for a pre-trial conference to settle any administrative matters. Once the case if ready for trial, a date will be fixed for the hearing.

At Trial

Once the trial commences, the charge will be read and explained to the accused, who will either plead guilty or claim trial. Once the accused claims trial, the court will proceed to hear the case.

The prosecutor will open his case and briefly state the nature of the offence and the evidence he will use to prove the accused’s guilt. The prosecutor will subsequently examine any witnesses he has, and these witnesses can be cross-examined by the accused, after which the prosecutor may re-examine them. Once the prosecutor has concluded, the defence will invite the court to dismiss the case on the ground that there is no case to answer, and the prosecutor may rebut this submission. It is crucial to note that the accused can be represented by a lawyer. Assuming that the accused has chosen a lawyer to represent him, the defence will refer to the accused and the accused’s lawyer.

The court can alter the charge or frame a new one before calling on the defence, and the accused can plead guilty to this different or new charge. If this is carried out, the court has to follow the aforementioned procedures taken in officially charging the accused.

Before the accused calls any evidence in his defence, the court will inform the accused that he will be called upon by the court to give evidence in his own defence. After the court has called upon the accused to give his defence, the accused can either plead guilty or continue to give his defence.

Assuming that the accused has a lawyer to represent him, his lawyer will open his case by stating the facts or law he will rely on, before giving evidence in his own defence. The accused’s witnesses and the evidence must be given in the same order the prosecution did – the accused’s witnesses shall give evidence and will then be cross-examined by the co-accused (if any), followed by the prosecutor, after which the witness may be re-examined by the accused’s lawyer.

If the accused foresees difficulty in getting his witness to attend court, he can apply to the court to compel the witness to attend court for cross-examination, or to produce any exhibit in court. The court must do so unless it considers this application frivolous or vexatious or made to delay justice.

It is crucial to note that the prosecutor or defence may call a witness or produce an exhibit not disclosed in the Case for the prosecution or the Case for the Defence if it has given prior notice in writing to the court and to the other parties at trial of his intention to do so. The notice must state the name of the witness, an outline of his evidence, or provide a brief description of the exhibit.

Close of Trial

After all the witnesses have provided evidence at the trial, the prosecution and Defence will give oral or written submissions. The prosecution will have the final right of reply on the whole case, and they have the right to call a person as a witness or recall and re-examine a person already examined for the purpose of rebuttal. If the Prosecution calls a person as a witness again, the witness may be cross-examined by the accused, and re-examined by the prosecutor again.

After the closing submissions, the Judge will decide whether the prosecution has proved its case against the accused. if the accused is found guilty, the Judge will convict him of the charge and impose the requisite sentence. If the accused is found not guilty, the Judge will acquit the accused and release him.

Acts that require a Criminal Case Disclosure conference

  1. Arms And Explosives Act
  2. Arms Offences Act
  3. Banishment Act
  4. Computer Misuse Act
  5. Corrosive And Explosive Substances And Offensive Weapons Act
  6. Corruption, Drug Trafficking And Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation Of Benefits) Act
  7. Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act
  8. Hijacking Of Aircraft And Protection Of Aircraft And International Airports Act
  9. Immigration Act (Other than sections 6 And 15)
  10. Internal Security Act
  11. Maintenance Of Religious Harmony Act
  12. Misuse Of Drugs Act
  13. Oaths And Declarations Act
  14. Official Secrets Act
  15. Passports Act
  16. Penal Code
  17. Prisons Act
  18. Protected Areas And Protected Places Act
  19. Public Entertainments And Meetings Act
  20. Public Order (Preservation) Act
  21. Securities And Futures Act
  22. Sedition Act
  23. Vandalism Act
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