Composition Offers and Fines for Criminal Offences in Singapore
Crimes are regarded as a wrong committed against society. Therefore, after a crime has been committed in Singapore, offenders and victims are usually not allowed to come to a private agreement to absolve the offender from criminal liability. This is to ensure that the offender is punished for the harm that they may have caused to society.
However, there are some offences that are more minor and private in nature, such that the interests of the public are less likely to be affected if a complainant agrees to make a settlement with the accused. This compromise or arrangement between a complainant and the accused is often referred to as a composition.
The complainant refers to the person with the power to compound an offence. The complainant will vary depending on the offence, but may be the victim, the Public Prosecutor, or the agency in charge of prosecuting the offence, which might include agencies such as the Inland Revenue Authority (IRAS), National Environment Agency (NEA), National Parks Board (NParks), or Central Provident Fund (CPF). The complainant must, however, be willing to compound the offence before it can be compounded.
This article aims to explain:
What are the Benefits and Effects of Compounding an Offence?
No further action taken against you
The benefit of compounding an offence in Singapore is that no further action will be taken against you with respect to the offence. If you have already been charged with the offence, you will receive a discharge amounting to an acquittal for it after you have compounded it. This would mean that you would not have a criminal record for that offence, which might otherwise affect your employment or career prospects.
You also cannot be tried again for other offences on the same facts of the case, as no further proceedings can be taken against the person for an offence that has been compounded.
Potentially lower financial penalty
Additionally, while you may still have to pay a penalty when compounding an offence, it is possible that this penalty will be lower as compared to if you had been convicted of the offence.
This is because the composition sum generally cannot exceed half of the maximum fine for that offence or $5,000, whichever is lower. The law might also stipulate a specific maximum composition sum for certain offences.
For example, the offence of failing to comply with a COVID-19 control order may be compounded for a maximum sum of $2,000. If this offence is not compounded, however, then a first-time offender can be liable for a maximum fine of $10,000 and/or up to 6 months’ jail.
Compounded offences can be taken into consideration during subsequent reoffending
However, while compounding an offence results in you being acquitted of it, the compounded offence can still be taken into consideration if you commit an offence in the future. This will be discussed in more detail below.
Which Offences are Compoundable in Singapore?
Generally, offences that are generally regarded as minor, private, or regulatory in nature might be compoundable in Singapore. Compoundable offences are specified in the Fourth Schedule of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and include:
- Some offences under the Penal Code, such as voluntarily causing hurt, mischief, criminal trespass and criminal defamation.
- Some offences under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, such as nuisance and touting for business.
- Some offences under the Protection from Harassment Act, such as intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress, causing fear or provocation of violence and unlawful stalking.
Apart from the compoundable offences stated in the Fourth Schedule of the CPC, other written laws might also allow for the composition of some other offences. For example, other offences that can be compounded include:
- Some offences under the Road Traffic Act, such as having illegal alterations on vehicles, careless driving and speeding.
- Some COVID-19-related offences, such as contravening control orders.
- Some offences under the Income Tax Act, such as making incorrect income tax returns or failing to file income tax returns altogether.
A person may have to fulfil certain conditions before being able to compound an offence. For example, under the Enlistment (Composition of Offences) Regulations, individuals who are seeking to compound their offence for failing to report for National Service registration must personally report to the Central Manpower Base (CMPB) to do so. They will be required to bring along an identification document and any supporting documents that they might have. More than one visit might be required for the matter to be successfully compounded.
Finally, it should be noted that if an offence is compoundable, then an attempt, abetment, or conspiracy in respect of the same offence will similarly be compoundable.
Who Can Compound Offences?
Since composition is essentially an agreement between two parties, it is insufficient that you, the accused person, are willing to compound the offence. As mentioned, the complainant would have to agree to compound the offence as well.
For offences specified in the Fourth Schedule of the CPC, it is the victim (or the intended victim) who must agree to compound the offences. If he/she is legally or mentally disabled, a person who is competent to act on his behalf may do so. However, the prosecution will also have to consent to the composition if investigations have already commenced for the specified offence, or if the accused has already been charged in court for that offence.
For some other offences under the Penal Code, the prosecution is the one that must consent to the composition. This is to allow offences that do not involve specific victims, such as offences relating to public property, to be compounded.
For offences under other written laws, the power to compound usually lies with the relevant agency or authority, which will usually be specified under the written law itself. For example, the Comptroller of Income Tax (from IRAS) may compound certain offences under the Income Tax Act. For COVID-19 related offences, multiple persons may be authorised to compound an offence. They include the:
- Director of Medical Services (from the Ministry of Health)
- Director-General of Public Health (from the NEA)Director-General for Food Administration (from Singapore Food Agency)
It should be noted that the relevant prosecuting agency has the discretion to decide whether to offer composition. If you have not been offered composition, this could be because:
- Your case might be more severe; or
- You might have previously compounded or been convicted of a similar offence; or
- You might have failed to compound the offence before the offer of composition lapsed or was revoked.
What Forms Can the Compounding of An Offence Take?
Composition has been noted to take the form of monetary compensation. Sometimes, this may be accompanied by an apology. However, composition might also come in other forms, including donation of a specified amount to charity.
How Do You Compound an Offence?
The way that an offence is compounded will vary depending on the offence.
If you receive an offer of composition
For most offences, including regulatory or traffic offences, an offer of composition may be stated on the notice or traffic ticket notice that you would receive. The composition amount and composition deadline will also be stated on the notice.
If the notice or summons does not contain an offer of composition, this means that you are not allowed to compound the offence unless you make a successful appeal to do so (as discussed later). You would then have to attend court at the date, time, and location stated in the notice, and failure to do so might result in arrest.
An offer of composition may also be revoked by the prosecuting agency under certain circumstances, such as if you fail to attend court. If there is a failure to compound by the expiration date or the offer has been revoked, then you will likewise have to attend court. This is unless you have committed a regulatory offence and are given the option to plead guilty and pay the court fine using ATOMS, which is discussed in more detail below.
For minor traffic and parking offences that are prosecuted by the Traffic Police, Land Transport Authority (LTA), Housing and Development Board (HDB) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), you may pay the composition sum at the Automated Traffic Offence Management System (ATOMS), which is found in all AXS kiosks located island-wide, on the AXS website or through the AXS app. If you are unable to pay the composition sum at once, you may seek permission from the relevant prosecuting agency to pay the sum in instalments.
If you did not receive an offer of composition
If there is no offer to compound provided for the regulatory offences, you can try to appeal to the appropriate prosecuting agency to have your offence compounded. You should check with that agency for the method of appeal. Supporting documents should be included with your representations.
However, you should note that there might be strict requirements if you are trying to appeal for the composition of some offences. For example, traffic offence appeals will be considered only if there had been medical emergencies at the time of the offence, and such claims must be supported by documentary proof.
For offences that are compoundable by the victim
For the offences that are compoundable by the victim, you may wish to negotiate with the victim to make a composition offer. The composition of an offence might be beneficial to victims because while the court has the discretion to order you to compensate the victim if you are found guilty, it may choose not to make such an order. This might leave the victim with no compensation for the harm that they have suffered.
As mentioned, the prosecution will also have to consent to the composition if investigations have already commenced for the specified offence, or if the accused has already been charged in court for the offence.
What Happens If You Reoffend After Compounding the Current Offence?
If you happened to reoffend (or offend, as the case may be), your compounded offence(s) might be an aggravating factor that increases your sentence for the subsequent offence. This is because the court believes that there is a real possibility of you having committed the compounded offence (even though you had not been convicted of it). Therefore, even if you are acquitted, such composition can be taken into consideration for the purposes of sentencing.
Of course, the possibility is open for you to prove that you had not committed the offence that you had compounded, or there were reasons for you to have compounded the offence other than because you had committed it.
For example, you could show that the reason you had compounded the earlier offence was because you were in a hurry to leave for an important overseas assignment which would otherwise have been delayed if you had not compounded the offence.
If you can explain the reason why you compounded the offence, then this might prevent the court from taking the compounded offence into consideration. At the same time, however, the prosecution may also attempt to prove that you had in fact committed the compounded offence, and that it is proper to take it into consideration for sentencing purposes.
However, even if your compounded offence(s) is taken into consideration, you may not necessarily receive an increased sentence. The compounded offence(s) might enhance the sentence only if they are relevant to the current offence in a material way.
This means that if the compounded offences are few, are unrelated to your present charge, or had been in the distant past (especially if they happened when you had been much younger), then they might not increase your sentence significantly or even at all. In other words, your compounded offences might still be a neutral or non-factor for sentencing purposes.
As shown above, there are benefits to compounding an offence in Singapore. Although you may be able to compound an offence on your own in some situations, consulting a criminal defence lawyer would be of great help for the trickier situations. This is because some offences might have distinct requirements before they can be compounded.
A criminal defence lawyer will be able to help you navigate through the possible complexities and adhere to the proper process for the composition of offences. They could also make your appeal to the relevant prosecuting agency for the composition of an offence more persuasive.
Finally, your lawyer will be able to communicate with the victim or their legal representative on your behalf to see if they are amenable to receiving compensation for any harm that has been caused.
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