Criminal Appeals in Singapore
You might have followed the City Harvest Church saga over the course of the last few years and wondered whether there will be an end to the appeals filed by both the Defence and Prosecution. This article aims to shed some light on the criminal appeal process in Singapore.
What can you appeal against?
Parties may appeal if they are dissatisfied with the conviction. If the accused pleaded guilty to the charge, they are only allowed to appeal against the sentence. A Notice of Appeal has to be filed with the Court Registry within 14 days from the date of the judgment or sentence.
The appeal process is governed under section 374 and section 377 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cap. 68, 2012 Revised Edition) (“CPC”).
How many times can you appeal?
In Singapore, parties are allowed to appeal against the decision of the criminal trial court once. Once the appellate court has heard parties on the appeal, there will be no further appeals against the decision of the appellate court. This is because the court emphasises the need for finality and stability in legal proceedings and their decisions should not be disturbed by repeated appeals.
The appellate criminal jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is established under section 19 of the Supreme Court Judicature Act (Cap. 322).
Can the victim(s) appeal?
No. Only the accused and the Prosecution can appeal against the decision of the courts. Section 377 of CPC states that only a party to the case may appeal against the decision of the court. This was reiterated in Huang Meizhe v Attorney-General  SGHC 38 “that appeals in criminal cases emanate exclusively from an accused person or from the Public Prosecutor.” A victim does not have the locus standi to apply for a review of the court’s decision. Additionally, Article 35(8) of Singapore’s Constitution states that the institution, conduct or discontinuance of any criminal proceedings is a matter for only the Attorney-General to decide. It is not for the victim to interfere with the criminal proceedings.
What is a criminal reference?
A criminal reference is a process for parties to refer any question of law of public interest to the Court of Appeal (highest court of Singapore) for determination.
The courts have provided some guidance on what constitutes as a law of public interest. This is determined by considering:
- Whether the question directly and substantially affects the rights of the parties.
- Whether it is an ‘open’ question in the sense that it is not finally settled by the Court of Appeal or is not free from difficulty or calls for discussion of alternate views.
- If the question is settled by highest court or the general principles in determining the question are well settled and it is a mere question of applying these principles to the facts of the case, it would not be a question of law of public interest.
- A novel question of law will not always satisfy the public interest threshold.
- Whether the same question was answered differently by different common law jurisdiction.
- Whether there are conflicting High Court decisions on a particular legal controversy necessitating an authoritative determination by the Court of Appeal.
What happens during a criminal reference?
Parties will be allowed to refer questions for the Court of Appeal to answer. For instance, the Court of Appeal might be asked to answer whether section 409 of the Penal Code ought to be given a wide interpretation to encapsulate directors as a class of people punishable under the relevant section or whether an agent under section 409 of the Penal Code includes a “casual agent” or is restricted to a professional agent.
Upon answering these questions, the Court of Appeal will then make orders in relation to the sentences given.
How do you apply for a criminal reference?
Depending on the court the criminal reference originates from, the parties may be required to obtain leave of court to refer the matter to the relevant court.
The table below summaries the applicable law for criminal reference:
|Referring Court||Question of law to be Referred||Applicable Law||Whether leave of court is required (permission)|
|State Court (consisting of Magistrates’ and District Court)||Constitutional question of law||Section 395(2)(a) read with section 395(15)(a) CPC||Trial court needs to be satisfied that the application is not frivolous. (section 396(4) CPC)|
|State Court (consisting of Magistrates’ and District Court)||Any other question of law||Section 395(2)(b) read with section 395(15)(a) CPC||Trial court needs to be satisfied that the application is not frivolous. (section 396(4) CPC)|
|High Court (original jurisdiction / trial court)||Constitutional question of law||Section 395(2)(a) read with section 395(15)(b) CPC||Trial court needs to be satisfied that the application is not frivolous. (section 396(4) CPC)|
|High Court (original jurisdiction / trial court)||Any other question of law||Section 395(2)(b) read with section 395(15)(b) CPC||Trial court needs to be satisfied that the application is not frivolous. (section 396(4) CPC)|
|High Court (appellate jurisdiction)||Any question of law of public interest||Section 397 CPC||Leave of court not required by Public Prosecutor (section 397(2) CPC); leave of court required by other parties to the proceeding.
A criminal reference is a complex legal process whereby numerous procedural issues needs to be satisfied before permission is granted for the Court of Appeal to hear the matter. A criminal lawyer in this instance would be helpful in navigating through the process.
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