Criminal Appeals in Singapore

Last updated on April 12, 2017

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 [2011] 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.






Arrest and Investigation
  1. Police Investigation Process in Singapore
  2. When Can the Police Arrest Someone?: Arrestable and Non-Arrestable Offences in Singapore
  3. Police Arrest Procedure in Singapore
  4. Can a Civilian Arrest a Criminal in Singapore?
  5. Is lying to the police or authorities a punishable offence in Singapore?
  6. Surrender of Passport to the Police and How to Get It Back
  7. What to Do If You’re Being Investigated for a Criminal Offence in Singapore
  8. Can You Say No to a Lie Detector Test in Singapore? And Other FAQs
  9. Do You Have a "Right to Remain Silent" to the Police in Singapore?
  10. Extradition: What if You Flee after Committing Crime in Singapore?
  11. Warrant of Arrest: What to Do If It is Issued Against You in Singapore
  1. The Essential Guide to Bail and Personal Bonds in Singapore
  1. Magistrate’s Complaints, Private Summons and Private Prosecutions in Singapore
  2. Prosecutorial Discretion in Singapore
  3. What is Private Prosecution?
  4. Compounding or Composition of Offences in Singapore
  5. Criminal Records in Singapore
  6. Plea Bargaining in Singapore: All You Need to Know
Criminal Proceedings
  1. Criminal Compensation in Singapore
  2. What Can I Do to Protect Myself in Self-Defence in Singapore?
  3. Claiming Trial as an Accused
  4. Mitigation Plea
  5. Pleading Guilty
  6. Criminal Appeals in Singapore
  7. Presidential Clemency in Singapore
  8. Probation: Eligibility and Whether It Leaves a Criminal Record
  9. What Should You Do If You Witness a Crime in Singapore?
  10. Reformative Training in Singapore: When will it be Ordered?
  11. Visiting a Loved One in Prison or On Death Row in Singapore
  12. 7 Detention Orders in Singapore and When Will They be Ordered?
  13. Consequences of Receiving a Stern Warning in Singapore
  14. Are You Eligible for a Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO)?
  15. Can I Represent Myself in a Criminal Court Case in Singapore and How?
  16. Caning in Singapore: Judicial, School & Parental Corporal Punishment
Sexual Offences
  1. Legal Age for Sex in Singapore and Common Sexual Offences
  2. Accused of Molest: Outrage of Modesty in Singapore
  3. What Can Victims of Sexual Harassment in Singapore Do?
  4. What is the Law on Sexting in Singapore?
Vice-Related Offences
  1. Is it illegal to visit prostitutes in Singapore?
  2. Is Watching, Downloading or Filming Porn Illegal in Singapore?
  3. Singapore's Drug Laws: Possession, Consumption and Trafficking
  4. When is Gambling Illegal in Singapore?
  5. Is Vaping Illegal in Singapore?
  6. DUI: Here are the Penalties for Drink-Driving in Singapore
  7. Legal Drinking Age in Singapore and Other Drinking-Related Laws
  8. Singapore's Legal Smoking Age and Common Smoking Offences
  9. The Offence of Human Trafficking in Singapore and Its Penalties
  1. Is it illegal to cheat someone of an in-game item in MMORPGs?
  2. What to Do If Someone Impersonates Me Online
White-Collar Crimes
  1. Criminal Breach of Trust (CBT) in Singapore: Elements and Penalties
  2. Dishonest assistance and knowing receipt - The case of David Rasif
  3. Anti-Money Laundering Laws and You
  4. All You Need to Know About Corruption in Singapore
  5. 5 Things You Need to Know about Insider Trading
Other Criminal Offences
  1. Murder vs Culpable Homicide in Singapore: What's the Difference?
  2. Is Suicide Illegal in Singapore? Will I be Punished for Trying?
  3. Is it illegal to feed stray animals in Singapore?
  4. Criminal Intimidation: Penalties for Making Threats in Singapore
  5. What are Sham Marriages and are They Illegal in Singapore?
  6. Public Assemblies and Processions in Singapore: Police Permits and the Public Order Act
  7. What is the Offence of Rioting?
  8. Voluntarily Causing Hurt Penalties in Singapore (Non-Arrestable)
  9. Misbehaving in Public: 5 Things You Need to Know
  10. Is it Legal for Drivers to Carpool in Singapore?
  11. Complete Guide to E-Scooter and PMD Laws for Singapore Riders
  12. Is Joining a Gang Illegal in Singapore?: Being Recruited and Penalties
  13. What Happens If You’re Caught Speeding in Singapore?
  14. Charged with a Traffic Offence in Singapore: What to Do
  15. Penalties for Committing Theft in Singapore
  16. Road Rage: What is It and How are Offenders Sentenced in Singapore
  17. Singapore Fake News Laws: Guide to POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act)
  18. Laws and Penalties for Doxxing in Singapore (With Examples)
  19. Littering and Killer Litter Offences: Here are the Penalties in Singapore
  20. Organised Crimes: Penalties/Orders Syndicates Face in Singapore
  21. Animal Cruelty in Singapore: Offences, Penalties & How to Report
  22. Penalties for Dishonest Misappropriation of Property in Singapore
  23. Guide to Singapore’s Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act
Certificate of Clearance
  1. How Do You Apply for a Certificate of Clearance in Singapore?