Exercising Your Right to Self-Defence When Attacked in Singapore

Last updated on July 30, 2020

woman being attacked by thief

Singapore is known for its relatively low crime rates which gives citizens and visitors a sense of safety and security.

Yet, the popular saying that “low crime doesn’t mean no crime” still holds true, and it remains important for individuals to know how they can defend themselves if they find themselves in a dangerous situation where they might fall victim to a crime.

This article will explain what you need to know about exercising your right of self-defence, also known as the right of private defence, in Singapore.


View this post on Instagram


Swipe 👉 With the recent news about people fighting in the MRT, it’s best to know what you can (or cannot!) do to defend yourself if you ever get caught in such a situation. 🤧 – Apart from the examples mentioned in picture #4 (on when self-defence applies), keep in mind that you cannot inflict more harm than is necessary for self-defence! 😤🙅‍♀️ If it is clear that your attacker has been defeated or repelled, it is not reasonable for you to continue attacking him in the name of self-defence. – It’s also good to note that the right to self-defence can extend to killing your attacker in certain extreme situations, such as rape or kidnapping. It may not be illegal to kill your attacker if you might’ve gotten killed, or grievously hurt, if you did not do so. Unless the situation is dire, though, it’s best to seek the help of the police 👮‍♂️or people nearby! #SingaporeLegalAdvice

A post shared by SingaporeLegalAdvice.com (@singaporelegaladvice) on

What is the Right of Private Defence?

The law on when individuals can exercise the right of private defence is set out in Chapter IVA of the Penal Code.

The right of private defence is a form of legal defence that can absolve, or excuse, a person of any legal liability, if that person hurt or killed another individual in order to defend himself or another person or his property against any offence.

When Can I Exercise My Right of Private Defence?

In relation to the circumstances surrounding the offence

While the right of private defence is available to all individuals, there are certain limitations on when and how this right can be exercised. These are set out in section 98 of the Penal Code, namely:

  • That any harm caused to the person who was committing the offence (the “offender”) must not be excessive in the circumstances. This means if the offender has been defeated or has stopped attacking or harming you, it is not reasonable for you to continue attacking him.
  • There must also have been no reasonable opportunity for you to seek protection from a public authority, such as the police (and therefore, you had to resort to your right of private defence).

To illustrate the latter, suppose X is ambushed by Y in a secluded area and Y attempts to kill X. In fending off Y’s attack, X kills Y. In this scenario, X would not be guilty of an offence as he was unable to seek protection from the public authorities.

However, X’s right of private defence would no longer exist if a police patrol car had arrived on the scene while Y was attempting to kill X, as X would then have had reasonable opportunity to seek help from the police.

The right of private defence also exists in cases of misconception. For example, A, enters a house at night which he is legally entitled to enter. B, in good faith, mistakes A for a housebreaker and attacks A.

In this scenario, B has not committed any offence. Similarly, A would also have the same right of private defence against B, even if B was not acting under the misconception that A was a housebreaker.

In relation to the (personal) circumstances surrounding the offender 

The right of private defence also exists under the following circumstances where the offender was:

  • Of unsound mind;
  • Intoxicated; or
  • Where the offence was committed by a child under 7 years of age or a child above 7 years of age and under 12, who is not mature enough to understand the nature and consequences of their actions.

In these cases, the offender would not have been found guilty of an offence by reason of the above characteristics. However, the person against whom the offence was being committed would still be entitled to exercise their right of private defence.

Moreover, under section 100 of the Penal Code, the right of private defence can apply even where there is a risk that an innocent person would be harmed or even killed if the right was exercised.

For example, an individual, B, is being attacked by a mob who attempt to murder him. The only way for B to exercise his right of private defence is by firing on the mob, but he risks harming a group of young children who are mingled with the mob. In this case, B’s right of private defence extends to him firing at the mob with the risk of harming the children.

Can I Exercise the Right of Private Defence if I was the Aggressor?

The Singapore courts have held that if the defender was the initial aggressor, he or she is less likely to be successful in relying on the right of private defence.

Take for example the following scenario: D approaches V, grabs a baseball bat and waves it, shouting threats to kill V. To protect himself, V punches D in D’s stomach and grabs the bat.

As the aggressor in this scenario, it is unlikely that D can rely on the right of private defence if he in turn tries to defend himself against V’s exercise of private defence to protect himself.

Whether or not the initial aggressor can exercise the right of private defence would ultimately depend on the facts of the particular case. For example, D insults a t-shirt that V is wearing. V retrieves a gun and points it as if to shoot D. In this situation, D can exercise his right of private defence to prevent the shot and himself from getting killed.

Where There May be No Right of Private Defence

Under section 106A of the Penal Code, there is generally no right of private defence against a public servant carrying out his duties in good faith.

However, the right would still exist if the individual did not know or had no reason to believe that the “offender” in such a case was in fact a public servant.

Not Sure What To Do Next?

Get a 20-minute phone call with a lawyer for only $59

What Can I Do Under the Right of Private Defence?

Defending yourself/another person

Under section 97(a) of the Penal Code, every individual has the right to defend himself or any other person, against any offence that could cause physical harm to the human body.

For example, X is ambushed in a lift by Y who is committing a robbery and holds a knife against X’s throat. In this illustration, X can exercise the right of private defence to fend off Y’s attack as he could have been physically harmed by Y.

Under section 101 of the Penal Code, the right of private defence of a body arises as soon as you believe that there is danger to you or any other person as a result of an offence being committed, or an attempt to commit the offence. The right continues as long as you believe that you or any other person remain in danger.

In certain circumstances, the individual can kill the offender when exercising the right of private defence. Section 102 of the Penal Code states that the right of private defence of body can extend to voluntarily causing the death of the offender if:

  • The individual is assaulted and reasonably believes that he/she will die or be grievously hurt as a result of the assault;
  • The assault is done with the intention of committing rape or other forms of non-consensual penile penetration;
  • The individual is being kidnapped;
  • The individual has been wrongfully confined and reasonably believes that he/she will have no opportunity for a recourse to a public authority for his/her release.

Defending property

Under section 97(b) of the Penal Code, the right of private defence can be exercised to defend your property, such as your car or house, against any offence, or an attempt to commit an offence, that falls under the definition of theft, robbery, mischief or criminal trespass.

For example, an individual who sees someone breaking into his car and attempting to steal it can exercise the right of private defence to defend his property i.e. his car, from being stolen.

Under section 104(1) of the Penal Code, the right of private defence of property arises when you reasonably believe that there is a danger posed to your property or that of another person, arising from the offences of theft, robbery, mischief, or criminal trespass.

How long does the right of private defence of property last?

Against theft The right of private defence continues until:

  • The offender has returned with the property that was stolen;
  • Help is obtained from a public authority (e.g. the police); or
  • The property has been recovered.
Against robbery The right of private defence continues so long as:

  • The offender causes or attempts to cause to any person death, hurt or wrongful restraint; or
  • If the fear of instant death, instant hurt or instant personal restraint continues.
Against criminal trespass or mischief The right of private defence continues as long as the offender continues to commit the offence of criminal trespass or mischief.
Against house-breaking The right of private defence continues as long as the house-breaking continues.

Under section 105 of the Penal Code, the right of private defence of property also extends, under certain restrictions, to the individual voluntarily causing the death of the offender in defending his property. However, this only applies where there is danger to the property or that of another person in any of the following circumstances:

  • In the case of a robbery;
  • Where the house-breaking occurs after 7pm and before 7am;
  • The offender sets fire to property where people are residing; or
  • Where the individual reasonably believes that death or grievous hurt will result from the theft, mischief or house-breaking if the right of private defence is not exercised.

If you have been charged with an offence in Singapore and want to know whether you may be able to rely on the right to private defence as a defence against the charge(s) you face, you should seek legal advice from a criminal lawyer.

You can get in touch with experienced criminal lawyers here.

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 the Public Make a Citizen's Arrest in Singapore?
  5. Is Lying to the Police or Authorities an 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. What Should You Do If You Witness a Crime in Singapore?
  10. Do You Have a "Right to Remain Silent" to the Police in Singapore?
  11. Extradition: What If You Flee after Committing Crime in Singapore?
  12. Warrant of Arrest: What to Do If It is Issued Against You in Singapore
  13. Search Warrant: The Issuance and Execution of It in Singapore
  14. Police Custody in Singapore: What You Should Know
  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. Compensation for Crime Victims in Singapore: How to Obtain
  2. Exercising Your Right to Self-Defence When Attacked in Singapore
  3. Claiming Trial as an Accused
  4. Mitigation Plea
  5. Pleading Guilty in Singapore: Consequences & Withdrawal of Plea
  6. Guide to Filing a Criminal Appeal in Singapore
  7. Presidential Clemency in Singapore
  8. Probation: Eligibility and Whether It Leaves a Criminal Record
  9. Reformative Training in Singapore: When Will It be Ordered?
  10. Visiting a Loved One in Prison or On Death Row in Singapore
  11. 7 Detention Orders in Singapore and When Will They be Ordered?
  12. Consequences of Receiving a Stern Warning in Singapore
  13. Are You Eligible for a Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO)?
  14. Can I Represent Myself in a Criminal Court Case in Singapore and How?
  15. Caning in Singapore: Judicial, School & Parental Corporal Punishment
  16. Criminal Motion: What is It and How to File One in Singapore
  17. Getting Parole (Early Prison Release) in Singapore
  18. Repatriation or Deportation from Singapore: How Does It Work?
  19. How Can Adult Offenders Get Probation in Singapore?
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?
  5. Revenge Porn: What If Your Nudes are Leaked in Singapore?
  6. Crime of Voyeurism in Singapore (Penalties and Defences)
  7. Consent in Sexual Offences in Singapore and What Victims Can Do
  8. STDs: Can I Go to the Police If a Partner Infected Me in Singapore?
  9. Child Pornography in Singapore: Offences and Penalties
  10. Date Rape: What to Do If Your Drink Has Been Unlawfully Spiked?
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 Can You Legally Gamble (In Public or Online) 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. Penalties for Cheating/Scamming and What Victims Can Do
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: Differences & Penalties
  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. Penalties for Impersonating Someone and Victim Redress
  6. What are Sham Marriages and Are They Illegal in Singapore?
  7. Public Assemblies and Processions in Singapore: Police Permits and the Public Order Act
  8. Racial Enmity: Sections 298 and 298A Penal Code Explained
  9. Penalties for Unlawful Assembly and Rioting in Singapore
  10. Voluntarily Causing Hurt Penalties in Singapore (Non-Arrestable)
  11. Misbehaving in Public: 5 Things You Need to Know
  12. Is it Legal for Drivers to Carpool in Singapore?
  13. Complete Guide to E-Scooter and PMD Laws for Singapore Riders
  14. Is Joining a Gang Illegal in Singapore?: Being Recruited and Penalties
  15. What Happens If You’re Caught Speeding in Singapore?
  16. Charged with a Traffic Offence in Singapore: What to Do
  17. Penalties for Committing Theft in Singapore
  18. Road Rage: What is It and How are Offenders Sentenced in Singapore
  19. Singapore Fake News Laws: Guide to POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act)
  20. Laws and Penalties for Doxxing in Singapore (With Examples)
  21. Littering and Killer Litter Offences: Here are the Penalties in Singapore
  22. Organised Crimes: Penalties/Orders Syndicates Face in Singapore
  23. Animal Cruelty in Singapore: Offences, Penalties & How to Report
  24. Penalties for Dishonest Misappropriation of Property in Singapore
  25. Penalties for Financing Terrorist Operations in Singapore
  26. Penalties for Illegal Immigration and Overstaying in Singapore
  27. Kidnapping Scam: Penalties & Responding to a ‘Kidnap Call/Text'
  28. Religious Cults in Singapore: Are they Illegal? Penalties & More
Certificate of Clearance
  1. How Do You Apply for a Certificate of Clearance in Singapore?