Criminal Trespass in Singapore: What Happens If You’re Caught?

Last updated on November 17, 2020

private property no entry sign

In Singapore, it is not uncommon to read about incidents of trespass to property or land. Read on to find out more about criminal trespass in Singapore and the potential consequences if you commit criminal trespass.

This article will discuss the following questions:

What is the Offence of Criminal Trespass in Singapore?

Criminal trespass is defined in section 441 of the Penal Code. You will have committed criminal trespass if you: 

  • Enter another person’s property with the intention to commit an offence or to intimidate, insult or annoy that other person; or
  • Unlawfully remain at another person’s property (despite having lawfully entered the property) with the intention to commit an offence or to intimidate, insult or annoy that other person.

For example, if you were originally a tenant of a property but refuse to leave after your lease is up with the intention of annoying your landlord, you may have committed criminal trespass.

Under section 447 of the Penal Code, if you are found guilty of committing criminal trespass, you will be punished with imprisonment of up to 3 months, or with a fine of up to $1,500, or both.

What are the Trespass-Related Criminal Offences in Singapore and Their Penalties?

Below are a few examples of trespass-related criminal offences:

House-breaking

Under section 442 of the Penal Code, you will have committed house-breaking if you commit criminal trespass (as defined above) by entering into or remaining in:

  • A building, tent, container or vessel in which people live; or
  • A building used as a place for worship or for the custody of property

As long as any part of your body enters into the property in question, that is sufficient to constitute house-breaking. For example, if you reach your hand into a window of a house in order to steal someone’s phone, you will be liable for house-breaking, even if the rest of your body never entered the house.

Under section 448 of the Penal Code, if you are found guilty of committing house-breaking, you will be punished with imprisonment of up to 3 years, a fine, or both.

Trespass on burial places

Under section 297 of the Penal Code, you will have committed trespass on burial places if you commit trespass in:

  • A place of worship;
  • A place of burial (e.g. a cemetery); or
  • A place set apart for the performance of funeral rites or as a depository for the remains of the dead,

With:

  • The intention of wounding the feelings of any person, or of insulting the religion of any person; or
  • The knowledge that the feelings of any person are likely to be wounded, or that the religion of any person is likely to be insulted by your doing so.

If you are found guilty of committing trespass on burial places, you will be punished with imprisonment of up to 3 years, a fine, or both.

Wilful trespass on property

Under section 21(1) of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (MOA), you will have committed wilful trespass on property if you wilfully trespass, without causing actual damage or more than nominal damage, on:

  • Any government-owned property or public property;
  • Any residential property or land attached to the property; or
  • Any boat or vessel.

While the differences between actual and nominal damage are unclear, it appears that this offence would only cover more trivial instances of trespass, while the Penal Code would cover more serious instances of trespass.

If you are found guilty of committing wilful trespass on property, you will be liable to a fine of up to $1,000.

Are There Any Defences that I Can Raise If I’m Accused of Committing Trespass?

If you enter into or stay in another person’s property without permission, you may still be able to raise a defence that you did not have the intention to commit a criminal trespass offence under the Penal Code or to intimidate, insult or annoy.

For example, you may have only been walking through the property as a shortcut to get somewhere else and had no other reason for doing so. Note however that if this is the case, you might still be liable under section 21 of the MOA as mentioned above, or to be sued by the owner of the property (see below).

You may also have recourse to the general exceptions (defences) to criminal offences such as intoxication and insanity. In other words, you may have been so intoxicated or are suffering from a serious mental illness that any intention to intimidate, insult or annoy which you may have had when trespassing was excusable at law. 

What does not constitute a defence to criminal trespass?

The fact that the intention to commit an offence or to intimidate, insult or annoy the other person was not the only or dominant motive for entering the premises is not an adequate defence.

Using the previous example, you may have entered into the premises as a shortcut to go somewhere for an urgent appointment, but decided on the way to steal the owner’s things. Even if stealing the owner’s things was only your secondary objective, you would still have committed the offence of criminal trespass (or possibly even the offence of house-breaking).

Not knowing that the property was private or government property also does not constitute a defence.

Can I be Sued for Trespassing on Someone’s Property/Land? 

As mentioned above, even if you did not have the intention to commit an offence or to intimidate, insult or annoy, you could still be sued for trespass to land by the owner of that property.

This could be the case as long as your act of entering into the property in question itself was intentional (e.g. you were not pushed into the property by someone else).

Is Criminal Trespass an Arrestable Offence?

Criminal trespass is an arrestable offence. An arrestable offence is one where the police can arrest a suspect without a warrant.

For example, if you were found at another person’s property without the owner’s permission and the police reasonably suspect that you were there to intimidate the owner, you could be arrested without a warrant.

Once the suspect has been arrested, the offender can choose to be released on bail and/or personal bond.

Will People Convicted of Criminal Trespass have a Criminal Record?

Yes, if you are convicted of criminal trespass, you will have a criminal record.

However, you might still have the opportunity to have your criminal record treated as spent after a certain period of time. This means that you are deemed to not have such a record, and in most situations, you can lawfully say that you have no criminal record. To qualify for having your record spent, you must first meet the following criteria:

  • If you were given a prison sentence, your imprisonment term must have been not more than 3 months;
  • If you were given a fine, the fine imposed on you must have been not more than $2,000;
  • You must not have any other conviction on your criminal record; and
  • You must not have any previous spent record on the register.

If you meet these criteria, you then have to remain crime-free for at least 5 consecutive years, starting from the date of your release from prison, or from the date that your sentence was passed if you were given a fine. Once you accomplish this, your record will be spent automatically, and you will be able to legally declare that you do not have a criminal record.

If you have been charged with criminal trespass, you may want to discuss your options with a criminal lawyer, who will be able to better advise you on how to proceed with your case, such as whether to plead guilty or to proceed with trial, as well as the defences you may be able to raise.

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