The Defence of Unsound Mind in Singapore: What is It?
Most criminal offences in Singapore have two components: a physical act of committing the offence and a mental element, such as the intention to commit the offence. The defence of unsound mind operates on this mental element.
It allows an accused to be acquitted or released from the charges facing him because, at the time of the offence, he was of unsound mind and was not able to tell right from wrong. The law would not find such an accused blameworthy.
However, this defence may not be the most ideal one to raise because:
- Of its stringent requirements; and
- Even if successfully raised, there are still consequences for the accused. If he had performed the physical act of the offence, the court will remand him into safe custody at a psychiatric institution.
This article will discuss:
- When can an accused raise the defence of unsound mind in Singapore?
- What happens if an accused is suspected to be of unsound mind in Singapore?
- What happens if an accused is found to be of unsound mind?
When Can an Accused Raise the Defence of Unsound Mind in Singapore?
Unsoundness of mind has been interpreted to mean that the accused is suffering from some permanent mental malfunction that causes him to imagine and believe things a reasonable person would not. For example, someone with schizophrenia may qualify as suffering from an unsound mind, but someone with subnormal intellect may not.
It is a misconception that unsoundness of the mind depends on a clinical diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder.
The defence of unsound mind concerns itself with legal sanity and not medical sanity. This means that it is for the courts to decide whether an accused is suffering from an unsound mind, not medical professionals. Nevertheless, the courts will consider medical opinion in coming to its decision.
To raise this defence under the Penal Code, the unsoundness of the accused’s mind must have caused him to fall under at least one of the following conditions at the time of the offence:
- Incapable of knowing the nature of the act. The nature of the act refers to situations where the accused was not able to understand his actions.
- Incapable of knowing what he is doing is wrong. The act must be considered “wrong” by ordinary standards of reasonable and honest persons, or in the sense that the act breaks some law.
- Completely deprived of the power to control his actions. This refers to situations where the accused may not have satisfied either of the two conditions above, but is unable to stop himself from performing the act because he is suffering from a certain mental disorder.
The common thread running through these three conditions is complete incapacity, or a total inability of the accused to know or control his actions. A partial incapacity would not be enough. This requirement for complete incapacity makes the defence difficult to raise as in most cases, the accused would have some capacity to know his actions or control them.
The court may be informed of the possibility that the accused is of unsound mind by either the prosecution, by the accused as part of his defence, or through the conduct of the accused in the court.
What Happens If an Accused is Suspected to be of Unsound Mind in Singapore?
Once the court suspects that the accused may be of unsound mind, and hence unable to make his defence, the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) sets out the procedure for it to follow.
First, the court should investigate whether the accused is indeed suffering from an unsound mind. This can be done with or without the presence of the accused in court. The court will consider the safety of the accused or the interests of public decency in deciding whether the presence of the accused in court is necessary.
In deciding the soundness of mind of the accused, the court may consider medical opinion given in writing or verbally. If the court believes that the accused is not able to make his defence, it can postpone the trial and order the accused be remanded in a psychiatric institution for observation for up to 1 month.
At the end of this observation period, the court will require a medical opinion as to the accused’s state of mind from a doctor. If a diagnosis cannot be reached, the period of remand can be extended for up to another 2 months. The trial proceeds if the doctor finds the accused to be of sound mind and capable of making his defence, and the court is also satisfied that this is so.
What Happens If an Accused is Found to be of Unsound Mind?
If the accused is found to be of unsound mind and unable to make his defence, what happens next will depend on whether the accused is fit to stand trial. The accused’s fitness to stand trial is determined by the court after considering the opinion of the doctor who observed the accused.
Release pending trial
If the court is satisfied that the accused is unfit for trial, it can release the accused if the offence is a bailable one. The court will require assurances that the accused will be properly taken care of, prevented from injuring himself or others, appear in court when required, and any other conditions the court finds necessary before releasing him.
However, if the offence is not a bailable one, the court can remand the accused in safe custody at a psychiatric institution, or other places of safe custody. During such period of remand, the accused’s state of mind must be examined at least once every 6 months.
The court can also still require the accused to appear before it to determine whether he is capable of making his defence, and therefore decide whether to resume the trial.
Resuming the trial
If the court is satisfied that the accused is able to make his defence despite the unsoundness of his mind, the trial will resume.
The accused may be acquitted after the trial by reason of his unsound mind. However, if the court is satisfied that the accused would have been guilty of the offence if not for the unsound mind, it shall order that the acquitted person be placed in safe custody.
The court will then report the matter to the Minister for Home Affairs who may order the acquitted person to be confined at a prison, psychiatric institution or other suitable places at the President’s pleasure. This means that he is confined for an indefinite period of time and examined at least once every 6 months until he is found to be capable of being released without danger of injuring himself or any other person. He may then be released.
If the charges are withdrawn instead, the court may also send the accused to a psychiatric institution for treatment.
If however the accused is convicted of the offence (i.e. the defence of unsound mind fails), he will be sentenced as per normal.
If someone you care about committed a criminal offence and you think that he may be of unsound mind, it may be possible to raise this defence in court. In such circumstances, you should consult a criminal lawyer for advice. It could mean the difference between the accused receiving treatment at a psychiatric institution or imprisonment.
- Singapore’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction: What Does It Mean?
- Your Right to a Lawyer After Being Arrested in Singapore
- What to Do If Your Loved One is Under Police Investigation
- How to Write a Letter of Representation to AGC in Singapore
- What is Entrapment and is It Legal in Singapore?
- What Happens When You Voluntarily Surrender to the Police
- Juvenile Crime: What If Your Child is Arrested in Singapore?
- Tasers, Batons, Shields & Firearms: When Do the Police Use Them?
- Stopped by the Singapore Police For Spot Checks, Etc: What to Do
- Police Investigation Process for Crimes in Singapore (4 Steps)
- Arrest Warrant Issued Against You in Singapore: What to Do
- Police Arrest Procedure in Singapore
- Arrestable and Non-Arrestable Offences in Singapore
- What Should You Do If You Witness a Crime in Singapore?
- Can the Public Make a Citizen's Arrest in Singapore?
- What to Do If You’re Being Investigated for a Criminal Offence in Singapore
- "Right to Remain Silent" to Singapore Police: Does It Exist?
- Police Custody in Singapore: What You Should Know
- Search Warrant: The Issuance and Execution of It in Singapore
- Penalties for Lying to the Authorities in Singapore
- Can You Say No to a Lie Detector Test in Singapore? And Other FAQs
- Surrender of Passport to the Police and How to Get It Back
- Extradition: What If I Flee After Committing Crime in Singapore
- Making Objections at Trial in the Singapore Courts
- When is a Witness Testimony Unreliable in Singapore?
- Burden of Proof in Criminal and Civil Cases in Singapore
- Falsely Accused of a Crime in Singapore: Your Next Steps
- What is Acquittal & How Can One Be Acquitted in Singapore?
- Using the Defence of Diminished Responsibility in Singapore
- Death of a Party in a Legal Case in Singapore: What Happens?
- The "Unusually Convincing" Test in "He Said, She Said" Cases
- How to Adjourn or Postpone a Criminal Court Hearing
- TIC: Guide to Charges Taken Into Consideration in Singapore
- Can I Use the Defence of Intoxication in Singapore?
- When Can I Raise the Defence of Provocation in Singapore?
- Writing Character References For Court: What’s Their Purpose?
- Can I Represent Myself in a Criminal Court Case in Singapore and How?
- Claiming Trial as an Accused
- Pleading Guilty in Singapore: Consequences & Withdrawal of Plea
- The Defence of Unsound Mind in Singapore: What is It?
- Gag Orders in Singapore: Whose Identity Can be Protected?
- Mitigation Plea: How to Plead for Leniency in Court in Singapore
- Recidivism: What Happens If You Reoffend in Singapore?
- Guide to Filing a Criminal Appeal in Singapore
- Criminal Motion: What is It and How to File One in Singapore
- Guide to Filing a Criminal Revision in Singapore
- Presidential Clemency in Singapore
- Repatriation or Deportation from Singapore: How Does It Work?
- Criminal Records in Singapore
- Visiting a Loved One in Prison or On Death Row in Singapore
- Getting Parole (Early Prison Release) in Singapore
- Fined for an Offence: What to Do If I Can't Afford to Pay Them?
- How Long Is Life Imprisonment in Singapore? And Other FAQs
- Corrective Training and Its Consequences in Singapore
- Consequences of Receiving a Stern Warning in Singapore
- Probation: Eligibility and Whether It Leaves a Criminal Record
- How Can Adult Offenders Get Probation in Singapore?
- Reformative Training in Singapore: When Will It be Ordered?
- Are You Eligible for a Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO)?
- Caning in Singapore: Judicial, School & Parental Corporal Punishment
- 7 Detention Orders in Singapore: When Will They be Ordered?
- Day Reporting Order: Eligibility and Offender's Obligations
- Ragging and Bullying: Their Penalties and What Victims Can Do
- Laws Protecting Informers/Whistleblowers in Singapore
- Counterfeit Medicine/Health Products: Redress for Victims in Singapore
- Breach of Protection Orders: What Can Victims Do?
- Using Your Right to Self-Defence When Attacked in Singapore
- Compensation for Crime Victims in Singapore: How to Obtain
- Rape Laws in Singapore and How Offenders Can Be Punished
- Sexual Misconduct in Singapore: Offences and What Victims Can Do
- Falsely Accused of Rape in Singapore: What to Do
- Incest and Family Sexual Abuse: Penalties and Victim Protection
- How are Sexual Offenders with Special Needs Penalised?
- Cybersexual Crimes in Singapore and Their Penalties
- Legal Age for Sex in Singapore and Common Sexual Offences
- Consent in Sexual Offences in Singapore and What Victims Can Do
- Accused of Molest: Outrage of Modesty in Singapore
- What Can Victims of Sexual Harassment in Singapore Do?
- What is the Law on Sexting in Singapore?
- Revenge Porn: What If Your Nudes are Leaked in Singapore?
- Crime of Voyeurism in Singapore (Penalties and Defences)
- Date Rape: What to Do If Your Drink Has Been Unlawfully Spiked?
- STDs: Can I Go to the Police If a Partner Infected Me in Singapore?
- Alcohol Breathalyser Test in Singapore: Can You Refuse it?
- Are Sex Toys and Sex Dolls Legal in Singapore?
- Singapore's Legal Smoking Age & Common Smoking Offences
- Is Vaping Illegal in Singapore?
- Legal Drinking Age and Drinking-Related Laws in Singapore
- Is Watching, Downloading or Filming Porn Illegal in Singapore?
- Child Pornography in Singapore: Offences and Penalties
- Laws on Procuring Sex Workers & Sexual Services in Singapore
- Singapore's Drug Laws: Possession, Consumption and Trafficking
- Gambling Legally (at Home, in Public or Online) in Singapore
- The Offence of Human Trafficking in Singapore and Its Penalties
- Penalties For Buying Stolen Goods in Singapore
- Penalties for Committing Theft in Singapore
- Committing Robbery in Singapore: What are the Penalties?
- Penalties for Dishonest Misappropriation of Property in Singapore
- Vandalism Laws: Penalties for Damaging Property in Singapore
- Criminal Trespass in Singapore: What Happens If You’re Caught?
- Penalties for Littering and Killer Litter Offences in Singapore
- What is a POFMA Correction Direction and How to Appeal
- Penalties for Cheating/Scamming and What Victims Can Do
- Penalties for Impersonating Someone and Victim Redress
- Singapore Fake News Laws: Guide to POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act)
- Laws and Penalties for Doxxing in Singapore (With Examples)
- Tax Evasion in Singapore: Penalties and Examples
- Criminal Breach of Trust (CBT) in Singapore: What is It?
- All You Need to Know About Corruption in Singapore
- Anti-Money Laundering Laws and You
- 5 Things You Need to Know about Insider Trading
- Dishonest Assistance and Knowing Receipt: The Case of David Rasif
- Charged with a Traffic Offence in Singapore: What to Do
- DUI: Here are the Penalties for Drink-Driving in Singapore
- What Happens If You’re Caught Speeding in Singapore?
- Road Rage: What is It and How are Offenders Sentenced in Singapore
- Penalties for Dangerous Driving for Singapore Drivers
- Fatal Traffic Accidents: Are Drivers Always Punished?
- Guide to E-Scooter and PMD Laws for Singapore Riders
- Is it Legal for Drivers to Carpool in Singapore?
- Radicalisation and Terror Attack-Related Penalties in Singapore
- Causing a Public Nuisance in Singapore: What are the Penalties?
- Causing Public Alarm in Singapore: Examples & Penalties
- Public Assemblies and Processions in Singapore
- Misbehaving in Public: 5 Things You Need to Know
- Racial Enmity: Sections 298 and 298A Penal Code Explained
- Religious Cults in Singapore: Are they Illegal? Penalties & More
- Penalties for Financing Terrorist Operations in Singapore
- Penalties for Abetting Minors or Committing Crimes Against Them
- Misusing the Singapore Flag and Other National Symbols
- Here are the Penalties for Committing Forgery in Singapore
- Arson and Fire-Related Offences and Their Penalties in Singapore
- Offences Against the Dead and What Family Members Can Do
- Laws on Prohibited, Replica and Self-Defence Weapons
- Penalties for Attempting to Commit a Crime in Singapore
- Penalties for Assaulting a Person in Singapore
- Expats Charged With Offences in Singapore: What to Expect
- What are the Penalties for Hiring Phantom Workers in Singapore?
- What Are Ponzi Schemes? Are They Illegal in Singapore?
- Modification of Cars, Motorcycles, Etc: Is It Legal in Singapore?
- Penalties for Illegal Immigration and Overstaying in Singapore
- Criminal Intimidation: Penalties for Making Threats in Singapore