Expats Charged With Offences in Singapore: What to Expect
If you are an expatriate working in Singapore, you are probably familiar with Singapore’s status as one of the safest countries in the world. One of the main reasons for this is Singapore’s strict penalties for crimes that may be seen as less serious elsewhere in the world, such as caning for graffiti and the death penalty for drug-related offences.
The question then is what happens if you are charged with (or even convicted of) an offence in Singapore? Read on to find out more about:
How the Criminal Justice Process May Affect Your Daily Life
If you are being investigated for an offence, you will have to attend mandatory interviews at the police station during investigations, for which you may need to take urgent leave.
If the police arrest you, you may be detained for up to 48 hours. The police may also bring you before the court to ask to detain you for an even longer period for further investigations (this is known as being held in “remand”).
When you are being detained, you may not be allowed to contact a lawyer or a family member immediately. This may also put your job at risk because of your sudden disappearance.
For more details on police custody, including your rights while in custody, see our article on police custody in Singapore.
If you are to be held on remand, you may be allowed to be released on bail depending on factors such as the nature of the offence that the police suspect you of having committed, and whether the court believes that you will be available for investigations or to attend court.
For non-bailable offences, where the police and the court have discretion as to whether to grant bail, your status as a foreigner may be a factor against the court releasing you on bail if you are seen as a flight risk.
Even if bail is an option, you will need to find a suitable bailor. Because you are not a Singaporean, your bailor must be a Singaporean or Singapore Permanent Resident above 21 years old.
You will also have to surrender your passport before being released on bail. This essentially means that you will be unable to travel.
If you wish to leave the country, such as for work-related purposes, you will need to seek the court’s permission. If so, the court will usually impose additional bail conditions, such as requesting for your travel details and increasing your bail amount significantly.
You may read our other article for more information about bail in Singapore.
Financial effects of defending yourself at trial
The legal fees you may incur when defending yourself in criminal proceedings could put a strain on your finances.
These costs can balloon further if you undergo the longer and more arduous process of defending yourself in a trial as compared to pleading guilty to the offence. While this process is too long to be detailed in this article, you can read our articles on pleading guilty or claiming trial for a better idea of the process of undergoing criminal proceedings in court.
Furthermore, if your work pass is cancelled by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) or by your employer for any reason (such as you being convicted of a criminal offence), you would be unable to make a living in Singapore, placing an even greater financial burden on your shoulders.
Effects of a Conviction on Your Employment in Singapore
Do you need to inform your employer that you have been charged with an offence?
Unless the terms of your employment require it, there is no requirement for you to inform your employers that you have been charged with an offence. This is because you may ultimately be found innocent.
However, you may want to obtain a testimonial letter from your employer when you ask the court for a lighter sentence in mitigation.
Nevertheless, if you are found guilty or if you wish to plead guilty at trial, you would likely need to inform your employer.
For one, your employment contract may set out misconduct and conviction in a court of law as a reason for terminating your employment or cancelling your work pass.
Effect on your employment pass
Even if you are not dismissed by your employer, your criminal conviction may make it difficult to renew your work pass when it is about to expire.
You may also be placed on a “blacklist” (i.e. a list of foreigners who are banned from obtaining employment in Singapore because of a criminal conviction), which could affect your future employment prospects in Singapore and the status of your work pass.
If your work pass expires without being renewed, you will not be allowed to stay in Singapore.
MOM may instead issue you a temporary Special Pass that legalises your further stay in Singapore without a work permit. It may be given to you to allow you to stay in Singapore to assist in the investigation and attend court.
The Special Pass may need to be renewed every week or two weeks. This would entail frequent visits to the police station and MOM to have the special pass renewed.
For example, between 1 May and 25 June 2020, MOM revoked the work passes of 140 work pass holders for breaching Singapore’s circuit breaker measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. These included the passes of 6 expatriates who were found guilty for a gathering near Robertson Quay when social gatherings were prohibited. In addition, they were permanently banned from working in Singapore.
With respect to the measures in place to combat COVID-19, MOM has made it clear that all work pass holders must abide by the law, and that MOM will take enforcement actions regardless of the work pass holder’s nationality and pass type.
In other words, if you are found guilty of flouting any laws in Singapore, it does not matter whether you are on an S Pass, Employment Pass or some other work pass. The risk of being banned from working in Singapore or being unable to renew your work pass is equally high.
Are Expatriates Sentenced More Harshly Compared to Locals?
Although there is no evidence that expatriates are treated more harshly than locals, Singapore has much harsher penalties for certain offences than other countries, such as caning and capital punishment which have been abolished elsewhere.
As a result, expatriates may find the sentences much harsher than expected.
Will You be Allowed to Stay in Singapore?
If you are convicted and are deemed by the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) to be an undesirable immigrant because of the circumstances connected with your conviction, you and your family may be regarded as prohibited immigrants.
If your permit is cancelled, whether by ICA or by MOM, your presence in Singapore may also be deemed unlawful. Thereafter, staying in Singapore will be a crime.
If you unlawfully stay up to 90 days in Singapore, you will be liable to a fine up to $4,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months. If you stay beyond 90 days, you may be punished with imprisonment of up to 6 months and caning of at least 3 strokes (or fined up to $6,000 in lieu of caning).
ICA also has the power to remove you from Singapore if you are found to be a prohibited immigrant or unlawfully remaining in Singapore.
Will You have a Criminal Record in Singapore?
If you are guilty of a registrable crime, or if you are deported, you will have a criminal record in Singapore. Registrable crimes are crimes listed in the First Schedule of the Registration of Criminals Act. These generally exclude more minor crimes like traffic offences, save for more serious traffic offences such as causing death or grievous hurt by reckless or dangerous driving.
If the offence that you committed was not a serious offence, and if you have a crime-free period of 5 consecutive years from the date that you were sentenced (if you were not sentenced to imprisonment) or the date of your release from prison (if you were imprisoned), your criminal record may become “spent”.
In such a case, you can legally declare that you have no criminal record, but you must still answer “yes” if you are asked whether you have been convicted in a court of law.
You may read our other article for more details on criminal records in Singapore and how they may be spent.
How can I prove that I do not have a criminal record in Singapore, or that my criminal record has been spent?
If you are required by another organisation outside of Singapore to show that you have no criminal conviction (including a spent criminal record), you can appeal to the Singapore Police Force (SPF) to receive a Certificate of Clearance (COC).
To do so, you must meet the following requirements:
- You must have resided in Singapore for at least 6 months under a valid pass issued by ICA or MOM.
- You must be above the age of 16.
- You must have documentary proof that states that a COC is required by the foreign government authority or institution for overseas purposes such as migration, adoption, overseas employment or further education.
The SPF will decide whether to give you a COC on a case-by-case basis. To apply, you may visit the SPF website.
You may also be able to employ alternative means to obtain a declaration of no criminal conviction, such as a statutory declaration through a Commissioner for Oaths/Justices of Peace or a qualified legal practitioner.
If you are an expatriate who has gotten caught up in the Singapore criminal justice system, whether you are innocent or guilty, you should engage a criminal lawyer as soon as possible.
A criminal lawyer will be able to advise you of important matters such as your rights in custody and whether you should plead guilty. Your lawyer will also be able to defend you in court, assist you in applying for permission to travel while on bail and ask for a lighter sentence during mitigation if you are convicted of an offence.
A lawyer can also advise you on the best courses of action to mitigate any damage to your job prospects.
Feel free to get in touch with one of our criminal lawyers should you need any assistance or advice.
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