Guide to Filing a Criminal Revision in Singapore

Last updated on February 20, 2024

accused, police officer and lawyer standing infront of court house

Imagine the following scenario: you have been arrested in Singapore. Your charges are read to you in the State Courts, and you decide to plead guilty to them. You are then sentenced to a jail term, and wind up in jail.

Alone in your cell, it suddenly dawns on you that you don’t actually believe you have committed an offence, and want to retract your guilty plea.

But you can’t, because the General Division of the High Court cannot entertain appeals for retracting pleas of guilt made in the State Courts.

If the above situation sounds like a dilemma you’re currently facing, filing a petition for criminal revision may be the solution for you. Read on to find out more about what this entails and whether this may be appropriate for you.

This article will cover:

What is a Criminal Revision?

A criminal revision is where the General Division of the High Court will examine the record of any criminal proceedings before the State Courts (such as in the District Courts or Magistrate’s Court), and correct any irregularities it finds. This includes decisions for criminal proceedings and criminal case disclosure conferences (CCDC).

Only the General Division of the High Court can hear applications for criminal revision. Neither the Court of Appeal nor the State Courts have the same power. Therefore, if your original trial was conducted in the High Court, you will not be able to file a petition for criminal revision.

As for the specific powers available to the General Division of the High Court on revision, these are fairly wide-ranging and aimed at ensuring the correctness of the proceedings in the lower court. For example, if an irregularity that occurred in the lower court’s proceedings is because of a missing or disputed fact, the General Division of the High Court may either take additional evidence itself or direct such evidence to be taken by the lower court.

Other powers the General Division of the High Court possesses in a criminal revision are those which it is able to exercise on hearing an appeal. Among other things, the General Division of the High Court may:

  • Reverse your finding of guilt and either acquit you or order you to be retried;
  • Alter your finding of guilt itself, meaning the General Division of the High Court may itself change your conviction from one of offence X to offence Y;
  • Change the nature of your sentence (such as from a jail term to just a fine); or
  • Reduce or enhance your sentence.

In short, the General Division of the High Court takes on a rather paternalistic role when it exercises its powers of revision. Should there be something genuinely and/or blatantly wrong with your proceedings in the lower court, the General Division of the High Court will likely be inclined to remedy the irregularity, so fear not over being left high and dry.

Furthermore, the General Division of the High Court can choose to revise your case even if you do not apply for a criminal revision. This may happen when an application for criminal revision is submitted by the lower court itself. The General Division of the High Court may also do so of its own accord when hearing an appeal for your case on another matter.

How Is a Criminal Revision Different From a Criminal Appeal?

At this point, you may think that the effect of a criminal revision is almost the same as a criminal appeal. Admittedly, this is true to the extent that both involve a higher court reviewing the decisions of an inferior court, and that both may result in a change in the outcome of your conviction or sentence.

However, the court has emphasised that a criminal revision should not be seen as a backdoor appeal. Indeed, it is relatively harder for a criminal revision application to succeed. This is because an applicant will need to prove that not only has there been a mistake, but that grave injustice has also arisen as a consequence of that mistake. This will be discussed later in this article.

A Common Use of Criminal Revisions: Retracting a Guilty Plea

One of the most common uses of criminal revision is when an accused wishes to retract his guilty plea and contest the charge against him.

This is because, under the Criminal Procedure Code, an accused who has pleaded guilty and convicted on that plea in the State Courts cannot appeal against his conviction. Therefore, a criminal revision to the General Division of the High Court remains the only solution for him to overturn his conviction.

As for why an accused might want to have his guilty plea retracted, this may be because he had been pressured to plead guilty in the first place.

For example, in a 2008 case, an accused had originally pleaded guilty to trafficking 329g of cannabis, and was sentenced to 9 years’ jail and 6 strokes of the cane. Dissatisfied with the sentence, the accused filed a petition for criminal revision and sought to retract his guilty plea. The General Division of the High Court (which was then just called the “High Court”) allowed his petition and ordered him to be retried in light of overwhelming evidence that he had been pressured to plead guilty.

The court came to this conclusion based on the fact that the accused had consistently maintained his innocence, from the time he was arrested to the day he pleaded guilty in the District Courts. There was also no objective evidence (such as the presence of fingerprints) linking the accused to the parcel of drugs in question.

Importantly, at the time of his guilty plea, the offender was faced with the stark choice of claiming trial and risking being sent to jail for more than 20 years if he was wrongly convicted, or pleading guilty to a lesser charge and going to jail for a markedly reduced term of at least 5 years.

Coupled with his lawyer’s pessimism about his chances of acquittal, as well as the accused’s own lack of funds to claim trial, the High Court had its doubts about the accused genuinely having the freedom to choose to plead guilty, and held that he had faced immense pressure to do so. The accused’s conviction was thus set aside, and the matter was ordered to be retried.

Other Situations in Which a Petition for Criminal Revision Can Be Filed

In general, you may file a petition for criminal revision only when an appeal cannot be filed for your matter (such as when you want to retract a guilty plea made in the State Courts, as explained above). This is unless the petition is made against a sentence imposed by a court which the court is not competent to impose.

This happened in 1969, when a case involving Voluntarily Causing Grievous Hurt (VCGH) was heard in the Magistrate’s Court – because the Magistrate’s Court can try only offences for which the maximum jail term does not exceed 5 years, it acted in excess of its powers by hearing a VCGH case, which then had a maximum jail term of 7 years.

In that case, the Magistrate had granted the accused a discharge amounting to an acquittal. Upon hearing the petition for criminal revision, the High Court exercised its powers of revision to alter the order to one of discharge only. This was because the Magistrate still had the power to discharge the accused despite not having the power to acquit.

You may wish to refer to our other article to find out more about the difference between a discharge amounting to an acquittal, and a discharge not amounting to an acquittal.

A criminal revision may also be appropriate where certain material facts surface after an individual has been convicted, which may affect whether the individual should have been convicted in the first place.

For example, an alcoholic husband was convicted of VCGH for fracturing his wife’s nose. He was sentenced to 6 months and 2 weeks’ jail. However, after he was sentenced, it was revealed that there was, in fact, no nose fracture.

Consequently, the judge admitted in his written decision that had he known of this earlier, he would have sentenced the husband to only 3 months’ jail under a less serious charge of voluntarily causing hurt instead.

Unfortunately, the judge could no longer change his decision since the time permitted for him to do so had expired – errors in the exercise of a court’s sentencing powers must be corrected by the next working day following the judgment.

Given the potential injustice of the husband being wrongly convicted of a more serious charge – and hence being sentenced to a longer sentence than might have been appropriate for his offence – the judge thus indicated that an application for criminal revision was likely to succeed in that case.

What Are the Chances of My Application for Criminal Revision Succeeding?

The General Division of the High Court exercises its powers of revision sparingly. There must be something “palpably wrong” in the lower court’s decision that causes “serious injustice” (whether to the offender or others) before the General Division of the High Court will grant a criminal revision. Hence, the applicant must not only prove that there is some error in the judgment, but also that material injustice has occurred as a result.

The following are some examples where the court found that there was a “serious injustice” that required it to exercise its powers of criminal revision:

Where an offender was sentenced based on an inaccurate charge and statement of facts

In one 2004 case, the offender was originally sentenced to 24 months’ jail for having consensual oral sex with the victim, which was at that time an offence. However, after sentencing, it was discovered that the victim had only been 15 years old at the time of the offence, instead of 16 as originally stated in the charge and statement of facts.

In Singapore, the legal age for consensual sex is 16 years old. Because the victim had been younger than 16 at the time of the offence, the fact that she had consented to the act of oral sex could not be used as a reason to reduce the offender’s sentence.

Instead, a higher jail term was needed to convey the severity of an offence committed against young victims. The Public Prosecutor thus brought an application for criminal revision to amend the charge and statement of facts, so that the offender could be resentenced.

Subsequently, the High Court found the situation a “serious injustice” because of the need to protect young victims against sexual predators, and allowed the criminal revision. Nevertheless, the offender’s sentence was eventually reduced to 12 months’ jail as the offender had pleaded guilty at the first instance, and that the original sentence imposed was disproportionately high compared to previous cases.

Unjustified police retention of property

In another case, the police had seized property belonging to the petitioners for criminal investigations. It continued to retain the property beyond the one-year time limit despite the property having no relevance to its investigations.

The court thus found “serious injustice” in the police’s retention of the seized property without any legal basis, and ordered the property to be released to the petitioners.

Can My Sentence Be Enhanced Upon Revision?

There have been several instances where the General Division of the High Court has used its powers of revision to enhance sentences.

Typically, a sentence may be enhanced on revision where the sentence imposed was wrong in principle and/or law, the sentence imposed was manifestly inadequate (e.g., to send out an unequivocal deterrent signal to would-be offenders), and/or due to certain aggravating factors.

For example, an appellant had initially pleaded guilty in the District Court to a total of 10 charges under the Computer Misuse Act and the Penal Code for using cloned bank cards to withdraw money from various ATMs. He was sentenced to 5.5 years’ jail, and appealed against his sentence.

On appeal, the High Court not only dismissed the appellant’s contentions, but also used its revisionary powers to enhance his sentence to 8.5 years. One reason for doing so was due to the need to deter others from threatening the security of the country’s financial institutions.

In another case involving extortion and outrage of modesty, the High Court interpreted the petitioner’s very action of bringing the petition for criminal revision as a sign of his unrepentance and lack of remorse. This was coupled with other aggravating factors such as his “reprehensible” conduct in forcing the victim to perform degrading acts. The petitioner’s sentence was thus enhanced from 30 months’ jail and 4 strokes of the cane to 48 months’ jail and 6 strokes of the cane.

Given the uncertainty surrounding this issue, you are advised to engage a criminal lawyer to properly evaluate your situation before making a final decision on whether to file a criminal revision.

Can I Appeal Against the Outcome of My Criminal Revision Application?

Unfortunately, you will not be able to appeal against the General Division of the High Court’s use of its revisionary powers.

Nevertheless, if there is a question of law of public interest, any party to the matter may apply to the Court of Appeal for permission to refer the question to it.

How Do I File a Criminal Revision Application?

To commence your application, you will need to submit a completed Petition for Revision form and supporting affidavit through the eLitigation website. The Petition for Revision form can be found as Form 70 (for decisions in criminal proceedings) or Form 71 (for decisions in CCDC) in the Schedule of the Criminal Procedure Rules 2018.

Since only licensed law firms can subscribe to eLitigation, your lawyer will likely be able to submit your documents for you if you are represented. If you do not wish to hire a lawyer, you can make a physical visit to the LawNet & CrimsonLogic Service Bureau to file your application.

If cost is a concern, you may apply for the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) through the Law Society’s website. This scheme allows eligible applicants to obtain legal representation at a subsidised rate.

If your CLAS application is successful, you will be assigned a lawyer who will then be able to advise you on how you should proceed with your case, including whether a criminal revision is suitable for you. Should this be so, your assigned lawyer will likely have access to the eLitigation website to submit the requisite documents on your behalf.

Once you’ve filed the criminal revision application, the General Division of the High Court will inform you of your hearing date via post, email, or both. You may then be directed to attend court and explain your case where the judge will decide whether to grant or dismiss your application.

Filing an application for criminal revision is a relatively complex matter, and whether to do so is often highly dependent on the individual facts and circumstances of each case. It would hence be beneficial for you to engage a criminal lawyer to obtain more targeted advice for your personal situation.

Arrest and Investigation
  1. Singapore’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction: What Does It Mean?
  2. What is the Appropriate Adult Scheme in Singapore?
  3. Stopped by the Singapore Police For Spot Checks, Etc: What to Do
  4. Tasers, Batons, Shields & Firearms: When Do the Police Use Them?
  5. Seized Assets in Money Laundering Investigations: What Happens To Them?
  6. Juvenile Crime: What If Your Child is Arrested in Singapore?
  7. What Happens When You Voluntarily Surrender to the Police
  8. What is Entrapment and is It Legal in Singapore?
  9. How to Write a Letter of Representation to AGC in Singapore
  10. What to Do If Your Loved One is Under Police Investigation
  11. Your Right to a Lawyer After Being Arrested in Singapore
  12. Police Investigation Process for Crimes in Singapore (4 Steps)
  13. Arrest Warrant Issued Against You in Singapore: What to Do
  14. Police Arrest Procedure in Singapore
  15. Arrestable and Non-Arrestable Offences in Singapore
  16. What Should You Do If You Witness a Crime in Singapore?
  17. Can the Public Make a Citizen's Arrest in Singapore?
  18. What to Do If You’re Being Investigated for a Criminal Offence in Singapore
  19. "Right to Remain Silent" to Singapore Police: Does It Exist?
  20. Police Custody in Singapore: What You Should Know
  21. Search Warrant: The Issuance and Execution of It in Singapore
  22. Penalties for Lying to the Authorities in Singapore
  23. Can You Say No to a Lie Detector Test in Singapore? And Other FAQs
  24. Surrender of Passport to the Police and How to Get It Back
  25. Extradition: What If I Flee After Committing Crime in Singapore
Bail
  1. The Essential Guide to Bail and Personal Bonds in Singapore
Prosecution
  1. What is Private Prosecution?
  2. Magistrate’s Complaints, Private Summons and Private Prosecutions in Singapore
  3. Prosecutorial Discretion in Singapore
  4. Composition Offers and Fines for Criminal Offences in Singapore
  5. Plea Bargaining in Singapore: All You Need to Know
During Criminal Proceedings
  1. Death of a Party in a Legal Case in Singapore: What Happens?
  2. Mitigating Factors in a Criminal Case
  3. Aggravating Factors in a Criminal Case
  4. Legal Defences in Criminal Law: Special Exceptions
  5. Giving False vs. Wrong Evidence: What’s the Difference?
  6. Writing Character References For Court: What’s Their Purpose?
  7. When Can I Raise the Defence of Provocation in Singapore?
  8. Can I Use the Defence of Intoxication in Singapore?
  9. TIC: Guide to Charges Taken Into Consideration in Singapore
  10. How to Adjourn or Postpone a Criminal Court Hearing
  11. The "Unusually Convincing" Test in "He Said, She Said" Cases
  12. Using the Defence of Diminished Responsibility in Singapore
  13. What is Acquittal & How Can One Be Acquitted in Singapore?
  14. Falsely Accused of a Crime in Singapore: Your Next Steps
  15. Burden of Proof in Criminal and Civil Cases in Singapore
  16. When is a Witness Testimony Unreliable in Singapore?
  17. Legal Defences in Criminal Law: General Exceptions
  18. Making Objections at Trial in the Singapore Courts
  19. Can I Represent Myself in a Criminal Court Case in Singapore and How?
  20. Claiming Trial as an Accused
  21. Pleading Guilty in Singapore: Consequences & Withdrawal of Plea
  22. The Defence of Unsound Mind in Singapore: What is It?
  23. Gag Orders in Singapore: Whose Identity Can be Protected?
  24. Mitigation Plea: How to Plead for Leniency in Court in Singapore
After Criminal Proceedings
  1. Recidivism: What Happens If You Reoffend in Singapore?
  2. Guide to Filing a Criminal Appeal in Singapore
  3. Criminal Motion: What is It and How to File One in Singapore
  4. Guide to Filing a Criminal Revision in Singapore
  5. Presidential Clemency in Singapore
  6. Repatriation or Deportation from Singapore: How Does It Work?
  7. Criminal Records in Singapore
  8. Visiting a Loved One in Prison or On Death Row in Singapore
  9. Getting Parole (Early Prison Release) in Singapore
Types of Sentences After Committing an Offence
  1. Fined for an Offence: What to Do If I Can't Afford to Pay Them?
  2. How Long Is Life Imprisonment in Singapore? And Other FAQs
  3. Corrective Training and Its Consequences in Singapore
  4. Consequences of Receiving a Stern Warning in Singapore
  5. Probation: Eligibility and Whether It Leaves a Criminal Record
  6. How Can Adult Offenders Get Probation in Singapore?
  7. Reformative Training in Singapore: When Will It be Ordered?
  8. Are You Eligible for a Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO)?
  9. Caning in Singapore: Judicial, School & Parental Corporal Punishment
  10. 7 Detention Orders in Singapore: When Will They be Ordered?
  11. Day Reporting Order: Eligibility and Offender's Obligations
Being a Victim
  1. Ragging and Bullying: Their Penalties and What Victims Can Do
  2. Laws Protecting Informers/Whistleblowers in Singapore
  3. Counterfeit Medicine/Health Products: Redress for Victims in Singapore
  4. Breach of Protection Orders: What Can Victims Do?
  5. Using Your Right to Self-Defence When Attacked in Singapore
  6. Compensation for Crime Victims in Singapore: How to Obtain
Offences Against the Human Body
  1. Voluntarily Causing Hurt Penalties in Singapore (Non-Arrestable)
  2. Murder vs Culpable Homicide in Singapore (and Penalties)
  3. Is Suicide Illegal in Singapore? Will I Be Punished for Trying?
  4. Kidnapping Scam: Penalties & Responding to a ‘Kidnap Call/Text'
Sexual Offences
  1. How are Sexual Offenders with Special Needs Penalised?
  2. BDSM Gone Wrong: Potential Legal Issues with Sexual Kink Practices
  3. The Offence of Attempted Rape in Singapore: Law & Penalties
  4. Cybersexual Crimes in Singapore and Their Penalties
  5. Incest and Family Sexual Abuse: Penalties and Victim Protection
  6. Falsely Accused of Rape in Singapore: What to Do
  7. Sexual Misconduct in Singapore: Offences and What Victims Can Do
  8. Rape Laws in Singapore and How Offenders Can Be Punished
  9. Legal Age for Sex in Singapore and Common Sexual Offences
  10. Consent in Sexual Offences in Singapore and What Victims Can Do
  11. Accused of Molest: Outrage of Modesty in Singapore
  12. What Can Victims of Sexual Harassment in Singapore Do?
  13. What is the Law on Sexting in Singapore?
  14. Revenge Porn: What If Your Nudes are Leaked in Singapore?
  15. Crime of Voyeurism in Singapore (Penalties and Defences)
  16. Date Rape: What to Do If Your Drink Has Been Unlawfully Spiked?
  17. STDs: Can I Go to the Police If a Partner Infected Me in Singapore?
Vice-Related Offences
  1. Alcohol Breathalyser Test in Singapore: Can You Refuse it?
  2. Are Sex Toys and Sex Dolls Legal in Singapore?
  3. Singapore's Legal Smoking Age & Common Smoking Offences
  4. Is Vaping Illegal in Singapore?
  5. Legal Drinking Age and Drinking-Related Laws in Singapore
  6. Is Watching, Downloading or Filming Porn Illegal in Singapore?
  7. Child Pornography in Singapore: Offences and Penalties
  8. Laws on Procuring Sex Workers & Sexual Services in Singapore
  9. Singapore's Drug Laws: Possession, Consumption and Trafficking
  10. Gambling Legally (at Home, in Public or Online) in Singapore
  11. The Offence of Human Trafficking in Singapore and Its Penalties
Property Offences
  1. What is a Protected Area and Place in Singapore?
  2. Penalties For Buying Stolen Goods in Singapore
  3. Penalties for Committing Theft in Singapore
  4. Committing Robbery in Singapore: What are the Penalties?
  5. Penalties for Dishonest Misappropriation of Property in Singapore
  6. Vandalism Laws: Penalties for Damaging Property in Singapore
  7. Criminal Trespass in Singapore: What Happens If You’re Caught?
  8. Penalties for Littering Offences in Singapore
Cybercrime
  1. What is a POFMA Correction Direction and How to Appeal
  2. Penalties for Cheating/Scamming and What Victims Can Do
  3. Penalties for Impersonating Someone and Victim Redress
  4. Singapore Fake News Laws: Guide to POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act)
  5. Laws and Penalties for Doxxing in Singapore (With Examples)
White-Collar Crimes
  1. Tax Evasion in Singapore: Penalties and Examples
  2. Criminal Breach of Trust (CBT) in Singapore: What is It?
  3. All You Need to Know About Corruption in Singapore
  4. A Guide to Singapore’s Anti-Money Laundering Laws
  5. 5 Things You Need to Know about Insider Trading
  6. Dishonest Assistance and Knowing Receipt: The Case of David Rasif
Road Offences
  1. Charged with a Traffic Offence in Singapore: What to Do
  2. DUI: Here are the Penalties for Drink-Driving in Singapore
  3. What Happens If You’re Caught Speeding in Singapore?
  4. Road Rage: What is It and How are Offenders Sentenced in Singapore
  5. Penalties for Dangerous Driving for Singapore Drivers
  6. Fatal Traffic Accidents: Are Drivers Always Punished?
  7. Guide to E-Scooter and PMD Laws for Singapore Riders
  8. Is it Legal for Drivers to Carpool in Singapore?
Animal-Related Offences
  1. Taxidermy of Animals in Singapore: Is It Legal?
  2. Legal and Illegal Pets in Singapore (HDB/Private Property)
  3. Is It Illegal to Feed Stray Animals in Singapore?
  4. Animal Abuse in Singapore: Offences, Penalties & How to Report Abuse
Offences Relating to Public Peace and Good Order
  1. Radicalisation and Terror Attack-Related Penalties in Singapore
  2. Causing a Public Nuisance in Singapore: What are the Penalties?
  3. Causing Public Alarm in Singapore: Examples & Penalties
  4. Public Assemblies and Processions in Singapore
  5. Misbehaving in Public: 5 Things You Need to Know
  6. Racial Enmity: Sections 298 and 298A Penal Code Explained
  7. Religious Cults in Singapore: Are they Illegal? Penalties & More
  8. Penalties for Financing Terrorist Operations in Singapore
Gang and Riot-related Offences
  1. Penalties for Unlawful Assembly and Rioting in Singapore
  2. Is Joining a Gang Illegal in Singapore?: Being Recruited and Penalties
  3. Organised Crimes: Penalties/Orders Syndicates Face in Singapore
Marriage-Related Offences
  1. Bigamy: Is It Legal to Marry a Married Person in Singapore?
  2. Marriage Offences in Singapore Involving Minors, Same-Sex, Etc.
  3. What are Sham Marriages and Are They Illegal in Singapore?
Certificate of Clearance
  1. How Do You Apply for a Certificate of Clearance in Singapore?
Other Criminal Offences
  1. Penalties for Abetting Minors or Committing Crimes Against Them
  2. Misusing the Singapore Flag and Other National Symbols
  3. What are the Penalties for Committing Forgery in Singapore?
  4. Arson and Fire-Related Offences and Their Penalties in Singapore
  5. Offences Against the Dead and What Family Members Can Do
  6. Laws on Prohibited, Replica and Self-Defence Weapons
  7. Laws to Tackle High-Rise Littering in Singapore
  8. Penalties for Attempting to Commit a Crime in Singapore
  9. Penalties for Assaulting a Person in Singapore
  10. Is Dining & Dashing Illegal in Singapore?
  11. Expats Charged With Offences in Singapore: What to Expect
  12. What are the Penalties for Hiring Phantom Workers in Singapore?
  13. What Are Ponzi Schemes? Are They Illegal in Singapore?
  14. Modification of Cars, Motorcycles, Etc: Is It Legal in Singapore?
  15. Penalties for Illegal Immigration and Overstaying in Singapore
  16. Criminal Intimidation: Penalties for Making Threats in Singapore