Hire the Best Criminal Lawyer For Your Case in Singapore

Last updated on January 7, 2022

man in suit sitting at table

If you are the subject of a criminal investigation or have been charged with a crime in Singapore, you should hire a criminal lawyer as soon as possible. But how do you choose one, and how do you know if they’re any good? This article will explain:

How Can a Criminal Lawyer Help You?

A criminal lawyer can represent you from the beginning of an investigation until the end of the prosecution. This means they can write representations to the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) before or after you have been charged. Even if you have not yet been charged, a criminal lawyer could potentially end your case before it begins by writing to the AGC and explaining the reasons why a prosecution would not be in the public interest.

If you have been charged with an offence and choose to plead guilty, a criminal lawyer can submit a plea of mitigation to seek to lower your sentence. Alternatively, if you choose to claim trial, they can:

  • Seek evidence from the prosecution;
  • Prepare your defence;
  • Help to gather exculpatory evidence (i.e. evidence to show that you are not guilty of an offence);
  • Prepare defence witnesses; and
  • Defend you at trial.

Doing all these things on your own would be extremely difficult (certain aspects would even be impossible to do without a lawyer) and would put you at a severe disadvantage. Therefore, there should be no question about engaging a criminal lawyer if you are charged with a criminal offence in Singapore.

How Do Criminal Lawyers Handle Cases and How Much Does It Cost to Hire One?

Different lawyers will have different approaches to managing your case.

As a very broad generalisation, large firms’ criminal practices would typically staff your case with 2-3 lawyers, namely one partner and two associates and/or trainees. The associates/trainees would do the bulk of the written work and attendance at pre-trial conferences. The partner would most likely supervise and do most of any trial representation or oral mitigation. The legal bill would likely be high.

Small law firms might sometimes have only one lawyer on your case but would often have two, a partner and an associate or trainee. If there is an associate or trainee, the same workflow as a large firm would generally be used.

If there is only one lawyer on the case, then obviously they have to do everything. However, it can sometimes be difficult for one person to produce the same amount of work as two or three people to the same standard. As a result, some sole practitioners may not go the extra mile in terms of conducting their own investigations, hiring defence experts and so on. Some may even encourage you to plead guilty simply because they don’t have the time to actually fight a charge all the way to trial. These lawyers are usually more affordable than big firm lawyers, but therefore need to take many cases at the same time in order to make a profit.

Other sole practitioners specialise in criminal trial work and will take on fewer cases at a time, but will go to great lengths to handle each case thoroughly. These lawyers obviously have to charge more for each case as they must do fewer of them. As with every other industry, more often than not, you get what you pay for. As a very rough generalisation, however, even a good boutique criminal law firm (i.e. a law firm specialising in criminal law)that might staff your case with only one partner and one associate will generally cost a bit less than a big firm that staffs your case with three lawyers.

For more information, please read our article on the cost of hiring criminal lawyers in Singapore.

More importantly, the criminal lawyers in big firms and boutique firms may have quite different focuses in terms of the kinds of cases they typically take. As another broad generalisation, big firms may have more experience with white-collar crimes but may simply not be interested in representing people charged with minor offences, unless that person has a business that is already a client of the firm. Conversely, smaller boutique criminal law firms may have a broader range of criminal law experience.

What to Look Out For When Hiring a Criminal Lawyer in Singapore

The most important thing to figure out is the identity of the individual lawyer who will be primarily responsible for handling your case and exactly what experience they have. While you can indicate your preference on which lawyer in a firm should actually do most of the work on your case, and indeed you can insist that this be included in your terms of engagement, once you walk out the door, you have very little control over how your lawyer chooses to manage your case.

Therefore, you need to choose a lawyer who is trustworthy, honest and diligent. Once you have established which lawyer would actually be representing you in court and driving the direction of your case, you need to research them.

Find out what kind of cases they have taken in the past. Find out the outcome of those cases. If you intend to claim trial, find out whether they typically just mitigate in cases where their clients plead guilty or whether they actually have substantial trial experience, indicating that they have the will and ability to take your case to a verdict if necessary.

Try Googling their name. What comes up? Have they ever had any complaints against them by former clients upheld, and been disciplined accordingly for professional misconduct or for inadequate professional service? If so, you might want to consider avoiding this lawyer, depending on the specific nature of the findings against them.

You can also try Googling the specific wording or section number on your charge sheet and see what news stories come up and what lawyers’ names are mentioned as the defence counsel representing the clients in these cases. These are probably the lawyers who have the specific experience necessary to handle your case, particularly if those news stories relate to cases that went to trial.

If the lawyer seems to have a history of winning trials, then that’s a bonus. However, be aware that this is quite rare, and that past performance does not guarantee future results. So few cases end in acquittal after trial. The overwhelming majority are disposed of by a guilty plea.

If a lawyer was involved in the plea-bargaining process, then the guilty plea may well have been to a less serious offence than originally charged, with a correspondingly more lenient sentence, and hence amount to a “win” in a pragmatic sense for the accused person, in the broader context of that case.

The results obtained by a lawyer are therefore usually very case-specific and depend on so many different factors aligning, that you should not read too much into the eventual outcome of a criminal lawyer’s past cases.

What Happens After You Have Hired a Criminal Lawyer?

Once you have chosen which lawyer to hire, you will need to sign a Warrant to Act and/or Letter of Engagement with them. The Warrant to Act gives your lawyer the legal authority to take your instructions and act on your behalf in court and in his dealings with the prosecution in your case. The Letter of Engagement sets out the terms of the legal agreement between you and your lawyer, including your lawyer’s obligations to you and the fees to be charged.

If you don’t understand any of the terms of either of these documents, you should ask your lawyer to explain them to you. You should take your time to carefully read them and not feel pressured to sign them on the spot if they are too long to read quickly.

In particular, if any terms of the Letter of Engagement are unacceptable to you, negotiate them. Many lawyers may be willing to renegotiate certain provisions of their standard engagement letters to address a specific concern a client may have.

Hiring a criminal lawyer is vital if you are the subject of a criminal investigation or being charged with a crime in Singapore. However, hiring the right criminal lawyer is equally important. The consequences of failing to engage counsel early and begin building your defence are dire. A conviction can sometimes be life-changing in the sense that it can negatively affect your employment prospects and hence, way of living, drastically.

If you have any chance of avoiding a conviction, those odds can only be improved by hiring a criminal lawyer. However, do your research before you engage a lawyer and know who you are talking to when you reach out to one. You can start researching by browsing the profiles of criminal lawyers on SingaporeLegalAdvice, where most of our criminal lawyers have reviews from past clients to give you a taste of the kind of experience they have.