Magistrate’s Complaints, Private Summons and Private Prosecutions in Singapore
Magistrate’s Complaints are complaints filed to the State Courts by individuals (known as “complainants”) seeking redress for an offence they believe have been committed against them by other persons (known as the “respondent” in the complaint).
Magistrate’s Complaints provide a remedy for the aggrieved party in the event that a non-arrestable offence might have been committed but the offence was not taken up by the police for further investigation or prosecution. This is because Magistrate’s Complaints may lead to the police taking further action on the matter, or the commencing of private prosecutions (explained below), such that the offender may be sentenced and ordered to pay compensation to the aggrieved party.
Should You File a Magistrate’s Complaint or a Civil Suit?
For non-arrestable offences, the police will advise the victim to file a Magistrate’s Complaint if he wishes to seek redress. In rare occasions, the police will file a Complaint. Alternatively, the victim can also commence a civil suit to claim damages (compensation) for the alleged act. For example, damages may be awarded by a court to a victim of assault or battery.
An aggrieved party who is more interested in recovering compensation than seeing the alleged offender punished by the state machinery should resort to a civil suit instead of a Magistrate’s Complaint.
Magistrate’s Complaints (which may culminate in a private prosecution, as explained below) may lead to the recovery of compensation and the vindication of a judicial sentence meted out to the alleged offender.
Private prosecutions are generally less cumbersome and faster than civil actions in most cases. Significantly, unlike civil proceedings, the aggrieved party is unlikely to be made to pay the alleged offender’s legal costs unless the alleged offender can discharge a heavy burden of proving that the private prosecution is frivolous or vexatious.
How to File a Magistrate’s Complaint
You may obtain a Magistrate’s Complaint Form by downloading it here, or collecting a hard copy from the Complaints Counter at the Community Justice Tribunals Division (CJTD) located at Level 1 of the State Courts, Havelock Square Complex. It costs $20 to file a Magistrate’s Complaint.
You can also engage a criminal lawyer to conduct the private prosecution on your behalf.
Withdrawal of Magistrate’s Complaints
To withdraw a Magistrate’s Complaint, you must proceed to the CJTD Complaints Counter to make a withdrawal before a Magistrate.
What if the identity of the alleged offender is unknown?
A Magistrate’s Complaint can still be made, and the Magistrate will direct the police to investigate the matter.
What will happen after the Magistrate’s Complaint is filed?
After filing the Magistrate’s Complaint, you will have to affirm or swear to the truth and accuracy of the matters stated in the application form before a Magistrate.
If the Magistrate is satisfied that the application is in order, he may do any of the following:
- Issue a Notice to both yourself and the alleged offender to attend criminal mediation (more on criminal mediation below);
- Issue a Summons against the alleged offender for private prosecution provided that the charge(s) are available;
- Issue a Summons for a person to assist with the complaint, if the Magistrate requires the assistance of witnesses or experts in the case;
- Direct the police to conduct an investigation into the complaint, for the State to decide whether to prosecute the offender;
- Postpone the complaint for you and the alleged offender to negotiate a settlement; or
- Dismiss the complaint.
If the alleged offender’s address or particulars are not available, the Magistrate may direct the police to ascertain that person’s particulars first.
What can I do if the alleged offender filed a Magistrate’s Complaint against me first?
If you have received a Notice informing you that a Magistrate’s Complaint has been lodged against you, you may file a cross-Complaint against the person who filed the first Magistrate’s Complaint by informing the Complaints Section. However, you must have grounds for filing the cross-Complaint.
You must be present on the day of the criminal mediation, or the Magistrate will strike out the complaint.
When both parties appear, the following may occur:
- The Magistrate may refer parties to the Community Mediation Centre (CMC). If the matter is settled at the CMC, parties will sign a Settlement Agreement. If settlement is not reached, fresh Notices will be sent to the Complainant and the Respondent to appear before the Magistrate on another day.
- The Magistrate may mediate the matter. If the parties manage to reach a settlement, then complaint will be withdrawn and no further action will be taken. If there is no settlement, then you may wish to proceed to trial by way of a private summons. After you have prepared the charges against the alleged offender, you will be issued a Summons for you to serve on the alleged offender. Each Summons costs $20 to be issued.
- The Magistrate may refer both parties to a Court Mediator for mediation. Depending on the outcome of the mediation, the follow-up actions may be similar to what has been discussed in the previous point.
Preparing the Charges against the Alleged Offender
The following is a sample of a charge tendered in a Magistrate’s Complaint:
Tan Ah Neo, M / 47 years old, NRIC XXX
Are charged that sometime on 2 October 2014 at about 3pm at the premises of Jufu Shopping Centre situated at 243 Jufu Road, Singapore 456122, had voluntarily caused hurt to one Zhang Tian Fong, male, to wit: in that you grabbed his throat, pinned him against the wall at the said place, and punched him in the face, and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under section 323 of the Penal Code (Cap. 224, 2008 Rev. Ed.).
Service of Summons
Where a Summons is issued, you will have to pay $20 for its issuance. You must then serve the Summons on the alleged offender. This is to notify the alleged offender that a Magistrate’s Complaint has been started against him.
Methods of service include:
- Personal service (handing the Summons to the alleged offender while accompanied by a court process server;
- Leaving the Summons with an adult living with the alleged offender
- Posting the Summons on the front door of the alleged offender’s place of residence
A Summons cannot be served on an alleged offender who is residing outside of Singapore. If you do not know the current address of the alleged offender, the court will assist in ascertaining the address.
However, if it can be shown that the alleged offender is no longer residing at the address reflected in available official records, then you are under a duty to find out the alleged offender’s current address. The Magistrate’s Complaint cannot proceed without the alleged offender’s address.
Hearing of Summons
The case will proceed to a hearing once the alleged offender has been served the Summons. At the hearing, the alleged offender will be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
If the alleged offender pleads guilty, the court will pass a sentence immediately.
The matter will proceed to trial if the parties have to give evidence in open court to prove their respective cases. This will include the calling of witnesses to support the respective parties’ cases as well as the cross-examining of witnesses.
The trial may take one or a few days depending on how complicated the matter is. At the end of the hearing, the court will decide whether the alleged offender is guilty of the offences as charged.
In the event the alleged offender is absent on the day of the trial, the Court will issue a Warrant of Arrest against the alleged offender for his or her arrest.
When a Magistrate’s Complaint is filed and the Magistrate issues a summons for the offender, private prosecution will be conducted by you yourself or your lawyer. This is unlike most cases of arrestable offences where the State prosecutes the offender.
Which offences can be dealt with through private prosecution?
Generally, private prosecution can only be carried out in respect of offences that are punishable:
- Only by fine; or
- With up to 3 years’ imprisonment
Do I need to engage a lawyer?
You may wish to engage a lawyer to conduct the prosecution on your behalf. This is because you will have to prosecute the case by proving to the court that the alleged offender has committed the offence alleged in your Magistrate’s Complaint.
Your lawyer can do so on your behalf, and conduct the trial by reviewing the evidence and examining the witnesses.
In a private prosecution, you will need to bear your own legal costs if you engage a lawyer to conduct the matter.
The court has the power to award compensation to the victim of a criminal offence. In addition (or in the event that the court in the criminal proceedings does not award compensation), the victim can also commence a civil action to obtain the same.
Compensation obtained in a criminal proceeding does not affect the victim’s rights to remedies in civil proceedings. However, the amount of compensation awarded to the victim after the criminal conviction will be taken into account in any subsequent civil suit between the victim and the offender.
For more information on filing a Magistrate’s Complaint in Singapore, you may refer to the State Courts website.
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