Should I Make A Police Report or Should I Sue?
If a wrongdoing has been committed against you or a loved one, you may consider taking legal action against the other party that has committed the wrongdoing. The crucial question is determining the right course of action to commence the claim.
Should you make a police report or is it better to file a civil suit against the wrongdoer? The answer depends on the type of wrong that has occurred. This article will explain the differences between a criminal wrong and a civil wrong and the various avenues for recourse (if any) that might be available to you.
It will discuss:
- The general differences between civil and criminal wrongdoings
- When should you make a police report
- What happens after a police report is made and the criminal trial process
- When should you file for a civil claim
- How to bring a civil claim before the courts
- The civil trial process
- Whether the same set of facts can give rise to a civil and criminal suit
What are the General Differences Between Civil and Criminal Wrongdoings?
Nature of dispute
Civil law deals with the rights of individuals or legal entities. A wrongdoing in a civil case may concern a breach of contract that involves disputes between private parties, or an application to the court even where there is no disagreement with another party.
On the other hand, criminal cases concern wrongdoings that are of public interest. Criminal law seeks to prohibit certain types of conduct in order to protect the public. The Public Prosecutor represents the State in prosecuting criminal wrongdoers.
Source of law
The Penal Code sets out the general principles of criminal law of Singapore, as well as the elements of and penalties for criminal offences. For example, the offence of theft is set out in Chapter 17 of the Penal Code and details what constitutes the offence of theft, along with explanations and illustrations of the wrongdoing. It also sets out the punishments for the offence of theft, which is an imprisonment term of up to 3 years and/or a fine.
On the other hand, civil law consists of both statute and common law principles (i.e. law developed through the decision of judges). As mentioned, an example of a civil wrongdoing is a breach of contract. The applicable law can be found in statutes such as the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act and the relevant principles of contract law according to case precedents (i.e., prior case law).
A key difference between the two types of wrongdoing lies in their respective penalties. A criminal offender can be deprived of his liberty for certain offences and in the case of murder, even his life. In contrast, civil wrongdoings would result in damages and compensation for the loss suffered. The party at fault in a civil case would usually have to compensate the victims for any losses suffered, for example, medical expenses. In criminal cases, the offender may be liable to compensate the victims only when a compensation order is made.
Commencement of legal proceedings
Another difference lies in the party that initiates the relevant legal proceedings. For criminal wrongs, it is the Public Prosecutor that initiates a criminal proceeding. The victim of the crime cannot start a criminal action as it is up to the Public Prosecutor to decide whether to proceed with a criminal prosecution.
On the other hand, in the case of a civil wrongdoing, the aggrieved party can commence proceedings should they choose to do so.
Standard of proof
The standard of proof refers to the amount of evidence that is necessary to prove a claim at trial. The standard of proof for criminal cases is “beyond reasonable doubt” which is much higher compared to civil cases that only have to be proved “on the balance of probabilities” i.e. more probable than not. This means that stronger evidence is required to prove a criminal wrongdoing as compared to a civil one.
This table summarises the key differences between the two types of wrongs:
|Civil Wrong||Criminal Wrong|
|Nature of disputes||Between private parties||Offences of public interests|
|Source of law||Statute and common law principles||Statute (Penal Code)|
|Penalties||Damages and compensation for loss||Fines and imprisonment|
|Party that initiate proceedings||Individuals||Public prosecutor|
|Standard of proof||On the balance of probabilities||Beyond reasonable doubt|
When Should You Make A Police Report?
If you believe that you are the victim of a criminal wrongdoing, you may file a report either at a Neighbourhood Police Centre or online, or call “999” for emergency situations. An online report should only be lodged for crimes that do not require immediate police action – the police hotline should be used for emergency situations such as where life or property is in immediate danger.
What Happens After You Make a Police Report?
Once a police report is received, the police will file a First Information Report which is a preliminary report about a wrongdoing that has occurred. The police will then assess whether the report discloses a possible criminal offence and decide whether to investigate or not. The police may decline to investigate if it is obvious that no offence has been committed.
Police power to compel evidence as part of investigation
Special investigatory powers are given to the police under Part 4 of the Criminal Procedure Code to investigate wrongdoings. These investigatory powers enable the police to collect necessary evidence for the case. Police officers are able to compel the production of evidence by procuring a search warrant. Under the search warrant, they are able to search an area and seize goods, property or documents found during their search. They are also able to confiscate evidence and take statements from any person that is deemed necessary to the investigation.
Will the suspect be arrested?
Upon arrival at the scene of the wrongdoing, the police will first assess the situation and determine whether an arrestable offence might have been committed.
If an arrestable offence has been committed, or the police reasonably suspect that an arrestable offence has been committed, the police is empowered to arrest the alleged offender without a warrant. The arrest will be made in accordance with the arrest procedure. The specific offences that are arrestable can be found in the Third Column of the First Schedule of the Criminal Procedure Code. Such offences include rape, robbery, theft, drug consumption or causing serious hurt.
If the alleged wrongdoing is non-arrestable, this does not mean that the police cannot arrest the alleged offender. Rather, it means that the police will need a warrant before they can make the arrest. Examples of non-arrestable offences include voluntarily causing hurt and defamation.
For more information, you can refer to our article on the differences between arrestable and non-arrestable offences. You may also refer to this article for more details about the criminal investigation process.
What happens after police investigations?
After the police have concluded their investigations, the matter will be referred to the Attorney-General Chambers (AGC). The Attorney-General is the Public Prosecutor who will review the case and exercise its discretion on whether to proceed with prosecuting the offender.
If the public prosecutor decides not to proceed with a criminal prosecution in court, the police may issue the offender with a stern or conditional warning instead.
For more information, please refer to our other article regarding stern and conditional warnings.
What happens after the matter is referred to the AGC?
The public prosecutor has the discretion to decide whether to proceed with prosecuting an offender for criminal wrongdoing, and if so, what charge(s) should be brought against the offender.
This exercise of prosecutorial discretion is guided by considerations of whether it is in the public interest to proceed with a prosecution, and whether it is a justified use of public resources.
You may refer to this article for more information on the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
What happens if the AGC decides to prosecute?
If the offender is prosecuted, he will be charged with the offence (i.e. the wrongdoing) in question and can either plead guilty to the charge(s), or claim trial.
A plea of guilty would mean that the offender has admitted to committing the wrongdoing. The case will then proceed to the sentencing stage, where the judge will sentence the offender accordingly. On the other hand, if the offender pleads ‘not guilty’ and claims trial, the matter will proceed to a criminal trial. You may refer to our other article for more information regarding the differences between pleading “guilty” and “not guilty”.
What happens during a criminal trial?
By claiming trial, this means that a judge will assess the relevant evidence that will be presented by the prosecution and the defence to support their respective cases. At the end of the trial, the judge will present his verdict as to whether or not the offender is guilty of committing the criminal wrongdoing and if so, to determine the appropriate penalty.
More detailed information on the criminal trial procedure can be found in this article.
If either offender or the prosecutor is dissatisfied with the court’s ruling on the judgment, sentence or court order(s), the party may file an appeal in a higher court within 14 days of the release of the sentence. The appellant may file an appeal on the grounds that there has been an error in law or in fact the conviction or when the sentence is manifestly excessive.
More details can be found in our article about filing a criminal appeal in Singapore.
What are the other options if the matter is not Investigated by the police or not prosecuted by the AGC?
The victim of a criminal wrongdoing may consider filing a Magistrate’s Complaint if no further action is taken with regard to that wrongdoing by either the police and/or the AGC.
You may refer to this article for more information on filing a Magistrate’s Complaint.
When Should You File a Civil Claim?
A civil claim is filed where a civil wrongdoing has occurred between private parties. Since civil law is concerned with private law, the police do not get involved. Civil law is mainly used to claim compensation for harm, loss or injury to persons or property and requires a cause of action to begin legal proceedings.
If you are unable to get the desired outcome from filing a police report (i.e. it is not assessed to be a criminal wrongdoing), you can then consider filing a civil claim to take legal action against the offender.
How Can I Bring a Civil Claim Before the Courts?
The party that wishes to bring the civil claim (i.e. the claimant) will typically engage a law firm to act on their behalf. The lawyer will assess the merits of the case and advise on whether a claim should be brought against the other party or not, as well as the claimant’s chances of success. The party against whom the civil claim is brought is known as the defendant.
Your lawyer may also suggest Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms as another means to resolve civil claims without going through trial. Some ADR methods include arbitration, negotiation, mediation and neutral evaluation. The courts usually encourage individuals to consider ADR options in resolving their dispute since it is often cheaper and faster than a trial.
You may refer to these articles on mediation and neutral evaluation for more information on such ADR mechanisms.
What is the Process of a Civil Trial?
If the parties are unable to reach an amicable resolution through the ADR mechanisms outlined above, they may then decide to commence legal action for the matter to be decided before the courts.
In the course of a civil trial, both parties will present their respective sides of the case concerning the civil wrongdoing. The judge may pronounce its judgement immediately after listening to the closing submissions, or adjourn the case to consider the evidence and arguments from both parties before reaching its decision.
You may refer to our article on the civil trial process for more information.
What happens after a civil trial?
If a party is dissatisfied with a judgment, they may file an appeal in the relevant higher court and serve the notice of appeal within one month from the date of the judgement. If the party has been represented by a lawyer, the documents will also be filed through the lawyer. The court will then arrange for an oral hearing or give a written outcome for the appeal.
Can the Same Set of Facts Give Rise to a Civil and Criminal Suit?
Yes, it is possible for the same set of facts to give rise to both a civil and criminal case concurrently.
For example, a traffic accident might lead to the wrongdoing party being prosecuted for the offence of reckless driving. At the same time, the victims of the traffic accident may also make a civil claim against the wrongdoing party for any personal injuries and/or property damage suffered as a result of the accident.
If you are the victim of a wrongdoing, you would want to assess the best option that you can take to protect your rights and seek legal address. It is therefore important to keep in mind the differences between civil and criminal wrongdoings, so that you can either make a police report or file a civil claim against the wrongdoer, depending on the circumstances.
As a first step, you can consider filing a police report. If the police report is unsuccessful, you can then consider reaching out to a civil litigation lawyer. A civil litigation lawyer can advise you on the possible causes of legal action that might be available against the wrongdoer.
Alternatively, you can also consider seeking general legal advice from a civil litigation lawyer. A civil litigation lawyer can assess your case and discuss the possible options that you can take based on the facts of your case.
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