Misbehaving in Public: 5 Things You Need to Know

Last updated on April 22, 2019

You might have read about the lady who attacked two shop staff members at Tiong Bahru Plaza or the more recent case of a couple bullying an elderly man over a table at Toa Payoh hawker centre. These unfortunate incidents have brought public order offences into the spotlight. Here are 5 offences that people are commonly convicted of for disrupting public peace.

1. Causing public nuisance

A public nuisance is committed when a person causes common injury, danger or annoyance to the public or people in the vicinity. This offence is defined under section 268 and punishable under section 290 of the Penal Code with a maximum fine of $1,000. This offence may be committed when a person gathers a crowd and generally causes annoyance in the neighbourhood or obstruction to the traffic in a public place.

For example, back when Pokemon Go was the craze in Singapore, crowds gathering in housing estates in the middle of the night and people crossing the roads blindly to chase after Pokemon could well have been found guilty of causing public nuisance.

2. Fighting in public 

An offence of affray is committed where two or more persons disturb the public peace by fighting in a public place. This offence is defined under section 267A of the Penal Code and is punishable with a maximum sentence of one year’s imprisonment, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

As the offence targets the disturbance of public peace, there does not need to be direct, tangible harm such as injury before an act of affray is found to be committed. This offence aims to maintain public peace so as to preserve the quality of life and security of people in the neighbourhood.

In Public Prosecutor v Peh Hua Kang [2010] SGDC 105, two men were involved in a fight with a baseball bat. The accused was not given a custodial sentence as he did not cause any significant injuries to the other party involved. Instead, he was given a fine of $4,000 with a default sentence of four weeks’ imprisonment.

The court also highlighted that each person involved in an affray case would normally have to bear some responsibility given that it takes at least two to have a fight. Therefore, the wise thing to do is to walk away from an argument before it escalates into a fight.

3. Disorderly behaviour in public

A person commits an offence of disorderly behaviour when he or she exhibits annoying or insulting behaviour in any public place, place of public amusement or resort, or in or nearby any court, public office, police station or place of worship. This is punishable under section 20 of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act.

For a first-time offender, this offence is punishable with a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $2,000, or both. What constitutes as disorderly behaviour is illustrated in Public Prosecutor v Mohammad Azimmi bin Jamaluddin and others [2013] SGDC 269 where the accused was sentenced to one week’s imprisonment for his disorderly behaviour of shouting vulgarities at the police officer who was interviewing him near a carpark, waving his hands in the air and refusing to calm down despite the police officer’s instructions.

In Public Prosecutor v Perumal Naidu Surendra Sean Clinton and Others [2004] SGDC 129, one of the accused persons was found guilty of disorderly behaviour when he shouted and gesticulated at a police officer who had received a complaint from a stall holder in a hawker centre that the accused person had refused to pay for food that he had ordered. He was arrested when he ignored the police officer’s warnings to calm down.

4. Abusing a public servant 

A public servant serves the public’s interest and are protected by the law in the discharge of their responsibilities. Any acts committed to prevent them from discharging their duties is punishable under criminal laws. Verbal and physical acts against public servants will not go unpunished. This was reiterated by the Minister of Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam in December 2016 who had asked for a review of the law on assault of public officers. To this end, some of the offences against public servants include:

(a) Threatening, abusing or insulting a public servant or public service worker: section 6 of the Protection from Harassment Act

A person who speaks, behaves or communicates in any indecent, threatening, abusive or insulting manner towards a public servant or public service worker when he or she is executing his duty is guilty of an offence, punishable with a maximum sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment, a fine not exceeding $5,000, or both. In Public Prosecutor v Harvinder Singh s/o Pritam Singh [2016] SGMC 11, the accused was found guilty of this offence when he behaved in an agitated and disorderly manner and shouted vulgarities at a police officer on the way to the police station after being placed under arrest. He even challenged the police officer to a fight. In light of his lack of genuine remorse and previous convictions for misconduct in public, he was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment. The court emphasised that such conduct towards police officers should not be tolerated, or it would translate to undermining police dignity and authority.

(b) Using criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty: section 353 of the Penal Code

A person who assaults or uses criminal force to a public servant in the execution of his or her duty or with an intention of preventing or deterring the public servant from discharging his or her duty, or in consequence of anything done or attempted to be done by the public servant in the lawful discharge of his or her duty, is guilty of this offence. This offence is punishable with a maximum sentence of four years’ imprisonment, or with fine, or with both.

In Emmanuel s/o Munisamy v Public Prosecutor [2007] SGDC 72, a sentence of three months’ imprisonment was meted out to the accused who, while being handcuffed by a police officer for using abusive language on a public servant, broke free, hit the police officer’s neck and grabbed his head with both hands, causing the police officer to sustain several injuries.

(c) Voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty: section 332 of the Penal Code

A person who voluntarily causes hurt to a public servant in the discharge of his or her duty or with an intention of preventing or deterring a public servant from discharging his or her duty is guilty of an offence. This offence is punishable with a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment, or with a combination of imprisonment, fine, and/or caning.

In Public Prosecutor v Letchumanan s/o Manikam [2012] SGDC 27, the accused was found guilty of this offence (amongst several other offences of causing grievous hurt, theft, using threatening words towards a public servant, and disorderly behaviour). Upon his arrest, he was escorted to a hospital by a police officer.

Along the way, the accused yelled and shouted, refused to calm down, and threatened the police officer by saying that he would kill him and his family. He also kicked the police officer’s inner thigh when the police officer tried to restrain him from committing further disturbance.

In Public Prosecutor v Theyvasigamani [2015] SGDC 344, the accused was given an aggregate of 15 months’ imprisonment for committing all the three offences against public servants discussed above – he spat, punched and verbally abused three paramedics who were attending to him. He was charged under:

  • Section 353 of the Penal Code for spitting at a public servant who was executing his duty;
  • Section 332 for punching a public servant (another paramedic), who was discharging his duty, multiple times in the face; and
  • Section 6(1)(a) punishable with enhanced punishment under section 8(d) of the Protection from Harassment Act for abusing a group of public servants (all three were paramedics) by using vulgar and racist language against them when they were executing their duties.

5. Being drunk in public 

Under section 14 of the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Act, a person who is drunk (i.e. when it is reasonable to believe that his or her speech, balance, co‑ordination or behaviour is noticeably affected as a result of consumption of liquor) and incapable of taking care of himself or herself in a public place is guilty of committing an offence.

For a first-time offender, this offence is punishable with a maximum sentence of one month’s imprisonment, a fine of up to $1,000 or both. A drunk person who appears in a public place or trespasses into any place and causes annoyance to any person is also guilty of an offence, punishable with a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $1,000, or both for a first-time offender. You can read more about Singapore’s drinking laws in our other article.

Such public order laws are meant to protect public tranquillity. Respecting them will go a long way in ensuring Singapore remains a peaceful and orderly society.

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