Police Custody in Singapore: What You Should Know
What is Police Custody?
Police custody is the detention of an accused person by the Singapore police after he has been arrested for allegedly committing an offence.
A person is generally in police custody from the point that he is arrested until the point that he is released by the police, whether on bail or because the police have not established that he has committed an offence.
You may also hear the term “remand” being used when talking about police custody. “Remand” is often used as another word for police custody. A person who is “remanded”, “remanded in custody”, or “on remand”, can also be said to be held in police custody.
In addition to its general meaning, “remand” can also specifically refer to 2 situations in the later stages of police custody:
- When the accused is held in police custody for the purpose of further investigations; or
- When bail is not offered, or not taken up, and the accused continues to be in police custody.
This article will discuss:
- Where might one be held in custody?
- What happens during custody?
- What are my rights while in custody?
- How long will I be held in custody for?
If you are arrested, the police will usually bring you to a police station or detention centre. While investigations are ongoing, you may be held in a jail cell in the police station. This is unless you are a juvenile (under the age of 16), or you are suffering from a mental disorder.
Juveniles will normally be held in a remand home (e.g., the Singapore Boys’ Home or Singapore Girls’ Home). However, a juvenile may instead be held in a jail cell if:
- It is impractical to hold him in a remand home;
- The juvenile is so unruly that he cannot be safely remanded in a remand home; or
- He has a physical or mental condition that makes it inadvisable to remand him at a remand home because of his physical or mental condition.
As for mentally-ill persons in custody, the police must refer them to a medical officer or doctor without delay. If the medical practitioner is of the opinion that the person should be treated as an inpatient, the mentally disordered person may be detained at a psychiatric institution (such as the Institute of Mental Health) for further evaluation and treatment.
What Happens During Custody?
While you are in custody, police investigations will take place. You will be required to surrender whatever personal belongings you have with you. The police will retain any items relevant to the investigation until the case is concluded.
As part of the investigations, the Investigation Officer (IO) will interview you for the facts and circumstances of the case in a language that you understand. Additionally, you may be brought to places, such as the scene of the crime, to recover evidence that may be relevant to the investigation.
You may also be asked to undergo a polygraph examination (a lie detector test) or participate in an identification parade (a procedure where victims or eyewitnesses are asked to identify the person whom they think has committed the offence from a group of people).
The police may also record statements from you. When giving statements, you must state the truth about the facts of the case, but you need not mention things that might expose you to a criminal charge. Any statement taken will be recorded in writing. You will have to read the recorded statement, or have it read back to you, and then sign it.
If the police decide to charge you with an offence, the charge will be officially set out and explained to you. Your response (or lack thereof) to the charge will then be recorded in a cautioned statement. A copy of the cautioned statement must then be given to you.
Juveniles and persons with mental disabilities can make use of Appropriate Adult Schemes for support during police interviews or the taking of statements. “Appropriate adults” are neutral parties who facilitate communication between the accused and the IO, and help the accused to understand the queries and communicate more effectively. They also provide emotional assistance to the accused.
The Appropriate Adult for Persons with Mental Disability (AAPMD) Scheme provides assistance to persons with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorder or mental health issues, while the Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects assists juveniles under 16 years old.
Read our other article for further information on what to do if you are being investigated for a criminal offence.
What are My Rights While in Custody?
It is important to know your rights while in custody. Among other things, you may:
- Request to make a call to your family or a lawyer
- Request visits by your family or a lawyer
- Request to consult with a lawyer of your choice
Such requests will usually be granted within a reasonable time of the arrest. However, they may be refused if they interfere with investigations.
If possible, you should try to speak with a criminal lawyer as early as you can. This will allow you to clarify your rights and obligations and seek advice on any defences which may be available to you.
Failing to mention certain facts during the first interview with police can make it difficult to credibly raise defences based on those facts later in court, even after you have engaged a lawyer.
The police also have to observe certain regulations while you are in custody. For example, your cell should be clean, and you should be provided food of basic nutritional value.
If you appear to be suffering from any illness or mental disorder, the police must refer you to a medical officer or doctor without delay. Where possible, drunk, disorderly, or mentally disordered persons should also be separately confined from other persons in custody.
If you are female or a juvenile, additional rules will apply. Females should be kept separate from males, and in a cell with reasonable privacy, while juveniles should be kept separate from adult offenders.
How Long Will I be Held in Custody For?
The police normally cannot hold you for more than 48 hours from the time of your arrest without either bringing you to court or releasing you.
At the end of the investigation or the 48-hour detention period (whichever is earlier), if the police have not established that you have committed an offence, you will be released unconditionally. But if the investigations reveal that you have or may have committed an offence, the police may either bring you to court or release you on bail pending further investigations.
If you are brought to court, the police may apply to keep you in custody for more than 48 hours, which is then known as remand. The police must give the court reasons why they need to remand you. You may object to this request and ask the court to explain why you need to be remanded. Ultimately, the court has the final say on whether you will be remanded.
If you have been released on bail, you must still turn up at the police station to assist in investigations, or in court, when required to do so. Otherwise, you may be arrested.
Being held in police custody can be a distressing experience. We hope that this article has helped you to better understand what you can expect in such a situation.
If you have been taken into police custody or charged with an offence in Singapore, it is important to know what your rights and obligations are. A criminal lawyer can advise you on this and provide the necessary assistance to help achieve the most favourable outcome for your criminal case.
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