Police Investigation Process for Crimes in Singapore (4 Steps)

Last updated on November 10, 2021

illustration of policeman interrogating suspect

What is a police investigation process like in Singapore? How, when and why do certain cases go to court? If you are being investigated for a crime, your head might be spinning with these questions.

Understanding the police investigation process could lessen your confusion and help you to gain clarity on what to expect while you are being investigated.

Typically, a police investigation involves the following 4 steps, which this article will explain:

Step 1: Receiving a First Information Report

An investigation process typically commences upon the police receiving a first information report. This is a document that contains the very first information that the police obtains about the incident, hence its name.

A first information report may be received in writing, for instance, in the form of a letter or message. It may also be received orally, such as a report made by an informant over the phone or at the police station.

Upon receiving a report, the police would consider whether the information in the report discloses a possible offence and if so, whether the offence is arrestable or non-arrestable, before taking further action.

If the first information report discloses a possible arrestable offence

If the offence in question is arrestable, then the police has the power to arrest an alleged offender for it without first obtaining a warrant of arrest.

The Third Column of the First Schedule of the Criminal Procedure Code lays down the offences that are arrestable. For offences found in other legislation, you will have to check that legislation to see if the offence is arrestable.

Examples of arrestable cases include:

If the police has a reason to suspect that the offence is arrestable, it would then investigate the facts of the case as soon as practicable and try to find the offender, arresting him if appropriate.

If the first information report discloses a possible non-arrestable offence

Non-arrestable offences are those for which the police may not make an arrest without a warrant. Thus, for such cases, the police would have to obtain a Warrant of Arrest from the courts before they can arrest a suspect. Examples of non-arrestable offences include voluntarily causing hurt and defamation.

For non-arrestable cases, the police are conferred the discretion to investigate and may refer the case to a mediator of a Community Mediation Centre. The police may also refer the informant, namely the person who had given information about an offence, to a magistrate, who would examine the informant. Thereafter, the magistrate may:

  • Issue summons to call witnesses;
  • Direct police officers to investigate the complaint;
  • Proceed with mediation;
  • Postpone the matter in favour of amicable resolution of the matter; or
  • Dismiss the complaint.

Step 2: Interviews and Recording of Statements by the Police

A suspect is typically held in police custody from the point of arrest. During this time, as part of investigations, statements will be recorded. There are two types of statements that may be recorded:

  1. Witness statements; and
  2. Cautioned statements.

If the suspect is under 16 years old, then under the Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects, an independent and trained adult will be present with them during the interviews conducted by the police.

It is also possible for a suspect to be released on bail, depending on whether bail is offered, and if one or more bailors put up security for the suspect’s release from custody. Nonetheless, the suspect is expected to and must continue to remain available for investigations, which includes the taking of statements.

Witness statements 

Witness statements are governed by section 22 of the CPC, which allows the police to interview any person who may have knowledge about the case under investigation.

While the person being examined is bound to state the truth about the facts of the case, they need not mention things that might expose them to a criminal charge. This means that you would have to tell the police everything you know about the case, except anything that might suggest that you had committed the offence.

Note that at this point, your right to a lawyer is unlikely to have kicked in. In Singapore, an individual’s right to a lawyer arises only after a “reasonable time” after arrest. This is primarily to ensure that the police are able to carry out investigations without interference.

Nonetheless, as it remains unclear what a “reasonable time” is, you should make a request to speak to a lawyer. This is so that your intentions are at least made known to the police, and they may then allow you to engage a lawyer at an appropriate time.

Witness statements can be taken at any time during the police investigation. The procedural requirements of this statement are as follows:

  • The statement made by the person must be recorded in writing;
  • The statement must be read to him with interpretation if required; and
  • The statement must be signed by him.

Cautioned statements

The second type of statement taken is cautioned statements. This generally occurs after the arrest of the suspect and before they are formally charged in court.

The procedure regarding such statements is as such:

  • The investigating officer has to officially set out the charge the suspect is facing and explain it to him.
  • The suspect will then be asked if they wish to say anything regarding the charge.
  • The investigating officer will record anything that the suspect says from then on in answer to the charge, or any silence or refusal on the part of the suspect to make a statement.

The cautioned statement will have to be in writing and read back to the suspect, who will have to sign it. The suspect will also be given a copy of the statement.

If you are being interviewed as the suspect, it is important for you to state your defence when the cautioned statement is being taken. If you fail to do so and state your defence for the first time only at trial, the judge hearing the case may be less likely to believe you. This is especially if a material part of your defence had not been mentioned in the cautioned statement.

Police custody

As mentioned earlier, a suspect will be held in police custody upon arrest. Nonetheless, for an arrestable offence, an arrested person can be detained for only up to 48 hours in any event.

This means that if the police have not established that you have committed an offence by the end of 48 hours, you will be released. However, in the event where the police find later on that you may have committed an offence, you may then be brought to court or be released on bail pending further investigations.

Watch the following video for a quick summary of the police investigation process in Singapore (and answers to other criminal law-related questions), as shared by lawyer Ashvin:

Step 3: Gathering of Evidence

The next step involves the gathering of evidence to establish whether the alleged offence had been committed.

Search and seizure

The police may apply for a search warrant to search premises and seize property that may be connected to a criminal investigation in Singapore. There are two types of search warrants:

  1. A general search warrant, which grants the executing officer broad discretion or authority to conduct a general search of an area and subsequently seize goods, property or documents found during the search; or
  2. A specific search warrant, which allows the executing officer to search or inspect only the area(s) specified (by the court) in the search warrant.

Polygraph test

As part of investigations, the police may require a suspect to take a polygraph, or lie detector, test. During a polygraph test, you will be hooked up to the machine via various attachments to the chest and one hand and arm. You will then be asked a series of questions, and your physiological responses, such as breathing patterns, blood pressure, pulse and skin conductivity will be observed.

Note however that a polygraph test cannot be used as evidence against you in a criminal case. Instead, polygraph tests are typically considered by the authorities when they require more evidence to decide whether to recommend prosecution.

For example, if the police is unsure about whether or not you should be prosecuted, a failed polygraph test may lead them to conclude that you are likely to be guilty. Based on this, the police may then recommend prosecution.

Step 4: Referring the Matter to the AGC

After the police have collected information and made recommendations, the matter will be referred to the AGC for a public prosecutor to review the file. While the police play a crucial role in investigations, it is the public prosecutor who has the power to institute criminal proceedings.

There are a few possible outcomes following the review.

For instance, the prosecutor may decide to not charge the suspect, and instead, give a stern or conditional warning. The warning serves to deter an individual from committing offences in future. It is not a criminal conviction and has no legal effect. That said, records of stern and conditional warnings are maintained by the police.

Note also that a conditional warning comes with conditions that an individual would have to comply with. For example, an individual could be required to not commit any offence for a stipulated period of time. Otherwise, he/she may be prosecuted for the original offence and for any fresh offences committed.

Alternatively, the prosecutor may charge the suspect in court for the offence. This is when court proceedings would formally commence, and you, as the accused person, would have to decide, among other things, whether to claim trial or plead guilty. If you are convicted of the offence, you will then be sentenced accordingly.

How Long Does a Police Investigation Take in Singapore?

You might also wonder how long it takes for a police investigation to be completed. This ultimately depends on the complexity of investigations and the matter in question.

If the police are able to establish the offence quickly based on ample evidence gathered, for example, then the process is likely to take a much shorter time than a case that is lacking in evidence.

While not exhaustive, the 4 steps above illustrate the process of police investigations in Singapore. Understandably, being subject to a police investigation can not only be stressful, but also distressing. This is especially if you are unsure of the investigation process and your legal rights.

If you have been taken into police custody or charged with an offence in Singapore, do have a read of our other article on what to do if you’re being investigated for a criminal offence in Singapore.

Ideally, you should engage a criminal lawyer at the earliest opportunity, so that you can be advised on your rights and obligations as you undergo investigations. Besides, an experienced criminal lawyer would also be able to assist you with achieving the best possible outcome for your case.

You may get in touch with trusted criminal lawyers in Singapore here.

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