“Right to Remain Silent” to Singapore Police: Does It Exist?
The short answer to whether you have a “right to remain silent” is no. But the long answer is much more complicated, nuanced and depends very much on the circumstances of your case.
To answer this question properly, you should really have a lawyer with you in the interrogation room who can advise you on what is in your best interests by reference to the facts of your case.
However, as suspects are not permitted access to legal counsel before or during questioning by the police in Singapore, it is necessary for everyone to familiarise themselves with the law in this area, in case they are ever arrested and questioned by the police.
If this happens, you won’t be allowed to speak to a lawyer and the police won’t tell you your rights. So, it’s up to you to be prepared and armed with knowledge of your rights already, in case the day comes when you need to rely on them.
The “Right to Silence” in the United States
You have probably watched enough American crime dramas on television to be familiar with the lines:
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you…”
This warning came about after the US Supreme Court decision in Miranda v Arizona, where the majority of the court found that suspects had these rights and a right to be informed of them prior to interrogation.
These rights arose out of the US Constitution’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination (i.e the act of implicating oneself in a crime, and exposing oneself to criminal prosecution).
If the suspect was not informed of these rights, any information he gave to the police could not be used as evidence against him.
The Obligation to Speak in Singapore
It is important to understand that all of this is completely irrelevant to being arrested and questioned by the police in Singapore. We do not enjoy due process protections in Singapore that are comparable with those in the US.
Singapore’s constitution contains no equivalent of the US’ Fifth Amendment. There is a statutory privilege against self-incrimination, which means in theory that you don’t have to say anything to a police officer that tends to suggest that you’re guilty of an offence.
However, this privilege is overlaid with a number of other statutory provisions designed to give police very broad investigative powers and to compel suspects and witnesses to give a great deal of information to the police.
As a result, the rules on what you do and do not have to say, are quite complicated.
Section 22(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) requires you to state truly what you know “of the facts and circumstances of the case”, except that you do not have to say anything that might expose you to a criminal charge.
So in effect, you have to tell the police everything you know about the case except anything that might suggest that you did it. If you did commit the offence, then that means there is a lot you don’t have to say. But figuring out which parts you have to tell and which parts you don’t can be difficult in practice – difficult enough that you should really have a lawyer advise you on it.
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However, your right to a lawyer in Singapore is generally understood not to kick in until after the police have finished interrogating you (as mentioned above).
Furthermore, the police are under no obligation to inform you of your privilege against self-incrimination and therefore they don’t. The fact that you weren’t informed of this privilege does not affect the admissibility of anything you say either (i.e. your statement can still be used in trial).
If, after being questioned, you are charged, you will be asked to give a second statement and this will most likely be your last chance to get facts that are helpful to your case recorded in a statement.
This is important because Sections 23 and 261 of the CPC essentially require you to get any facts, that you intend to rely on later to establish a defence of your innocence, on the record at the police station. You need to explicitly have these facts recorded in your statement, before you speak to a lawyer to figure out what defences might be available to you.
If you don’t, and only raise these facts later, the judge will be less likely to believe you and the court will be entitled to draw an adverse inference against you.
So, if you choose to remain silent or only raise certain facts that are helpful to your case after the investigative process, you could ultimately be convicted on this basis.
After you have given a statement to the police
Once you have given a statement to the police and signed it, there’s nothing you can do to take parts of it back. If you have left something important out, you can include it in a subsequent statement if you are invited back to give another statement.
Otherwise, your lawyer will just have to include your additional input in his representations to the Attorney General’s Chambers where it risks being viewed as a less credible afterthought.
It is best to get your statement right the first time because you may not get another chance to tell your side of the story the way you want it.
Exercising Your Limited Rights
Whatever you do, don’t lie to the police. Don’t make up something and put it in your statement.
Apart from being a separate offence, lying in your statement to the police is a great way to irreparably damage your credibility. If you lie about one thing, it is unlikely that anything else you say will be believed.
Therefore, if you are asked a question, where the true answer to that question is likely to result in a finding of guilt against you, don’t make something up. Instead, you can exercise your right against self-incrimination by stating something like:
“I respectfully decline to answer at this time, pending receipt of legal advice. In the meantime, all my rights are reserved.”
However, claiming to explicitly reserve your rights in this way is unlikely to overrule sections 23 and 261 of the CPC, (i.e. an adverse inference will still be drawn against you even if you mention any helpful facts later).
Nevertheless, if the alternative is giving an answer that tends to show you are guilty of a crime (bearing in mind that giving an untrue answer is not an option), then giving this kind of legalistic reply is probably the lesser of two evils.
Finally, study this short pamphlet from the Law Society of Singapore, which summarises your rights in the event you are investigated by the police. Memorise the important points and be prepared to put your best foot forward if you are ever the subject of a criminal investigation.
You can also read our other article on what to do if you are being investigated for a criminal offence in Singapore.
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