Consequences of Receiving a Stern Warning in Singapore

Last updated on December 28, 2018

Policeman holding up a document with the heading "STERN WARNING"

What is a Stern Warning?

A stern warning, often described as a “slap on the wrist”, is a warning issued to accused persons in lieu of prosecution after a criminal investigation is closed.

Stern warnings seek to deter individuals from committing offences and may be issued orally or in written form.

What are the Types of Stern Warnings?

In Singapore, stern warnings may be categorised into:

  • Unconditional Stern Warnings; and
  • Conditional Stern Warnings.

The main difference between them is that Conditional Stern Warnings come with conditions attached, while Unconditional Stern Warnings do not.

For example, while both types of stern warnings require the accused to remain crime-free, the Conditional Stern Warning may stipulate a time period (usually 12 months) during which the accused must remain crime-free.

Additionally, the Conditional Stern Warning requires the accused’s acceptance of the conditions attached to the stern warning. Acceptance can be made through signing the document attached to the stern warning.

If the conditions of a stern warning are breached, the accused may be prosecuted for the original offence they had been charged with, plus any other fresh offences.

While it appears that an accused need not accept an Unconditional Stern Warning, non-acceptance may lead to prosecution instead.

When May a Stern Warning be Issued?

In Singapore, stern warnings are generally given only to accused persons who have never been convicted of an offence before. Individuals who have previously been convicted of an offence are unlikely to receive stern warnings.

While a stern warning may be given after investigations into the offence have been carried out, it is unclear how much evidence the authorities will need in order to decide to issue a stern warning.

What are the Consequences of being Issued a Stern Warning?

Will the accused continue to be prosecuted for that offence?

If an Unconditional Stern Warning is issued

Those issued with Unconditional Stern Warnings will be issued with a Discharge Amounting to an Acquittal immediately after that.

A Discharge Amounting to an Acquittal means that the Public Prosecutor will not take the prosecution beyond what has gone on up to that stage, and the court has directed that the accused is to be acquitted of the offence (i.e. found not guilty of committing it).

If a Conditional Stern Warning is issued

Upon issuance of a Conditional Stern Warning, a Discharge Not Amounting to an Acquittal will be granted.

This means that the accused may still be prosecuted in respect of the original offence. In addition, if any of the conditions in the Conditional Stern Warning are breached, the authorities have the right to prosecute the accused for the offence and for any fresh offences committed, as mentioned earlier.

When the conditions of the stern warning have been complied with, a Discharge Amounting to an Acquittal will be granted.

Will the offence for which a stern warning is issued be part of the accused’s criminal record? Does the police keep a record of stern warnings?

A stern warning is not a criminal conviction.

Accordingly, individuals who have been given stern warnings in relation to certain offences will not have a criminal record for those offences.

However, records of stern warnings are maintained by the police. It is unclear how long these records will be kept for.

Will offences for which stern warnings have been issued be taken as past criminal behaviour?

Stern warnings have no legal effect and are not binding on accused persons.

As a result, they cannot be treated as criminal antecedents (i.e. previous convictions) if the accused is being sentenced for a different offence later on.

Can the accused still be subject to private prosecution over the same conduct?

In a private prosecution, an individual (or his lawyer) will be the one prosecuting the accused, instead of a Public Prosecutor. You can read more about private prosecutions in our other article.

In Singapore, it is still an open question whether the accused who has received a stern warning can still be subject to private prosecution.

While this appears to be the case in the UK, it remains to be seen whether local courts will adopt a similar position.

Can the accused still be sued over the same conduct?

An accused person who has been issued a stern warning can still be sued by the victim(s) in respect of his actions.

In some cases, the issuance of a stern warning may form part of the victim’s case in proving their cause of action.

We hope that this article has helped you better understand the issuance and consequences of Conditional and Unconditional Stern Warnings.

Nevertheless, given that there are many uncertainties with regard to the issuance of stern warnings, it might be best for those being issued with stern warnings to seek legal advice from a criminal lawyer on how to proceed.

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