Warrant of Arrest: What to Do If It is Issued Against You in Singapore
What is a Warrant of Arrest?
A Warrant of Arrest (i.e Warrant) is a court order issued to the police or other law enforcement agencies to arrest an alleged offender and bring him before the courts, or to require the alleged offender to surrender himself. This is known as “executing” the warrant.
Law enforcement agencies include any authority or person who has a duty to investigate and charge offenders. Such agencies include the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority, Singapore Customs and Internal Security Department, and Central Narcotics Bureau.
When Might a Warrant be Issued Against Me?
There are two main reasons as to why a Warrant may be issued against you:
1. You have committed an offence that is “non-arrestable”
As opposed to an arrestable offence (e.g. voluntarily causing grievous hurt) which allows the police to arrest one without a Warrant, a non-arrestable offence requires the police to obtain a Warrant from the courts before arresting the alleged offender in Singapore.
Examples of non-arrestable offences include voluntarily causing hurt, and defamation.
2. You have failed to pay your state court fines and/or failed to attend court
A state court fine may be imposed if, for example, you have committed a minor traffic offence with an offer of composition (i.e payment of a sum of money), but failed to pay the fine by the expiration of the offer.
If you fail to pay the state court fine by the due date, a summons to attend court will first be issued against you. At this point, you can still pay the fine by the time stated in the summons. However, should you then fail to pay the state court fine and fail to attend court, a Warrant may be issued against you.
You may also be required to attend court, if for example, you have committed a traffic offence without an offer of composition. Again, failure to attend court may result in a Warrant being issued against you.
Do note that if a Warrant is issued against you for failure to attend court, whether you can post bail would depend on the conditions of the Warrant as imposed by the courts.
If a bail is offered as a condition of the Warrant, the bailor can put up the bail amount for your release to attend court on a specified date. If no bail is offered as a condition of the Warrant, or if you cannot find a bailor, you will be brought to court within 48 hours of your arrest.
What Should I Do If a Warrant is Issued Against Me?
If you have been issued a Warrant, you would be given a letter of advice containing instructions on what you should do next. Alternatively, by logging into the Outstanding Warrant Enquiry System (OWAES), you can also see the next steps you should take.
Generally, for Warrants issued against you because of non-payment of fines or failure to attend court, your next course of action will be to surrender yourself to the relevant law enforcement agencies or the Warrant Enforcement Unit at the Police Cantonment Complex.
If you are still unclear as to what you should do when a Warrant is issued against you, or if you have any questions about the Warrant issued against you, you should seek clarification from the law enforcement agency immediately.
What happens if I don’t respond to the Warrant?
You should note that when a Warrant is issued against you, the police may arrest you without unnecessary delay and bring you to the court which you need to be at. Thus, if you do not comply with the instructions of the Warrant, you may be arrested immediately.
Furthermore, when you have an outstanding Warrant issued against you for a failure to pay your fine for a parking offence, you will not be able to renew your road tax, driving licence or HDB season parking ticket.
Thus, it is important to follow the instructions of the Warrant to prevent these consequences.
What happens if I’m overseas when the Warrant is issued against me?
If you are overseas, a Warrant may be issued for execution in that overseas country for your arrest so you can be brought back to Singapore. This may happen if you are being charged with an extraditable offence.
In a June 2019 case for example, the State Courts issued a Warrant to be executed in Malaysia against a lawyer who fled Singapore after allegedly misappropriating $33 million of client funds, and failed to surrender himself.
Alternatively, if the court has reason to believe that you are in hiding or have absconded overseas even though a Warrant has been issued against you in Singapore, it may publish a proclamation requiring you to appear at a specific time and place. This proclamation must be published, such as in a daily newspaper or delivered to your last known address.
Upon the publishing of this proclamation, the court may order that your property be attached. When a property is being attached, the court can among other things, seize your property or prevent rent to be paid to you. If you fail to heed the proclamation, the attached property may be disposed of.
Can I Cancel a Warrant of Arrest and How?
You may apply to cancel the Warrant only if:
- The Warrant Execution Unit or the relevant prosecuting agencies have not executed the Warrant against you; and
- You have a valid reason for being absent from court (if you failed to turn up in court).
Different procedures for cancelling a Warrant apply depending on whether the Warrant has been issued in respect of a criminal offence or a non-criminal offence.
Cancelling a Warrant issued for alleged criminal offences
If a Warrant has been issued against you due to alleged criminal offences you may have committed, you may contact the Warrant Enforcement Unit to apply to cancel the Warrant.
Cancelling a Warrant issued for alleged non-criminal offences
For non-criminal offences such as failure to attend court, you can apply to the respective court that you were supposed to attend to have the Warrant cancelled e.g. an application to the Night Courts, District Court or Magistrate Court.
You may have been required to appear before the Night Courts if the offence you have committed is prosecuted by government agencies such as the HDB, URA and CPF, or if you committed a road traffic offence.
If you failed to appear before the Night Courts yet wish to cancel the Warrant issued against you, you should approach the relevant prosecuting government agency to submit a cancellation request.
In this request, you should indicate the reasons for your absence with supporting documents. If your request is successful, the relevant agency will submit an application to cancel the Warrant to the court.
District and Magistrate Courts
If you were supposed to appear before the District or Magistrate Courts but were absent, you can apply to cancel your Warrant in two ways:
- Writing to the court
- Applying through the ICMS portal
In both cases, you should provide valid reasons for your absence and support it with relevant evidence or documents. Your application will be considered by the Judge of the court which ordered the Warrant.
Examples of supporting documents include:
- A medical certificate indicating that you are unfit to attend court if you were absent from court due to sickness
- A memorandum from the Prisons stating the period of your sentence if you were absent from court as you were serving a sentence
How do I know if my application to cancel the warrant is successful?
You will be notified of the status of your application by the relevant authority you have applied to. You may also check if the Warrant has been successfully cancelled by checking your warrant status on OWAES.
If your application to cancel a Warrant was successful, a new hearing date will be fixed for you to appear in court for your case to be heard.
If your application was unsuccessful, you will be asked to surrender either to the relevant law enforcement agency or to the Warrant Enforcement Unit at the Police Cantonment Complex.
Can I Engage a Lawyer If I have been Issued a Warrant?
You are free to engage a lawyer to obtain legal advice if a Warrant has been issued against you but you have not been arrested yet.
On the other hand, if you have been arrested under a Warrant, you will not be able to engage a lawyer (if you don’t already have one), or get access to your lawyer (if you have already engaged one) until a reasonable time has passed since the arrest. This may include the time taken for the police to conduct investigations.
Therefore if a Warrant has been issued against you, you may wish to speak to a criminal lawyer as soon as possible to obtain legal advice on your next course of action.
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