What Should You Do If You Witness a Crime in Singapore?
What Makes a Person a Witness of a Crime?
The Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) (Witnesses’ Allowances) Regulations 2010 defines a witness as a person who attends court or a Coroner’s Inquiry to give evidence.
His/her first-hand testimony of the criminal act would be useful to the court in understanding the circumstances of the act, and to decide on the verdict of the case.
Under section 120 of the Evidence Act, unless the court considers that your age, or physical or mental disease prevents you from understanding the questions or from answering them rationally, you are competent to testify in court as a witness.
Immediate Actions When You Witness a Crime – Dos and Don’ts
- Witnessing a crime can be distressing and may even place you in danger. Remember to protect yourself first by running, hiding or calling for help.
- As soon as possible, call the police at 999 to report the crime, especially if there is a medical emergency or a life-threatening situation.
- Where possible, be clear with the information you provide for the police to respond accordingly. The operator on the line will instruct you on what to do next, be it to stay on the line or offer help to the victim.
- Wait for the police to arrive and direct them to the scene. While waiting, try to pay attention to your surroundings for information that may be useful to the police.
- Once the police have arrived, recount what you have witnessed to the police and answer their questions truthfully. It is important that you only provide details that you saw and heard, instead of your assumptions on what may have happened.
- At a crime scene, almost every detail counts. Do not touch or move anything as it may compromise or contaminate critical evidence.
- For your own safety, do not attempt to detain or challenge the alleged perpetrator of the crime.
- As mentioned earlier, do not assume, guess or predict missing details or information when speaking to the police.
Making a Police Report
If you make a police report on the crime that you witnessed, you should provide the following information as far as possible:
- Date, time and location of the crime;
- Description of the alleged perpetrator (such as his/her physical attributes), or his/her identity if you are aware of it;
- Any circumstances leading to the crime that you may have noticed; and
- Other relevant information.
After lodging the police report, you will be entitled to a copy of the report (unless you reported the crime through the “999” police emergency line).
Thereafter, the police will advise you accordingly on the next course of action. The Investigation Officer (IO) of the case will update you on the progress of the case.
If you have more information to provide on the case, you may contact the IO to do so during office hours from 8.30am to 6pm on Mondays to Thursdays, and 8.30am to 5.30pm on Fridays.
Using the i-Witness in POLICE@SG
An alternative to provide information to the police about a criminal activity is via the i-Witness programme in the POLICE@SG mobile application.
i-Witness enables you to:
- Upload a photograph of what you witnessed;
- Upload details of the location, time and date, as well as a description of what you saw; and
- Gives you the option of either being anonymous or to provide your contact details.
As the police would only respond directly to situations that require immediate police assistance or to the complainants of a police report, you may not receive any updates for your information on i-Witness.
Nevertheless, the information you provide may be helpful for current investigations or unreported crimes, and the police will follow up accordingly.
What If the Police Calls You for an Interview?
The police has the discretion to call anyone, whom it believes has knowledge of the facts, for investigations and interviews. All information police witnesses provide will be kept confidential.
If the proposed police interview date and time is inconvenient for you, you may request to have the date and time changed. However, you will not be not entitled to any reimbursements if you take time off work to attend the police interview.
Witnesses will not be given a copy of their witness statements. However, you may make amendments to the statement or include further information where necessary.
Note that you must be truthful in your statement at all times. Lying or offering false information to the police constitutes a criminal offence and is punishable by a fine up to $5,000 and/or a term of imprisonment up to 6 months.
Receiving a Subpoena to Testify in Court
If you are required to give evidence as a witness in court, the prosecution or defence counsel (depending on which side you are being asked to testify for) will send you a subpoena (a court order to attend court) specifying the date and time of the court hearing.
Under the CPC (Witnesses’ Allowances) Regulations 2010, a witness may receive an allowance of one-fiftieth of his monthly income for each half-day attendance in court. The amount of allowance must be at least $25 but cannot exceed $350.
If you do not comply with the subpoena, the court may issue a warrant of arrest or summon to compel your attendance. Therefore, if you are unable to attend the court hearing, you or your family member should notify the IO or defence counsel immediately (depending on which side you are a witness for).
If you encounter difficulties in applying for leave to attend the court session, the party which subpoenaed you may provide you with a letter to explain that your court attendance is mandatory.
You can read more about what you need to do if you have been subpoenaed in our other article.
Testifying in Court
Upon receiving the subpoena, you may contact the prosecution or the defence counsel (depending on which party sent you the subpoena) to enquire on the type of questions that you will be asked in court. You can also ask for any other details that you may wish to clarify.
The party which subpoenaed you may also ask that you make a sworn statement of the evidence that you will testify in court.
If the hearing extends by more than a day, you may ask the party which subpoenaed you for the approximate time when you have to testify so that you need not spend more time than necessary in court.
Although trials are conducted in English, if you are more comfortable to testify in a different language, you may inform the party which subpoenaed you that you require an interpreter. The party would make the necessary arrangement to ensure that an interpreter is present at the date and time you will be presenting your evidence.
In court, you will be waiting outside the courtroom or in a special waiting room before being called in to testify. Do not discuss the case with other witnesses or anyone who has witnessed the proceedings.
Once you are called, you will be directed to the witness box, where you will be asked to take an oath (if you are a Christian) or affirm (if you are not a Christian) that you will tell nothing but the truth.
While testifying, you should address the judge as “Your Honour”. Be clear in your answers as the judge and counsel may want to take notes.
Testifying as a witness comprises of 3 stages:
- Examination-in-chief – The side that you are a witness for will ask you for details such as your full name, address and occupation for everyone in the court to know who you are. He/she will then proceed to question you on your first-hand information of the case. If you have already given a sworn/affirmed statement, you will be asked to confirm it.
- Cross-examination – The other party in the case may question you to test your credibility as a witness and/or the reliability of your evidence. He/she may put the case according to their clients’ facts to you and you may disagree if you feel so.
- Re-examination – The side that you are a witness for may clarify other matters that may have been raised during the cross-examination.
The judge may also question you at any time during the court proceeding.
Although it is the lawyers who are questioning you, you should always address your answers to the judge. If you do not know an answer, you should be honest about this instead of guessing an answer.
While you may feel frustrated when your version of facts is challenged, you should maintain a calm disposition and continue to be truthful.
If you do not understand the question, you may request for the question to be repeated and explained. You may request for more time from the judge if you need to read a document before answering the question.
Giving evidence as a witness to a crime is a serious responsibility. You should not make jokes during the proceedings. If you lie in court, you will be charged for giving false evidence and can be liable to a fine and a term of imprisonment of up to 7 years.
What Happens If You Witness a Crime But Do Not Report It?
Perhaps instead of abiding by the guidelines for a witness or making an effort to report what you witnessed, you may be tempted to not report the crime at all. No one would know of your involvement as a witness of the crime.
However, in Singapore, if you witness a crime but don’t report it, you may be considered to be intentionally preventing the course of justice, which comes with a sentence of up to 7 years’ jail and/or a fine.
It is also a criminal offence to intentionally not report a crime if you know or have reason to believe that an offence has been committed, and are legally bound to provide such information about the offence. If convicted, you can be jailed up to 6 months and/or fined.
Finally, where you have reason to believe that someone has committed an offence relating to:
- Causing explosions under the Explosive Substances Act; or
- Unlawful possession of, or trafficking in, any arms (e.g. guns or grenades),
and do not report this at the earliest possible opportunity, you could be jailed up to 5 years.
What If You Have Been Threatened to Not Testify in Court?
Witness Support Programme
The Witness Support Programme is offered by State Courts for free of charge to provide support to vulnerable witnesses. A Volunteer Support Person (VSP) would accompany the vulnerable witness to court proceedings and offer emotional support.
Vulnerable witnesses include:
- A witness below 18 years old; and
- A witness with a mental capacity of below 18 years old
Vulnerable adult witnesses include:
- Victims or eye-witnesses of violence-related or sexual offences who may be traumatised by the alleged offence
- Elderly victims above 65 years old
By introducing the witness to the court environment and explaining the court procedures, the VSP helps to manage the emotional and mental stress faced by the witness during court proceedings.
If you are an adult witness who wishes to participate in the Witness Support Programme, you may download the referral form and submit the completed form to the State Courts.
Detention of the accused without trial
There are circumstances where the identity of a witness may be in danger, or a witness may be afraid to testify in court for fear of being retaliated against.
Section 44 (1) of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA) thus allows accused persons to be detained without trial to protect such witnesses from harm.
The detention order can only be issued if the detention is necessary for public safety, peace and order. The Public Prosecutor also has to consent to the order before it can be issued.
Measures have been implemented to ensure that witnesses of criminal acts in Singapore are protected and supported in order to dutifully fulfil their responsibilities to the law.
Instead of walking away, witnesses of crimes should therefore alert the authorities in time and do the needful to ensure that justice is served.
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