Singapore is well-known for its low crime rates, which provide people and tourists with a sense of safety and security. However, the famous adage “low crime doesn’t imply no crime” remains valid, and individuals must know how to protect themselves if they find themselves in a perilous circumstance where they may become a victim of a crime. In Chapter 4A of the Penal Code, the legislation governing when persons can exercise their right of private defence is laid out. The right of private defence is a legal defence that can exonerate, or excuse, a person from legal culpability if he or she injures or kills another person to protect himself, another person, or his property from an offence.
Restrictions for the Right of Private Defence
In certain instances, the Penal Code grants the right of private defence of person and property. In general, nothing that is done in the exercise of one’s right of private defence is considered an offence. This right is not applicable in the following situations:
- There is no right of private defence in circumstances where there is sufficient time to seek protection from the public authorities. [section 98]
- The right of private defence does not allow for the infliction of greater injury than is required for the purpose of defence. [section 98]
- If done, or intended to be done, by a public servant operating in good faith under the authority of his office, there is no right of private defence against conduct that does not rationally induce the apprehension of death or grievous hurt, even if such action is not precisely justified by law. [section 106A]
- If done, or attempted to be done, by the direction of a public servant acting in good faith under the authority of his office, even if that direction is not strictly justifiable by law, there is no right of private defence against an act that does not reasonably cause the apprehension of death or grievous hurt. [section 106A]
A person’s right of private defence against an act done, or attempted to be done, by a public servant is not taken away unless he knows, or has cause to suspect, that the person committing the act is one of those public servants. Furthermore, a person’s right to private defence against an act done, or attempted to be done, under the direction of a public servant is not taken away unless he knows, or has reason to believe, that the person doing the act is acting under such direction, or unless the person doing the act states the authority under which he acts, or if he has written authority unless he produces it if demanded.
Right of Private Defence Against Legally Incapable Persons
The right of private defence is also applicable against people who are legally unable to commit crimes owing to physical or mental disabilities. Private defence is available in the following situations when the criminal is:
- Of unsound mind.
- Where the offence was committed by a child under 10 years of age or a child above 10 years of age and under 12, who is not mature enough to understand the nature and consequences of their actions.
Because of the aforementioned characteristics, the criminal would not have been found guilty in these circumstances. However, the individual against whom the crime was committed would still be able to use their right of private defence as mentioned under section 99 of the Penal Code.
Risk of Harm to Innocent Person
The right to private defence can be used even if there is a danger that an innocent person will be wounded or killed if the right is exercised, according to section 100 of the Penal Code. Even if there is a risk of injury to an innocent person, the law allows for private defence against deadly assault. As a result, if the defender is in a position where he cannot effectively exercise his right of private defence against an assault that reasonably causes the apprehension of death without endangering an innocent person, his right of private defence extends to the risk of endangering an innocent person.
If A is attacked by a mob that is attempting to murder him, and he is unable to effectively exercise his right of private defence without firing at the mob, and he cannot fire without endangering young children who are mingled with the mob, A commits no crime if he harms any of the children by doing so.
Right of Private Defence of Body
According to Penal Code Section 97(a), every individual has the right to protect himself or herself or any other person against any offence that may cause physical injury to the human body. According to Section 101 of the Penal Code, the right to private defence of a body arises if you feel that you or another person is in danger as a result of a crime being committed or an attempt to commit the offence. The right lasts as long as you feel you or another person is in danger.
When exercising the right of private defence, an individual can kill the perpetrator in specific situations. According to Section 102 of the Penal Code, the right of private bodily defence can extend to inflicting the offender’s death willingly if:
- The person is assaulted and reasonably thinks that as a result of the assault, he or she will die or be grievously injured.
- The attack is carried out with the objective to commit rape or other non-consensual penile penetration.
- The individual is being abducted.
- The individual has been unlawfully confined and reasonably thinks that he or she will be unable to seek release from a public authority.
If the offence does not fall into one of the categories listed above, the right to private defence of the body does not extend to the voluntary infliction of death on the assailant, but it does extend to the voluntary infliction of any injury other than death on the assailant.
The law allows for a mistaken belief that causes apprehension of danger and leads to the use of private defence if the accused had such an incorrect belief in good faith in the circumstances. The right of private defence only allows for the imposition of harm to the degree that it is required for self-defence. When a person acting in self-defence uses excessive force, he or she forfeits their right to self-defence, may commit an offence and may be susceptible to the exercise of private defence.
Factors Considered by the Court
The following factors were considered by the courts in determining whether an accused lawfully exercised his or her right of private defence:
- Who was the aggressor in the situation;
- The physical characteristics of the parties;
- The deceased’s demeanour;
- The weapon used by the accused; and
- The nature of the wound inflicted.
The individual exercising private defence does not have to wait for substantial damage to be inflicted upon him before acting in self-defence, nor does he have to flee in the face of danger. He might continue to act in self-defence as long as the fear of danger exists. The right of private defence does not cover actions of vengeance committed in reprisal or revenge.
Right of Private Defence of Property
The right of private defence can be used to defend your property, such as your car or house, against any act, or attempt to commit an offence, that falls under the category of theft, robbery, mischief, or criminal trespass under section 97(b) of the Penal Code. The right of private property defence arises under section 104(1) of the Penal Code when you reasonably fear that your property or the property of another person is at risk as a result of theft, robbery, damage, or criminal trespass.
When there is a reasonable concern of harm to the property, the right of private property defence comes in. In situations of theft, this right continues until the thief has fled with the property, or until aid from the authorities is acquired, or until the property is recovered. In robbery situations, the right to private property defence remains as long as the robber causes or attempts to cause death, bodily harm, or unlawful restraint to any person, or if the fear of instant death, bodily harm, or personal constraint continues. This right of private property defence against criminal trespass or mischief remains in effect as long as the offender is committing the crime. The right of private defence of property remains in situations involving night-time housebreaking as long as the house-trespass that was started by such house-breaking continues.
Under section 105 of the Penal Code, the right of private property defence also extends, subject to certain limitations, to an individual who deliberately causes the offender’s death to defend his property. This, however, only applies if there is a threat to one’s property or the property of another in any of the following situations:
- If you are the victim of a robbery.
- When a house is broken into after 7 p.m. and before 7 a.m.
- The criminal sets fire to property that is occupied by people.
- If the individual reasonably thinks that if the right of private defence is not exercised, death or grievous physical injury would occur from the theft, mischief, or housebreaking.
If the offence does not fit into one of the categories listed above, however, the right of private defence does not apply to the voluntary cause of death, but it does apply to the voluntary cause of any injury other than death to the wrongdoer.
Difference between Right of Private Defence of Body and Property
When acting in private defence of property, the conditions are more restricted than when acting in defence of a person. It must be a danger that is so immediate as to constitute an effort to conduct the offence specified, rather than a mere threat in the instance of acting in self-defence of body. Depending on the circumstances, the right to private property defence may be maintained. In terms of the right of private bodily defence, it lasts as long as there is a reasonable fear of bodily harm.
1) Exonerate: To exonerate someone is to declare him not guilty of criminal charges.
2) Legal Culpability: Culpability is the quality of being culpable, deserving blame for a crime or wrongdoing.
3) Right: A power or privilege held by the general public as the result of a constitution, statute, regulation, judicial precedent, or other type of law.
4) Public Servant: Public servant means any officer or employee of government, whether elected or appointed.
5) Intoxication: Intoxication is a state of mind in which a person loses self-control and his ability to judge.
6) Assault: A person commits assault in Singapore when he/she makes a “gesture or preparation”, intending or knowing it will be likely that such action will cause another person to apprehend that the first person is about to use “criminal force” on him/her.
7) Reasonable: In law it means just, rational, appropriate, ordinary or usual in the circumstances. It may refer to care, cause, compensation, doubt (in a criminal trial), and a host of other actions or activities.