What Happens in Criminal Trials in Singapore?

What Happens in Criminal Trials in Singapore?

We’ve all seen the Hollywood version of criminal trials by jury, where dramatic events unfold, salacious revelations are played up, and combative arguments are made in raised voices.

The truth of the matter is that criminal trials, at least in Singapore, are sombre and serious affairs that follow a defined process.

This article seeks to take you step-by-step through the criminal trial process in Singapore.

Do take note that in this article, we shall cover only the criminal proceedings process from the moment you plead ‘Not Guilty’ till a sentence is meted out by the judge. Do take note that we have left out certain procedures like objections in court to witnesses and/or their evidence and ancillary hearings over evidence, which may complicate this article.

In this article, we shall cover the following topics:

  1. What is a criminal trial?
  2. The Accused Person’s Plea in the Mentions Court
  3. The Pre-Trial Stage of Criminal Trials
  4. Pre-Trial Conferences (PTCs)
  5. Criminal Case Disclosure Conferences (CCDCs)
  6. CCDC: Case for the Prosecution
  7. CCDC: Case for the Defence
  8. CCDC: Serving Documentary Exhibits
  9. CCDC: Indicating Respective Positions
  10. Preparation for Criminal Trials
  11. The Criminal Trial
  12. The Prosecution’s Case and Witnesses
  13. Call for the defence
  14. Standard allocution for call for the defence
  15. Accused Person’s and Defence Witnesses are Examined
  16. The Prosecution’s Rebuttal Witnesses
  17. Closing Submissions
  18. The Verdict
  19. Conclusion

What is a Criminal Trial?

Criminal trials are the process by which a judge will assess the evidence for and against you for certain offences and make a decision on your guilt (or innocence) and your punishment if found guilty.

The Accused Person’s Plea in the Mentions Court

If the accused pleads ‘Not Guilty’ in the Mentions Court, he or she is assumed to be claiming trial. Claiming trial means the accused disputes the charges proffered against him and would like a court hearing to defend himself.

If the accused is not represented, he will be asked if he wishes to engage a lawyer. If he is keen on engaging a lawyer, he will be given time to do so. Once the parties are ready, the court will schedule a date or dates for trial or a pre-trial conference.

The Pre-Trial Stage of Criminal Trials

In this stage, administrative matters are sorted out by the courts (with assistance from the Defence and the Prosecution). The main aim of proceedings at this stage is to prepare all parties, including the judge, for trial proper.

In this stage, the judge may schedule a pre-trial conference (PTC) and/or a criminal case disclosure conference (CCDC), in which both the defence and the prosecution will state their positions and outline the respective sets of evidence relied upon.

Pre-Trial Conferences (PTCs)

The aim of the PTC is to sort out administrative matters to ensure that the trial proceeds as efficiently as possible. This includes ensuring that both the Prosecution and the Defence have organised their witnesses and evidence for trial, and that the range of issues to be covered during the trial is as narrow as possible.

The accused person’s lawyer attends the PTC with the Prosecution. Each party informs the judge of the evidence which will be presented at trial, the number and identity of witnesses to be called, and whether interpreters are required. The defence lawyer will also ascertain at this stage whether the prosecution intends to rely on any written statement that the accused person may have given to the police or other investigators, and will request for a copy of each such statement. The judge will inform parties whether criminal case disclosure conference (CCDC) procedures apply.

There may be more than 1 PTC. PTCs will be held until the PTC judge is satisfied that the case is ready for trial. Once satisfied, the PTC judge will schedule dates for the trial.

Take note that even though the PTC judge asks for evidence and the respective cases of both the prosecution and the defence, the judge shall not pass judgment over the matter. His or her role is substantially procedural and administrative.

Criminal Case Disclosure Conferences (CCDCs)

A criminal case disclosure conference (CCDC) is a formal system of disclosing information about the case by both sides to facilitate smoother trials. Before trial, parties have a legal duty to outline their cases and the evidence they will be relying on.

  • For District Court cases, the judge will let parties know whether the CCDC process applies to the case and will ask parties to indicate whether they wish to participate in the CCDC at the first pre-trial conference (PTC).
  • For all other cases, the CCDC will only apply if all parties consent.
  • For High Court cases, the CCDC process always applies.

There will generally be 3 CCDCs in total, if applicable. The court will give directions to facilitate the discovery procedure in between each CCDC. This involves the service and exchange of information, documents and facts about the case within timelines set by the court.

CCDC: Case for the Prosecution

The court will direct the prosecution to prepare and provide hard copies of the Case for the Prosecution to the Defence.

For cases heard in the District Court, the Case for the Prosecution will contain the following:

  • The charge.
  • The Summary of Facts.
  • A list of the prosecution’s witnesses.
  • A list describing the documents and items which will be produced as evidence.
  • Any written statements made by the accused to a law enforcement officer that the prosecution intends to use as evidence.
  • A list of every statement, made by the accused to a law enforcement officer recorded in the form of an audiovisual recording, that the prosecution intends to use as evidence. Transcripts (if any) of these audiovisual recordings are also to be included. If requested, the prosecution must arrange for the Defence to view the audiovisual recording of each statement.

For cases heard in the High Court, the Case for the Prosecution will contain the following:

  • The charge.
  • A list of the prosecution’s witness.
  • A list describing the documents and items which will be produced as evidence.
  • Written statements from witnesses that the prosecution intends to use as evidence.
  • Any written statements made by the accused to a law enforcement officer that the prosecution intends to use as evidence.
  • A list of every statement, made by the accused to a law enforcement officer recorded in the form of an audiovisual recording, that the prosecution intends to use as evidence. Transcripts (if any) of these audiovisual recordings are also to be included. If requested, the prosecution must arrange for the Defence to view the audiovisual recording of each statement.

At this stage, the Case for the Prosecution must be considered very carefully by the accused and his or her lawyers to decide whether or not to plead guilty. This decision must be relayed to the court in the next CCDC.

If the accused decides to plead guilty, the court will transfer the case to a plead guilty (PG) mention for the plea to be taken and for the accused’s sentence to be decided.

If the accused still claims trial, the court will then direct the accused’s lawyers to prepare the Case for the Defence.

CCDC: Case for the Defence

The accused’s lawyers will prepare the following documents for the Case for the Defence:

  • A summary of the defence and the relevant supporting facts relied upon.
  • A list of witnesses (with names and particulars)
  • A list describing the documents and items the Defence intends to produce in court as evidence.
  • Any objections the Defence may wish to raise to the Case for the Prosecution. (including nature of the objection/s and the issue/s of fact on which the Defence will be producing evidence)You must:

Take note that it is very important to capture the full essence of the Defence in the Case for the Defence. Otherwise, the court which hears the matter in trial may draw an adverse inference against the accused in trial.

CCDC: Serving Documentary Exhibits

Within 2 weeks after the date the Case for the Defence has been served on the prosecution, the Defence must serve on the prosecution a copy of each documentary exhibit in the accused’s possession, custody or power that is mentioned in the Case for the Defence.

Thereafter, and within 2 weeks, the Prosecution will serve hard copies of the Prosecution’s Supplementary Bundle, which contains:

  • The documents found in the Case for the Prosecution.
  • Any other written statements and transcripts of any other statements recorded by audiovisual recording.
  • The list describing the documents and items which will be produced as evidence (only applicable for cases heard in the District Court.)
  • The accused’s criminal records, if any.

Do take note that if a Case for the Defence is not filed, the Prosecution is under no obligation to provide the Supplementary Bundle.

CCDC: Indicating Respective Positions

At the 3rd CCDC, the judge will ask the Prosecution and the Defence to indicate their respective positions – in essence, the Prosecution will decide whether it wishes to proceed with the charges, and the Defence will indicate whether it wishes to proceed to trial or allow the accused to plead guilty.

The judge then fixes the matter for trial.

Preparation for Criminal Trials

This stage occurs when the judge has already fixed the matter for trial, either after PTCs and/or CCDCs. At this stage, the Defence prepares the evidence and witnesses relied upon for trial, with particular focus on the accuracy and credibility of each piece of evidence and witness.

The Criminal Trial

During the trial, the judge will give both the Prosecution and the Defence the opportunity and time to present their respective cases. The judge may also ask questions to clarify issues or obtain additional facts. Strict court etiquette will be enforced by the court.

The Prosecution’s Case and Witnesses

First, the charges are read and explained to the accused person. The judge will then confirm whether the accused wishes to claim trial or plead guilty to the charges.

If the accused elects to claim trial, the Prosecution will present their case first. They give an overview of the case and what they expect to prove and establish during the trial.

The Prosecution may then call their witnesses to give evidence. Only one witness at a time can give evidence in the courtroom. All other Prosecution and Defence witnesses must remain outside the courtroom until they are called.

Each witness is taken through 3 stages in sequence, as follows:

  • Examination-in-chief
    • The prosecutor will ask the witness to introduce themselves to the court with their full name, address and occupation.
    • The prosecutor will ask open-ended questions about the case for the witness to answer in their own words.
    • The prosecutor may refer to documents, photographs and other evidence when questioning the witness.
  • Cross-examination
    • The Defence is then given an opportunity to ask the witness questions to establish facts and challenge what the witness said during the examination-in-chief.
    • Close-ended questions, or leading questions, are allowed.
  • Re-examination
    • The Prosecution is then given the opportunity to re-question their own witness (only) on issues brought up during the cross-examination.

Call for the Defence

Once the Prosecution has presented their case and the last Prosecution witness has been called and examined, the court will decide whether the Prosecution’s case is strong enough for the accused to answer the charge.

If the court decides that the Prosecution’s case is sufficient, the trial continues and the Defence will be asked to present its case.

If the court decides that the Prosecution’s case is insufficient in that it lacks evidence to satisfy each and every element of the charge against the accused, the court will dismiss the case and the accused is released.

Standard Allocution for Call for the Defence

2 options are available to the accused if the Defence is asked to present its case.

He may either remain silent and not give any evidence, in which case the court is allowed to draw all reasonable (and probably adverse) inferences from the tendered evidence and the accused’s refusal to speak. Despite the accused’s silence, the Defence is still entitled to call other witnesses to support its case.

The other option is for the accused to elect to give evidence under oath, whereupon he will be cross-examined by the Prosecution.

The standard allocution is a formal statement made by the judge during the trial, afterwhich the accused has to elect to testify or remain silent.

The standard allocution for the Call for the Defence reads as follows:

“I find that the prosecution has made out a case against you on the charge(s) on which you are being tried. There is some evidence, not inherently incredible, that satisfies each and every element of the charge(s).

Accordingly, I call upon you to give evidence in your own defence. You have two courses open to you. First, if you elect to give evidence you must give it from the witness box, on oath or affirmation, and be liable to cross-examination. Second, if you elect not to give evidence in the witness box, that is to say, remain silent, then I must tell you that the court in deciding whether you are guilty or not, may draw such inferences as appear proper from your refusal to give evidence, including inferences that may be adverse to you.

Let me also say, whichever course you take, it is open to you to call other evidence in your own defence. You may confer with your counsel on the course you wish to take.

I now call upon you to give evidence in your own defence. How do you elect?”

Accused Person’s and Defence Witnesses are Examined

Once the accused person elects to give evidence, he is then put through the 3 stages common to all witnesses – the examination-in-chief, the cross-examination and the re-examination, as described above.

Whether or not the accused person elects to give evidence, the witnesses are also taken through the stages of examination of witnesses.

The Prosecution’s Rebuttal Witnesses

After the Defence calls its last witnesses and he is re-examined, the Prosecution may then call or recall rebuttal witnesses to disprove the evidence which the Defence had raised. These witnesses may only be called to dispute new information introduced by the Defence. The Defence is then given an opportunity to cross-examine these rebuttal witnesses.

Closing Submissions

At the end of the trial, both sides are allowed to present their respective Closing Submissions. Closing Submissions summarise the evidence presented in court to persuade the judge to decide the case in favour of either the Prosecution or the Defence.

The court may either choose to hear oral closing submissions or it may require written closing submissions. If the court chooses oral submissions, the Prosecution closes its case first, followed by the Defence. The Prosecution is then afforded the right to reply to the Defence’s Closing Submissions.

If written Closing Submissions are chosen instead, both sides have to file and exchange their written submissions according to timelines stipulated by the court.

The Verdict

After closing submissions are made, the court will decide the case and announce its decision, also called the verdict.

If the accused is found guilty and convicted, the case will proceed to mitigation and sentencing, where the judge will decide how and to what extent the accused will be punished and the Defence is allowed to present mitigating circumstances which may warrant a reduction in the sentence meted out.

If the accused is unsatisfied with the verdict, the sentence or both, he or she may file a criminal appeal within 14 calendar days after the sentence is delivered.

If the accused is acquitted, the trial process comes to an end and the accused is free to leave.

Conclusion

As you may see from the foregoing, the criminal trial is its own microcosm of rules and procedures. Whatever the charge you may be facing, our considered advice is to never represent yourself. Always engage a lawyer to represent you to attempt to secure the outcome most favourable to you.

Here at IRB Law, we have a panel of excellent criminal lawyers ready to fight for you, your interests, and your loved ones. Give us a call today.

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