An accused person in a criminal case can choose to be represented by a lawyer or to conduct his own case. Accused persons who cannot afford legal representation can contact the Law Society of Singapore for more information on the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS). The contact numbers for CLAS are: 6532 3105 or 6534 1564.
Claiming trial or pleading guilty
If you are charged in court for a criminal offence, you will first be brought before a Criminal Mentions Court. The charge will be officially read and explained to you. You will then be asked if you are claiming trial or pleading guilty to the charge. "Pleading guilty" means that you admit that you are guilty as charged. "Claiming trial" means that you dispute the charge.
What Is A Pre-Trial Conference?
If you claim trial, the mentions court will fix the case for a Pre-Trial Conference. The purpose of the Pre-Trial Conference is to ascertain if the case is ready for trial. You have to attend this conference together with the prosecution who will be represented either by a police prosecutor or a deputy public prosecutor. At this conference, the Judge will be informed of the nature of the evidence that will be tendered by the prosecution and by you. The witnesses will also be made known. The judge will thereafter give a date for the trial.
You should address the following matters:
- Enquire if the prosecution intends to make use of any written statement given by you to the police; and if so, you may request for a copy of the statement
- Indicate to the court the number of witnesses that you wish to call at the trial
- If you or any of your witnesses cannot speak English, you should inform the Judge that you require the assistance of an interpreter for the trial
Preparing For The Trial
You must make sure that all your witnesses turn up for the trial. If you are not sure whether the witnesses are willing to turn up, you should apply at the Central Registry (State Courts, Level 2) for a "Summons to a Witness" to be issued against that witness. A fee of $20 is payable for every Summons issued. A court process server will serve the document on the witnesses.
On the day of the trial, you must ensure that you have brought the evidence that you need to court. If the evidence comprises documents, you must make sure you have at least four copies of each document: one (the original) for the Court, one for the prosecution, one for the witness and one for yourself.
You must also make sure that the author of the document is in Court. Otherwise, the document may not be admitted as evidence for the trial.
On the day of the trial
You should arrive early to find your way to the right court on time. Upon arrival, you should inform the Court Officer of your presence and confirm that your case is fixed in that Court. If you are late or absent, a "Warrant of Arrest" may be issued against you.
You should be dressed appropriately in court. You should avoid shabby or indecent attire. When the Judge enters the courtroom, you should stand up and bow as a show of respect for the Judge.
You should address the Judge as "Your Honour", the prosecutor as "the learned prosecutor" and the witness by their surname, e.g. Mr Tan or Miss Kamala.
In a criminal trial, the prosecution will present their case first. This is done through calling their witnesses to give evidence. When the first witness is on the stand, the rest of the witnesses must remain outside the courtroom. You must ensure that your witnesses are outside the courtroom as well. When the prosecution's witness is on the stand, the prosecution will be given the first opportunity to ask the witness questions. This stage is known as the "examination-in-chief" of the witness. You should listen carefully to the questions and answers, and make notes for your own reference.
After the prosecutor had asked all the questions, you will be allowed to ask the witness questions. This is known as the "cross-examination" of the witness. This is the opportunity you have to challenge the evidence given by the witness. You can do so by giving your version of the events to the witness, and asking the witness if he/she agrees with it. You may also rely on documentary evidence to contradict the evidence given by the witness.
You are not allowed to ask questions that are intended to insult or embarrass the witness. After your cross-examination, the prosecutor is allowed to ask further questions of the witness in order to clarify some of the answers given by the witness during cross-examination. This is known as the "re-examination" of the witness.
The Calling of the defence
After the prosecution has called all their witnesses, the Court will decide if the prosecution has presented a sufficiently strong case such that you must answer the charge. If there is such a case proven by the prosecution, the Court will ask you to present your defence, and you will be given two options. The first is to give evidence from the witness stand on oath, and you will also be liable to answer questions from the prosecutor. Alternatively, you can choose to remain silent. However, if you keep silent, the Court may draw all reasonable inferences, including those that may be against you. You are entitled to call other witnesses in support of your defence, regardless of which of the two options you chose.
Presenting the defence case
Assuming that you have chosen to give evidence, you will be the first person to go on the stand. After stating the oath, you should introduce your name and address followed by your current occupation. Thereafter, you can proceed to give your version of the events. The prosecutor will thereafter cross-examine you. When you have finished giving your evidence, you may then call your other witnesses to the stand. As these are your witnesses, you will be given the opportunity to ask them questions first before the prosecutor cross-examines them.
Similarly, you will be able to re-examine your witnesses after the cross-examination. When questioning your witness, it is important to note that you should ask open-ended questions, instead of stating your version of the events and asking the witness if he agrees with it.
At the end of the trial, you will be given the opportunity to make a closing submission. This is basically an opportunity for you to highlight the weaknesses of the evidence presented by the prosecution and give reasons why the evidence that you have presented is more credible and should be accepted by the Court. The prosecutor will thereafter have a chance to reply to your submissions.
The verdict is the decision of the Court as to whether you are guilty or not. The Court may pronounce the verdict immediately after listening to submissions, or the Court may adjourn the case to take more time to consider its decision. If the verdict is that you are guilty, you should not argue with the Judge or protest in any other way in the courtroom as that may amount to contempt of court.
If you are not satisfied with the result, you should instead file an appeal with the Central Registry (State Courts, Level 2) within 14 calendar days from the pronouncement of the verdict. The appeal can be against the verdict or the sentence imposed or both.
If the verdict is that you are guilty, the prosecutor will then inform the Court if you have any previous convictions. You will be given an opportunity to confirm or dispute the information given by the prosecutor. Thereafter, you will be given an opportunity to inform the Court of any reasons as to why a lenient sentence should be imposed on you. This is called "mitigation". The Court will then pass the sentence after taking into consideration your mitigation.