What is Criminal Law Part 4: General Defences 1

Usually, in order to prove that the accused person is guilty of an alleged criminal offence, the prosecution has to establish every element of the offence beyond reasonable doubt.

In Singapore, defences are codified in the Penal Code under “General Exceptions”. These apply not only to offences in the Penal Code but also to offences found in other statutes. The accused person who raises any of the exceptions in the Penal Code as their defence has to prove its existence on the balance of probabilities.

These General Exceptions are:

  • Mistake – Ignorance and mistake of the law cannot be used as defences. A mistake refers to a misconception and ignorance refers to a lack of conscious conception. The defence of mistakes applies only to genuine mistakes of fact which consists in an unconsciousness, ignorance or forgetfulness of a fact.
  • Judicial Acts – This refers to acts by persons who were bound by law to do it. An example could be when a soldier fires on a mob under the orders of their superior officer. However, the defence does not apply where the orders are unlawful unless the soldier can prove that because of a mistake of fact, they did it in good faith to obey the orders.
  • Justified Acts – No offence is committed when an act is done by a person who is justified by the law.
  • Accident – An accused person may use the defence that the act was accidental and that there was no criminal intention or knowledge at that time. For example, if a man working at a construction site cuts a cable but it flies off unexpectedly and ricochets off a metal bar and slashes a man standing nearby, it is a valid defence that he didn’t intend to cause the accident.
  • Consent – There are two ways ‘consent’ features in the Penal Code – as a general defence and as an essential element of the offence requiring proof. For example, a lack of consent is an essential ingredient in rape cases. However, an act may be done without the person’s consent for their benefit and in good faith.

    Consent can be used as a defence if it’s an unintentional act done by consent which was not known to be likely to cause death or grievous hurt. This means there also has to be proof that there was no foul play involved. Another example is an act that was meant in good faith for the person’s benefit such as a surgeon performing a high-risk surgery.

    This exception also extends to acts done with the consent of a guardian in good faith for the benefit of a child below 12 years of age, or a person of unsound mind.

  • Duress – Other than murder and offences against the state punishable with death, duress may be used as a defence if the person committing the act did so under threats that could result in the death of the person if they did not commit the act. For example, if a locksmith does his job to open the door of a house for armed gang robbers to enter, the locksmith is entitled to this exception.
  • Necessity – This exception is meant for cases where an act was committed in a situation where the person was caught between a rock and a hard place, with both situations resulting in casualties or damage. This is seen in a sticky situation where a bus driver has to either brake dangerously hard to prevent hitting a taxi that suddenly stops in front of him, or swerve right and crash into another bus that was overtaking him because his left has concrete road barriers that would cause serious damage to the bus and possibly severe injuries to the passengers.

    As long as he had no criminal intention, this exception will apply.

To know more about what we do, or to get a consultation, feel free to contact us to speak to our team of lawyers led by Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu.

Mr Amarjit has a vast knowledge in Singapore’s laws and has defended numerous clients, including some highly-publicised criminal cases. He has guided clients over the years with his valuable experience and compassionate approach, and is supported by a strong team of lawyers.

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