You may be familiar with that line from American films and TV shows involving a policeman arresting someone and this line is almost always mentioned, followed by “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you…”
These rights can be found in the US Constitution’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination — an act where you implicate yourself in a crime. If the suspect was not informed of these rights, any information given to the police cannot be used as evidence against him/her.
However, this doesn’t apply in Singapore.
Singapore’s constitution does not have an equivalent to the US’ Fifth Amendment but there is a statutory privilege against self-incrimination so technically, you don’t have to say anything to a police officer that may suggest guilt.
What are the rules on what to say?
According to Section 22(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), you will need to state truly that you are aware “of the facts and circumstances of the case”, but you do not have to say anything beyond that might expose you to a criminal charge such as admitting to the offence. In other words, you have to tell the police everything you know about the case except anything that will indicate or suggest that you did it.
Generally, it is best to have a lawyer to advise you on what to say or not say, but your right to a lawyer in Singapore is generally activated only after the police have concluded interrogating you.
The police are also not required to verbally inform you of your right against self-incrimination and that is why you will not hear that line being used in Singapore. If you are charged after being questioned, you will be asked to give a second statement which will also be your final chance to include the facts that are helpful to your case.
Why are the facts so important?
According to Sections 23 and 261 of the CPC, you are required to establish and record, in explicit details, the facts in your statement at the police station before relying on them to establish a defence of your innocence. This statement is critical before you speak to a lawyer to figure out what defences may be available to you.
The reason why you need to ensure these facts are recorded at such an early stage is because if you don’t, and then only raise it later in court, the judge may not believe you.
What’s recorded cannot be erased
Once you have signed the police statement, you will not be allowed to omit anything from it. However, if you had left any important facts out, you will get a chance to include it in a subsequent statement at another time.
Alternatively, your lawyer can include your additional input in his representations to the Attorney General’s Chambers but it may risk being viewed as an afterthought, and thus, reduce its credibility.
It is important to get your statement right the first time.
Don’t lie to the police
If the facts are found to be false, you will not only lose your credibility but you will also get charged for lying to the police. Therefore, in a situation where you are asked a question, and the true answer may incriminate you, don’t make something up as it will only worsen the situation.
Instead, you may exercise your limited rights by saying “I respectfully decline to answer at this time, pending receipt of legal advice. In the meantime, all my rights are reserved.”
You can find a summary of your rights in the event of a police investigation provided by the Law Society of Singapore.
Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu of Amarjit Sidhu Law Practice has represented numerous clients in a wide variety of matters over the years. With a vast knowledge of Singapore’s laws and a wealth of experience, Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu will be able to provide valuable and timely advice for your situation. For more information, feel free to contact us for a consultation.