Leaders in Law

A Quick Overview of How Criminal Appeals Work in Singapore

Let’s suppose that you’re found guilty by a Singaporean court for a crime you didn’t commit. Things will probably seem grim, but you should know that you do have the right to appeal court decisions. Your criminal defence counsel will, in most likelihood, inform you of this, but it’s still a good idea to familiarise yourself with the appeals process as it is in Singapore. Having this foreknowledge will make it easier to understand discussions on appeals and may give you the confidence you need to mount a strong defence should the worst happen.

This article won’t go into the specific details that your criminal defence counsel might provide. However, it will provide a concise overview of the important considerations for individuals navigating Singapore’s criminal appeals system. For the purposes of discussion, we’ll go through some basic terminologies and guide you through the main parts of the appeals process.

What Is an Appeal?

An appeal allows either the accused person or the prosecution to seek a review of specific criminal court decisions. Contrary to what you might expect, convictions are not the only decisions that you can appeal. Court rulings that can be appealed may include the following:

  • Convictions and Acquittals.This is whether or not the court finds the accused guilty of an offence. Either party can appeal for a different ruling other than the one meted by the court.
  • This includes any punishment ordered by the court, including imprisonment and fines. The accused can appeal for a reduced or different sentence.
  • Court Orders. This covers all other directions mandated by the court, such as no-contact orders, restraining orders, or anything else that the court compels the accused to comply with.

Who Can Appeal?

In Singapore’s justice system, both the accused and the prosecution have the right to appeal. Unlike in a few other countries, however, victims and other individuals not directly involved in the court case cannot appeal. The party who files an appeal is known as the “appellant.”

Grounds of Appeals

Appellants cannot successfully file an appeal if they do not have valid reasons to challenge the court’s decision. Accepted grounds typically fall under the following categories:

  • Errors of Law:Mistakes in the interpretation or application of the law can be grounds for appeal. A good legal team should be able to provide prior rulings or new reasonings to bolster the argument against the current ruling.
  • Errors of Fact:Oversights, misrepresentations, or changes related to material facts in the case can be valid grounds for an appeal. Again, catching these instances often depends on the competence of the appellant’s legal team.
  • Unfairness of Sentence:A punishment that is deemed unfair or unduly harsh compared to the circumstances of the case may be appealed. The strength of such reasoning often depends on the results of similar previous cases.

After filing an appeal, the court will schedule a hearing where the appellant can present their case based on these grounds. However, the court may reject an appeal without a hearing if they find that there are no valid reasons to doubt the court’s decision. Whether or not a hearing is scheduled can often depend on how well the appealing legal team presents their case.

Deadline for Filing Appeals

For a successful appeal, prospective appellants must file a Notice of Appeal within 14 days of the sentence or court order. The reckoning of the 14 days includes weekends but excludes the day the sentence was made. The exception is if the accused was charged before January 2, 2011, in which case, the time allowed is 10 days.

Where Will the Filed Appeal Be Heard?

Appeals against decisions made by the State Courts (including the Magistrate’s Court and District Court) are heard by the General Division of the High Court. On the other hand, appeals against decisions made by the General Division of the High Court are heard by the Court of Appeal.

Outcomes of Appeal

The possible outcomes of an appeal include:

  • Appeal Allowed. Some or all of the changes requested by the appellant are granted.
  • Appeal Dismissed. The original decision made by the court remains.
  • Enhancement in Sentence. The judge may increase the severity and length of the sentence. Additional punishments may also be added.
  • Retrial or Remitted.The case is sent back to the original court for retrial. Alternatively, it may be sent back for reasons other than those given in the original trial.

Can a Decision on an Appeal Be Appealed?

While technically possible, in practice, court decisions on appeals are final in Singapore.  For an appeal to be changed, there must be extraordinary circumstances to avoid a miscarriage of justice, or there must be a question of law of public interest, which means that the result of the case has serious implications for the public. In any case, the identification of these unusual opportunities often rests on the abilities of the appellant’s legal team.

Better Counsel Helps You Secure Justice

The criminal appeals process in Singapore broadly mirrors the rest of its justice system, being often regarded as tough but fair. However, if you are charged with a crime, it will still be incredibly important to hire the best criminal defence counsel available to you, even in situations where a conviction is likely. With the right team by your side, you can guarantee optimal outcomes, even in cases where you are wrongfully sentenced.