Demystifying Criminal Appeals – From Its Process To RightsJul 18, 2023
When a party is dissatisfied with a judgment, sentence, or order by a Court with original jurisdiction, he can file an appeal against that decision. Appeals are requests for the appellate Court to overturn such a judgment, sentence, or order. By and large, no new evidence is allowed to be tendered at appeal.
As mentioned above, appeals from the Magistrate or District Courts are heard by the High Court and are called Magistrate’s Appeals. These appeals are usually heard by one Justice, though there can sometimes be more if the Chief Justice so decides or if the PP so requests.
Appeals from the High Court are heard by the Court of Appeal and are called Criminal Appeals. These appeals are usually heard by three Justices of the Court of Appeal, though there can sometimes be more if the Chief Justice so decides or if the PP so requests.
This article will deal with criminal appeals generally, which include both Magistrate’s Appeals and Criminal Appeals.
It is important to note that unlike civil matters, criminal matters can only be appealed once. That means that a Magistrate’s Appeal cannot progress to a Criminal Appeal. However, the matter after appeal to the High Court may still be heard by the Court of Appeal in other situations: see more under “Points Reserved & Criminal Reference, Criminal Revisions, and Criminal Motions”.
Generally, any judgment, sentence, or order by the trial Court can be appealed. The appeal can be based on a question of fact, of law, or both. Judgments in this context refers to a decision of conviction or acquittal.
In Singapore law, the concept of “order” is limited only to orders that are final, i.e. when the order finally deals with the rights of the parties. Therefore, orders that are made while the matter is ongoing cannot be appealed. Following this logic, the conviction of the Offender cannot be appealed until the trial Court has imposed a sentence on him.
Judgments, sentences, or orders can be appealed against on the basis that they were made because of an error of fact or in law. Sentences in particular can also be appealed against on the basis that the sentence imposed is manifestly excessive (by the Prosecution and the Offender) or manifestly inadequate (by the Prosecution).
Both the Offender and the Prosecution can appeal as of right. However, when the Offender has pleaded guilty, he cannot appeal against his conviction, only his sentence. This is because the guilty plea is considered the Offender’s admission to the commission of the offence and it would not make sense to allow him to appeal against his own admission.
The Alleged Victim and his family members have no right of appeal, since neither has legal rights with regards to the criminal matter.
The party appealing is called the Appellant and the other party is called the Respondent.
The first step for the Appellant is to file the Notice of Appeal, which has to be filed within 14 days of the judgment, sentence, or order. The Notice of Appeal is a document setting out the substance of the judgment, sentence, or order appealed against.
At this stage, two other things should happen at the same time as well. Firstly, the Appellant should apply for the carrying out of the judgment/sentence/order to be paused, as the appeal does not automatically mean that the judgment, sentence, or order is paused. Secondly, if the Offender was granted bail, he should apply to extend his bail.
The second step is for the Appellant to receive a copy of the record of the trial proceedings and the judge’s grounds of decision. The Registrar will serve these documents on him or his Defence Counsel. This can be either upon payment of a fee or given for free.
The third step is for the Appellant to file the Petition of Appeal within 14 days of the Registrar serving the abovementioned documents. The Petition of Appeal must state briefly the substance of the judgment/sentence/order appealed against and have sufficient particulars of any points the Appellant claims the trial court was wrong on. It is important to note that if the Petition of Appeal is not filed on time, the appeal is deemed to be withdrawn. The drafting of the Petition of Appeal is important, as the Appellant cannot, without the Court’s permission, raise any other ground of appeal other than what was set out in the Petition of Appeal.
The fourth step is for the parties to file their arguments at least 10 days before the appeal hearing.
The fifth step is for parties to attend the appeal hearing.
At the appeal hearing, the Appellant addresses the Court first, and the Respondent addresses the Court second. The Appellant will address the Court last, as he has the final right of reply.
Generally, the appellate Court can only consider the appeal based on the evidence given at trial. That said, sometimes the appellate Court may take fresh evidence or direct the trial Court to take such evidence, if it believes that the additional evidence is necessary. An application by any party to bring in fresh evidence at the appeal stage is made by a criminal motion: see more under “Points Reserved & Criminal Reference, Criminal Revisions, and Criminal Motions”.
If the Prosecution appeals against an acquittal, the appellate Court can reverse the acquittal and further direct that a further inquiry be made, the Offender be retried, remit the matter back to the trial Court, or convict the Offender and sentence him accordingly.
If the Offender appeals against a conviction, the appellate Court can reverse the conviction and acquit or discharge the Offender. It can also order for the Offender to be retried, or remit the matter back to the trial Court. Alternatively, it can convict the Offender on an amended charge or alter/reduce/enhance the sentence.
If any party appeals against the sentence, the appellate Court can alter/reduce/enhance the sentence or set aside the conviction.
If any party appeals against any other order, the appellate Court can alter or reverse the order.
It is easy to appeal a decision and make the appellate Court hear the appeal. As to whether the appellate Court will actually do anything to change the trial Court’s decision is another story. This question is dependent on what is called the threshold for appellate intervention. If the appellate Court is satisfied that the threshold is crossed, it will step in with its powers to change the trial Court’s decision. If it is not, then it will not step in.
Generally speaking, the threshold is very high, since the appellate Court does not hear evidence nor was it involved in the various considerations for sentencing. It is therefore recognised that the trial Court is actually in a better position to consider the evidence given and the circumstances of the case. However, the appellate Court will step in to overturn the trial Court’s decision if it was wrong in law or against the weight of evidence, or if the sentence was manifestly excessive/inadequate. In sum, the appellate Court will intervene if the high threshold for its intervention is crossed.
Appeals, like trials, are complex proceedings. The Defence Counsel is a valuable advisor in providing the necessary advice as to the feasibility of appeal, the issues on appeal, and the procedure of appeal. Given that criminal appeals focus on particular issues raised by the trial Court, criminal lawyers will be best placed to provide the necessary analysis as to what should be appealed, if ever.