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Dramatis Personae: 5 Parties In The Criminal Justice System

May 15, 2023

Parties involved in the Criminal Justice System – Dramatis Personae

There are typically five different parties involved in the criminal justice system. This section explains each briefly.

Law Enforcement Agencies

The law enforcement agencies receive complaints of criminal activity and investigate them. The persons from these agencies who conduct the investigations are called Investigating Officers (IOs). IOs will interview the relevant people in the course of investigations.

In Singapore, most offences are investigated by the Singapore Police Force (SPF), which is organised into different divisions and clusters. Examples of other agencies that investigate specific kinds of crimes are:

Traffic Police (TP)Branch of the SPF that investigates traffic-related offences.
Commercial Affairs Department (CAD)Department of the SPF that investigates white-collar and financial crimes.
Corrupt Practices Investigations Bureau (CPIB)Investigates cases involving corruption in both the public and private sectors.
Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB)Investigates cases involving drug-related offences.
Immigrations and Checkpoints Authority (ICA)Investigates offences related to border-control and imports/exports.

The Accused and the Alleged Victim

The person who allegedly committed the criminal offence is called the Accused. The person the offence is allegedly committed against is called the Alleged Victim. In Singapore, a crime is a public wrong. Therefore, the Alleged Victim’s interests are not represented in the criminal justice system.

If the Alleged Victim decides to sue to the Accused for any harm or loss caused, he can do so. However, this is distinct from the criminal justice system.

The Prosecution

The Prosecution is the one who begins criminal proceedings in court. It is an institution represented by the Public Prosecutor (PP). In Singapore, the Attorney-General (AG) is the PP. The PP can begin, continue, or withdraw all criminal proceedings.

The PP has delegated his powers to officers of the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC). These officers are called Deputy Public Prosecutors (DPPs) or Assistant Public Prosecutors (APPs). For certain offences, the Prosecution may be represented by Prosecuting Officers from different agencies.

Before the Accused can be convicted of an offence, the Prosecution must prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is because the Accused is presumed to be innocent until proven to be guilty. However, the Prosecution’s goal is not to secure a conviction at all costs, but rather to ensure that justice is done.

The Defence Counsel

The Defence Counsel, often criminal lawyers, are lawyers who represent the Accused to all other parties. They have a special relationship with the Accused called the solicitor-client relationship. This means that they owe a duty to represent the Accused to the best of their ability. The Defence Counsel defends the Accused from the charges. He ensures that the Accused gets a fair trial. 

However, the Defence Counsel owes a higher duty to the Court and not the Accused. Therefore, while the Defence Counsel does his best to present the Accused’s case, he cannot say or do anything that would be offensive to justice in doing so.

 Defence Counsels can be hired for legal fees like any other lawyer. However, there are several options available for underprivileged accused persons, where the Defence Counsel will represent them pro bono, meaning for free. To qualify for such schemes, the Accused will have to satisfy a means test. The following table sets out three possible pro bono options:

Public Defender’s Office (PDO)Administered by the Ministry of Law. Offers free legal representation for those charged with most types of criminal offences, barring several exceptions. The Accused is assigned one or more full-time Public Defenders.
Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS)Administered by the Law Society. Offers free legal representation for those charged with most types of criminal offences, barring several exceptions. The Accused is assigned one or more volunteer lawyers.
Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences (LASCO)Administered by the Supreme Court. Offers free legal representation for those facing death penalty offences, regardless of the Accused’s nationality. The Accused is assigned two volunteer lawyers listed on a register maintained by the Supreme Court.

The Courts

The Courts, also known as the Judiciary, hear the criminal proceedings and make decisions on them. In Singapore, there are three major Courts: the Supreme Court, the State Courts, and the Family Justice Courts. In Singapore, only the Supreme Court and the State Courts hear criminal matters. The common criminal courts are:

Supreme Court
  • Court of Appeal
  • General Division of the High Court (also known simply as the High Court)
State Courts
  • District Courts
  • Magistrate Courts
  • Specialised Courts:
    • Traffic Court
    • Criminal Mentions Court
    • Community Criminal Court
    • Night Court
    • Coroner’s Court

The specialised courts are District or Magistrate Courts that are designated to hear specific types of offences. In particular, the Criminal Mentions Court features most prominently in the criminal justice system: see more under “Mentions & Pre-trial Conferences”.

The Magistrate, District, and High Courts are called the first instance Courts, because they hear cases when they first come in. If any party is dissatisfied with the first instance Court’s decision, he can appeal against that decision. The Courts that hear such appeals are called the appellate Courts. In Singapore, criminal cases can only be appealed once.

Court of AppealHears appeals from the High Court.
High CourtHears appeals from District Courts and Magistrate Courts.

The persons sitting in each of these courts are broadly called judges. More specifically, a judge sitting at each court has a specific title:

Court of AppealJustice of the Court of Appeal (JCA).
High CourtJustice/Judge (J).
District CourtsDistrict Judge (DJ).
Magistrate CourtsMagistrate.

When in Court however, they are addressed as “Your Honour”.


The first stage of a criminal case is the investigation stage. Investigations usually begin when someone makes a report to a law enforcement agency. The person that makes a report is called the Complainant. The Complainant can be the Alleged Victim or someone who knows about the alleged offence.

First Investigation Report

The first report made by the Complainant to the law enforcement agency is called the First Investigation Report (FIR). After the FIR is lodged, the law enforcement officer will then decide if further investigations are required. 


In general, an Accused has certain rights upon being arrested: 

  • The Accused must be informed of the reason he/she was arrested as soon as possible.
  • The Accused has a right to be represented by a Defence Counsel within a reasonable time.

Generally, an Accused cannot be detained for more than 48 hours after his arrest without being brought before a Magistrate. This appearance before the Magistrate is called the first mention. For more on mentions, see under “Mentions & Pre-Trial Conferences”. At the first mention, the Magistrate will decide if the Accused should be let out on bail or further detained (see under “Bail”).

The Investigation Process and Statements

The investigation stage may take anywhere between a few weeks to several years. The following factors might affect the duration of the investigation stage:

  • Seriousness of the alleged offence(s)
  • Number of alleged offence(s);
  • Number of co-accused person(s);
  • Number of alleged victim(s);

While investigations are ongoing, the Accused may be contacted by law enforcement agencies for interviews. The statements taken during these interviews are called “long statements”. Such statements must be in writing or be in the form of an audio-visual recording. If recorded in writing, these long statements must be read back to the person giving it and signed by him. If the person does not understand English, it must be interpreted in a language that he/she understands.

Once the Accused is charged with an offence, he will be given a caution. The statement that the Accused makes in response to such a caution is called a “cautioned statement”. The purpose of the caution is to inform the Accused of the charge that he may be facing and to give him a chance to state any fact that will be helpful to his case. If he does not state such a fact at this stage, it may have a bad effect on his case in court. 

Voluntariness of a Statement

The Court must ensure that all statements are voluntarily made by the Accused before accepting it as evidence.

Thus, a statement will not be accepted by the Court where:

  • it was made under a threat; 
  • it was made because of an inducement;
  • it was made in the expectation of a promise; 
  • it was made under oppressive circumstances;
  • it was made under circumstances where the Accused did not comprehend what he/she was saying due to a medical condition/drug withdrawal symptoms. 

Ancillary Hearings

An Ancillary Hearing will be held where parties disagree as to whether a statement was made voluntarily. The Court will only be concerned about the voluntariness of a statement in an Ancillary Hearing. Therefore, an Ancillary Hearing would not be held where:

  • the Accused complains about the incompleteness of a statement.
  • the Accused denies making the statement. 

The value of the Defence Counsel in the investigations stage

When the Accused is being investigated, there is value in engaging a lawyer. At this stage, even before the charge is finalised against him, the Defence Counsel will be able to write representations to the law enforcement agency or the Prosecution to set out the Accused’s side of the story. Such representations help in assisting in investigations and may even persuade the Prosecution to not proceed against the Accused.

Further, the Defence Counsel would be able to advise the Accused on his rights during the statement taking process. Any statements which were not made voluntarily can be challenged by the Defence Counsel in Court. This can often make a real difference in the outcome of a case.

In this context, it is worth mentioning that Kalidass Law Corporation is a reputable law firm specialising in criminal defence. As one of Singapore’s top criminal law firms, we provide expert legal representation and advice to individuals involved in criminal cases during the investigations stage and throughout the entire legal process.



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