To maintain a civilised society, Singapore has laws in place to curb public disturbance cases which are generally viewed as annoyances much more than as threats. However, some incidents have the potential to escalate into a much bigger problem that could involve criminal force.

Here are some common public disturbance offences, their punishments and what you can do if you are caught in such a scenario.

Fighting in Public

Also known as ‘affray’, a public fight involves two or more persons disturbing public peace by fighting in a public area. As defined under Section 267A of the Penal Code, this offence is punishable with a maximum of 1 year in prison, a fine of up to S$5,000, or both.

However, due to the nature of this offence, which primarily disturbs public peace and may affect the quality of life and security of the neighbourhood, even if there isn’t any harm or injury caused to anyone, the mere act of fighting in public is enough to get you punished.

What you can do: It takes at least two people to start a fight. The wisest thing you can do is to walk away from the argument before it turns into a physical fight. 

Getting Drunk in Public

The definition of getting drunk according to Section 14 of the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Act, is when it is reasonable to believe that a person’s behaviour, speech, coordination and balance are affected due to the consumption of alcoholic beverages and thus, the person is unable to take care of himself/herself.

Just the mere act of being drunk in a public place is technically already an offence. However, the punishment depends on the severity of the offender’s actions. Public order laws such as this are meant to maintain public peace and order.

A first-time offender can expect a punishment not exceeding 1 month in prison, a fine of up to S$1,000 or both. If the person appears in a public place or trespasses into another property to cause trouble with any other person will also be guilty of an offence. In this case, the punishment is a maximum of six months in prison, a fine of up to S$1,000 or both.

What you can do: Only you would know your own alcohol tolerance level and therefore, you will need to practise self-responsibility by knowing when to stop. If you are in a social situation where you have no choice but to drink, then always have a glass of water in hand between each drink. It may not entirely prevent you from getting drunk, but at least it will save you from a nasty hangover the next day.

Causing a Public Nuisance

As defined by Section 268 and punishable under Section 290 of the Penal Code, a public nuisance if committed when the person causes either common injury, danger or annoyance to people within the particular vicinity, or the greater public in general. This could also be in the form of a person gathering a crowd in a public space and generally causing an obstruction to human and vehicular traffic.

In fact, some of us may have unwittingly broken this law when back in 2016, the Pokemon GO craze saw plenty of people crowding around in various parts of the country including public parks, shopping malls and even specific HDB blocks, sometimes even in the middle of the night and in some cases, even crossing the streets carelessly. All these can be classified as causing a public nuisance.

The punishment is a maximum fine of S$1,000.

What you can do: If you are in a group, remind each other to be wary of your surroundings and always look before you cross the road. If you are in a high-density residential area, please keep your volume down especially at night.

Disorderly Behaviour

Disorderly behaviour is defined as exhibiting annoying or insulting behaviour in any public place, including any court, public office, place of worship or even a resort according to Section 20 of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act.

Examples include simple but abusive actions such as yelling vulgarities or gesticulating at someone else, including public servants. For a first-time offender, the punishment for this offence can be a prison sentence of up to six months, a fine of up to S$2,000, or both.

What you can do: Historically, yelling and gesticulating at a problem has never worked. If you are genuinely aggrieved at something, it is always best to approach it in a calm and solution-oriented manner.

Abusing a Public Servant

Public servants in Singapore are protected by the law and any acts committed to prevent them from discharging their duties is a punishable crime. This includes verbal and physical attacks, such as threats, insults or the use of criminal force.

Here are three of the more common offences committed against public servants:

  • (a) Threatening, abusing or insulting a public servant or public service worker: section 6 of the Protection from Harassment Act:

    When a person speaks, behaves or communicates in an indecent, threatening, abusive or insulting manner towards a public servant or public service worker who is executing his/her duty is guilty of an offence punishable with a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison, a fine not exceeding S$5,000, or both.
  • (b) Using criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his/her duty: section 353 of the Penal Code:

    When a person assaults or uses criminal force on a public servant while he/she was lawfully doing his/her duty, then the person is guilty of this offence which is punishable with a maximum sentence of four years in prison, a fine, or both.

  • (c) Voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty: section 332 of the Penal Code:

    The difference between this offence and the ones above is that this one includes the intent of causing hurt to the public servant to prevent him/her from discharging his or her duty lawfully. This is the most serious offence and is punishable with a maximum sentence of seven years in prison, or with a combination of prison, fine and/or caning.

What you can do: If you are faced in a situation where a public servant needs to carry out his/her duty in your presence or your property, always ensure that you provide them with all the help and assistance they need, even if it’s an investigation against you. In the worst case scenario in which you are guilty of an offence, your assistance and cooperation might actually help with your defense in court.

Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu of Amarjit Sidhu Law Practice has represented numerous clients in a wide variety of matters over the years from traffic offences, family disputes to high-profile criminal cases. 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.

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