24 March 2015

First Step of Investigation: Filing a FIR in India v. Singapore

Authored by Pujita Makani
For a country that fines people for not flushing toilets and bans the import and sale of chewing gum you are probably wondering how these offences are policed. Let’s take it up a notch, what happens when you encounter a slightly graver offence. Imagine you trying to take a selfie with The Merlion. While you’re figuring out the perfect angle that accommodates the great gigantic mass, the spout of water and your face, you are assaulted and left bereft of your passport, wallet and most importantly your iPhone. What do you do? File a FIR (First Information Report) in the case of a cognizable offence (where the offender can be arrested by the Police without the prior permission of the Magistrate in the form of a warrant) if you were in India, but you aren’t…

The offence in question is punishable under Section 356 of Singapore’s Penal Code which stipulates that when a person assaults or uses criminal force in order to commit theft of property carried by another person, they are faced with a maximum punishment of 7 years and caning (yes, caning!). In order to ensure that your attacker is subjected to this your immediate response would be to find the nearest police station. Given that you are now devoid of your personal belongings in addition to being injured it must come as good news that the procedure of filing an FIR in a police station in India and reporting a crime in Singapore are more or less the same. This post will provide a basic overview of how the Criminal Procedural Code of India (hereinafter, CrPC) contrasts with Singapore’s Criminal Procedure Code regarding the process of how you inform the Police of a cognizable offence that you have suffered. It is seen to be almost in sync however, India’s laws are more directive in certain circumstances.
The Criminal Procedure Code in India lays down an  elaborate procedure to follow if the Informant provides his statement orally under Section 154 of the CrPC. The Police Officer is required to reduce the statement to writing, read out the same to the Informant, and record it in the General Diary. Signature of the FIR by the Informant is mandatory. Section 44 of the Police Act, 1861 requires the Police Officer to maintain a General Diary and register all complaints and charges along with names and other necessary details regarding the same.
Let us now see how similar the process is in Singapore. Going back to your situation in Singapore: without any money, identity and lets not forget that iPhone… Once you find the nearest Police Station in this foreign land what do you do? Find a Recording Officer. You must then narrate or produce in writing all and any information that piece together your unfortunate circumstance to the Recording Officer. Under Section 14 (2) of the Criminal Procedure Code of Singapore the Recording Officer is required to reduce in writing everything that you narrate regarding the events of the crime along with the date and time of the occurrence and the address of the informant. Additionally, your signature of the report made is essential just like in India; it acknowledges the fact that the report was in fact filed. Section 14 (3) of the same Act also stipulates that the Recording Officer and the interpreter (if required) must also sign.
In contrast to the Indian law however, Singapore has no such provision of the Report to be read out to you, as they assume that everyone is able to read English. This would definitely pose be a problematic assumption to make in India (too offensive? It’s the truth?). Secondly, a General Diary is not used to record Police Reports like in India. It is used only to register progress during investigation after filing the FIR.
It is interesting to note that India provides a recourse if the officer in charge refuses to record your FIR. Section 154 (3) enables you to send the substance of your information to the Superintendent via post and he has the authority to direct the investigation of the matter to his subordinates. Singapore however has no such provision. If you are turned away you have no recourse, they seem to make another assumption that the Police will always be willing to aid you.  
Another right you have as an Informant under the Indian law is that you must be given a copy of the FIR free of cost. Singapore on the other hand only provides the same on request upon payment of a prescribed fee (Section 14(6)). It seems that the Indian legal system is more accommodating to all sections of the society, and the allowance of symmetrical access to information is paramount in the Indian context  as any other system would probably lead to a greater scope for the abuse of police powers. Also, these provisions seem to suggest that the Police in India may not be at their best behavior, and alternatives courses of action to take advantage of the system would certainly crop up in their minds. By providing free services, there may be a slightly less chance the helpless victim would be subjected to cough up more than the prescribed amount or turn away in disappointment. It is definitely wiser to allow free legal recourse; of course Singapore, on the other hand, seems to have no doubt that their Informants will be able to pay for a copy of the Report even if one’s wallet is stolen.  
In a situation when the offence is non-cognizable where the Police would have no authority to arrest prior to the permission of the Magistrate, the copy of the Report filed is given to you without request and free of cost. In India, the FIR need not be filed; merely the substance of the information must be recorded in the General Diary under Section 155 (1) of CrPC.
Now that you are aware of the intricacies involved in filing a Police Report in Singapore and the contrast with the Indian Laws relating to FIRs, keep in mind that a couple of notes tucked away apart from your wallet will be handy in Singapore. Actually, this would be quite rewarding in both countries. *wink wink*

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