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What is private prosecution

Private prosecution is a criminal proceeding started by a private organisation or individual.

It allows a person who believes an offence has been committed against them to pursue criminal legal action.

The person prosecuting the case is the prosecutor and the person being prosecuted is the defendant (also known as the accused). 

A defendant who is found guilty and convicted by the court can be sentenced to a fine, imprisonment or other criminal punishments as determined by the court.

Note: The purpose of a prosecution is to punish an offender for committing a crime, not to secure compensation for the victim of the crime. The prosecution does not stop the victim from starting a civil case against the offender.

You may only privately prosecute a case if:

  • The act is a criminal offence that is punishable by up to 3 years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both.
  • The act took place in Singapore.
  • The defendant has not been charged in court for the act.
  • The defendant has not been issued a stern warning by the state (the police or the Attorney-General's Chambers) for the act.

How private prosecution begins

You will first need to file a Magistrate's Complaint. You can start legal proceedings for private prosecution if the magistrate decides that there is sufficient reason for your case to proceed to private prosecution.

Private prosecution will start after the court issues a summons and you serve it on the defendant. You may conduct the prosecution yourself or engage a lawyer to do so for you.

How to issue and serve a private summons

Issuing a private summons

Before the court issues the private summons, you need to do the following:

  • Pay $20 for each summons.
  • Prepare the charges against the defendant.
    • A charge is a document that states precisely what wrongdoing the defendant is accused of, including the facts of the offending conduct (such as the date, time, location and description of the conduct) and the legal basis of the offence (the name of the statute and the exact section that criminalises the conduct).
    • The purpose of a charge is to ensure that the judge knows exactly what is being alleged and can decide on the truth or falsehood of the claims.
You can draft the charges with the Automated Court Documents Assembly (ACDA) e-service, which provides guiding pointers on what to include. Please note that officers from the State Courts are not able to give legal advice on how you should draft your charges. If you require additional help, please seek legal advice.

Serving a private summons

After the court has issued the summons, you need to serve the summons on the defendant. This means handing the summons to the defendant in person.

If you do not have a lawyer, an authorised person from the court must serve the summons on the defendant. You need to:

  • Accompany the court staff (usually a process server) to serve the summons.
  • Pay the transport charges for this trip.

If the defendant is not at home to receive the summons personally, the process server may obtain the court's permission to serve the summons in one of the following ways:

  • By leaving the summons with an adult member of the defendant's household.
  • By affixing the summons on the front door of the defendant's place of residence.

If you do not know the defendant's current address, the court will check the available official records. If the defendant no longer lives at the address indicated in official records, it is your duty to find out their current address. The private prosecution cannot proceed otherwise.

The summons can only be served on defendants living in Singapore. It cannot be served on defendants who are living overseas.

Hearing of a private summons

The case will proceed to a hearing.

At the hearing, the defendant will be asked whether they wish to plead guilty or claim trial. Their answer will determine what happens next:

The court may postpone the matter to another date for a plead guilty mention. The prosecutor will need to write to the Singapore Police Force's Criminal Investigation Department to request the defendant's criminal records (if any) to be forwarded to the court.

The court will then sentence the defendant.

If the defendant does not plead guilty, the case will proceed to a trial.

Both the prosecutor and defendant will give evidence in court to prove their case. This trial will follow the usual procedures, which include calling and cross-examining witnesses.

The trial may take one or more days depending on the complexity of the case. At the end of the trial, the court will decide whether the defendant is guilty of the offence.

There are 2 possible outcomes:

Verdict Outcome
Defendant is found guilty The court will convict and sentence the defendant.
Defendant is found not guilty The court will acquit the defendant, who goes free.

If the defendant does not attend any of the hearings, the court may issue a warrant of arrest. The Singapore Police Force's Warrant Enforcement Unit will arrest and hand over the defendant to the court.

Note: Please contact the Warrant Enforcement Unit for enquiries on the execution of a warrant of arrest.

The court will offer the option of bail to the respondent. The court may also direct the case to criminal mediation for the parties to resolve the matter. If mediation fails, the prosecutor can choose to proceed with the trial against the defendant again.

Appeal against a private prosecution decision

If you are the defendant, you can appeal against your conviction or sentence.

If you are the prosecutor, you cannot appeal against the court's decision unless you have written approval from the Attorney-General's Chambers.

Need help?

The information here is for general guidance as the courts do not provide legal advice. If you need further help, you may want to get independent legal advice.

Find out more
Go to Step-by-step guide

Step-by-step guide


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