Police warnings are mere opinions and not legally binding as prononucement of guilt, says High Court

In a recent judgement by the High Court, Justice Woo Bih Li ruled that warnings issued by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) are mere opinions of the relevant authority and does not amount to a legally binding pronouncement of guilt or fact finding.

Justice Woo wrote in his judgement,

However, in my view the warning is still no more than an expression of the opinion of the relevant authority that the recipient has committed an offence. It does not bind the recipient. It does not and cannot amount to a legally binding pronouncement of guilt or finding of fact. Only a court of law has the power to make such a pronouncement or finding and this is not disputed between the parties.

The case (Jolovan Wham v AG) to quash a police warning was brought before the High Court by the Executive Director of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), Mr Jolovan Wham who was represented by his representing lawyer, Choo Zheng Xi.

Mr Wham had organized a candle-lit vigil in Hong Lim Park last November to show solidarity with the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ in Hong Kong which attracted investigations by the police due to the alleged participation of foreigners and permanent residents.

Mr Wham along with other organizers of the event had informed members of the public on the event’s Facebook page that foreigners and permanent residents could not take part in the gathering without a permit, as it would be illegal for them to do so otherwise under the Hong Lim park’s regulation. In his affidavit, he also mentioned he had informed the participants at the start of the event, that no foreigners and permanent residents are allowed to participate in the event.

However, Mr Wham was subsequently issued a warning by the police in March this year for violating the Public Order (Unrestricted Area) Order 2013 (S 30/2013) after the police said to have found foreigners attending the event and was issued with the Notice of Warning at the headquarters of Central Police Division.

Mr Wham declined to sign the notice of warning as he believed that he had done nothing wrong to warrant a warning. He also wished to consult his lawyer before signing. As a result, the officer in charge of the case refused to give a copy of the warning to him.

Mr Choo explained to the court that his client’s intention to quash the police warning was his client’s concern that it would cause severe prejudice against him as it remained on record. He was also concerned that it could increase his chances of being prosecuted in future as it showed that he had committed an offence.

Justice Woo dismissed Mr Wham’s application as he held that the said warning had no legal effect on the Recipient and was non-binding. As a result, there was nothing for the Court to quash. He also added that the court is not entitled to treat a warning to a recipient as a prior offence or an aggravating factor for the purpose of sentencing.

“The Court is not entitled to treat a warning as an antecedent or an aggravating factor for the purpose of sentencing a recipient who is subsequently convicted.” – Justice Woo

In his Judgement, Justice Woo also flagged the interchangeable use of the terms “Warning” and “Stern Warning”. The document containing the said warning was headed “Notice of Warning” but the content of the document made reference to a “stern” warning. He commented that if there was a difference between a warning and a stern warning, the terms should not be used interchangeably.

The Notice of Warning addressed to Mr Wham
The Notice of Warning addressed to Mr Wham

In response to the grounds of judgement, a spokesperson from the AGC has said that the AGC and SPF are reviewing the process by which stern warnings are administered and the use of the notice, in the light of the High Court’s comments in the judgment.

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