S'poreans can be tried in S'pore court for offences committed in international waters & aircrafts

The State Court empowers a district court to try transgression committed "by any person who is a citizen of Singapore on the high sea".

Keyla Supharta | November 04, 2023, 05:08 PM

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Singaporeans who commit a crime in international waters or on any aircraft can be tried and convicted in Singapore courts as though the transgression was committed in Singapore, according to the High Court.

On Oct. 27, The Straits Times reported that the court dismissed a man's appeal against his conviction after he was found guilty of breaking into another passenger's cabin while onboard a cruise ship to steal her bra.

29-year-old Ng Kok Wai was sentenced to four months of jail by a district court in November 2022 on one charge each of housebreaking and theft.

While Ng admitted to the offences, he maintained that he could not be held criminally liable as he carried out the acts outside of Singapore.

Broke into a cabin, stole a bra

On Oct. 13, 2021, Ng climbed over the railing of his cabin's balcony to the adjacent one to enter the cabin of a woman he did not know.

He forced open two pieces of luggage secured with a three-digit combination lock and took the woman's bra worth S$30 before returning to his own cabin.

The cruise ship was reportedly in the South China Sea when Ng committed the offence.

Ng argued that the relevant Singapore law that would constitute his actions a crime should not be applicable in a case like his, as he was on a foreign-registered ship on international waters.

Offence treated as though it took place in Singapore

A three-judge panel led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon noted in their judgment that acts committed outside Singapore generally would not constitute an offence as they commonly fall outside domestic criminal legislation.

However, offences committed outside of the country can be charged under Section 3 of the Penal Code, provided that there is some other provision that empowers the Singapore court to try a person for his or her offences.

In Ng's case, the State Court authorised a district court to try transgression committed "by any person who is a citizen of Singapore on the high sea".

As Ng is a Singaporean who committed his transgression while on the high seas, the obligatory condition has been met.

This means that Ng's offence of breaking into the victim's cabin and stealing her bra will be treated as though it took place in Singapore, and he can be punished under the Penal Code.

The State Court Act gives a district court jurisdiction over crimes that are committed by any Singapore citizens on the high seas or on any aircraft, offences that are committed on board any ship or aircraft registered in Singapore, and in any other place or by any person if it is in any written law that the offence can be tried in Singapore.

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