In the context of the Singapore Armed Forces, a close arrest is the arrest and custody of a serviceman pending investigation or trial. Persons who are placed under close arrest are usually housed in the SAF Detention Barracks (SAFDB). The following are some of the most common queries that servicemen have pertaining to the phenomenon.
Q: What is the difference between a close arrest and an open arrest?
A close arrest places a serviceman within the confines of a cell at the SAFDB, while an open arrest merely requires that a serviceman be confined within the locality of a military camp.
Q: What warrants a close arrest?
A close arrest is generally reserved for instances where there are reasonable motivations for denying the freedom of the serviceman. For instance:
When the crime committed is punishable by death;
When the serviceman poses a danger to himself and members of the general public;
When the serviceman shows deliberate efforts to undermine discipline;
When the serviceman was arrested for being absent without leave (commonly termed “AWOL”);
When the serviceman could potentially interfere with the proceeding of his trial; etc.
Q: How is a close arrest conducted?
When a serviceman is placed under close arrest, he will first be informed that he is put under close arrest (as opposed to open arrest) and be notified of the reasons for his arrest. He would then be transported to the Detention Barracks without delay.
Q: Who is eligible to conduct an arrest?
A warrant gives servicemen the ability to conduct an arrest on the offender it is issued for. Without a warrant, servicemen are generally only able to arrest fellow servicemen of a lower rank on reasonable grounds.
Note, however, that the following exceptions apply:
An officer is able to arrest officers of higher rank if the latter is involved in a quarrel, brawl or disorder.
A military policeman is able to conduct arrests on servicemen of any rank.
Q: Is there a limit to the duration of a close arrest?
A close arrest is limited to 72 days without a trial. In reality, most servicemen are tried in court before the 72-day mark. When the 72 days are up, permission may be granted by the Director of Manpower to extend the period of close arrest.
It is also worthy to note that the arrested serviceman’s Commanding Officer or a Disciplinary Officer is to produce a report for every 8 days in which a serviceman is held under close arrest while awaiting trial. This “8 Days Delay Report” must clearly outline the details of the serviceman’s arrest and the reasons for which he is still being held under close arrest. It serves as a safeguard against holding the serviceman under arrest for too long a period.
Q: Are servicemen under close arrest entitled to visits from friends and relatives?
Servicemen under close arrest are entitled to at least 1 visit per week during official hours (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 1:30 and 3:00pm, for a duration of 30 minutes) from friends and relatives while in custody. Additional visits are subject to approval by the commandant of the Detention Barracks.
Servicemen are also entitled to write a letter to a friend or a relative once a week. Servicemen are allowed to receive any number of letters. The authorities at the Detention Barracks are expected to scrutinise the contents of letters sent and received by servicemen under close arrest and even withhold them if the contents of the letter are deemed undesirable or if they infringe upon security concerns.
Q: Are servicemen under close arrest entitled to legal advice?
Yes, they are. Unlimited visits and written correspondence may be made by the legal representative of a serviceman (i.e. the SAF Defending Officer who is appointed to represent the serviceman, or external legal counsel if the serviceman chooses to engage one) under close arrest in preparation for trial.
However, such privileges may be withdrawn if the interaction between the legal representative and the serviceman extends to matters which do not concern preparation for the trial.
Q: Can prison sentences be backdated to when close arrest has begun?
In theory, prison sentences only start when they are issued by the Court. However, the Court Martial possesses the discretion to backdate a prison sentence to the date on which the serviceman was placed under close arrest. This is usually allowed unless there are strong reasons for the Court Martial not to do so.
Singapore Armed Forces (Arrests, Searches and Investigation of Offences) Regulations (Rev Ed 2001)
“Safeguards for SAF Servicemen under Close Arrest”, MINDEF Legal Counsel, June 2006, p 9
Singapore Armed Forces Military Police Command, FAQs on SAF Detention Barracks: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/mindef_websites/atozlistings/safmpc/faqs.html (last updated 24 Apr 2010)