How to Navigate the Guidelines on Reduction in Sentences for Guilty Pleas

How to Navigate the Guidelines on Reduction in Sentences for Guilty Pleas


Guidelines on the reduction of sentences for guilty pleas were established by the Sentencing Advisory Panel (“SAP”) of Singapore, and have been effective from 1 October 2023 onwards. 

When Do These Guidelines Apply?

Importantly, these guidelines do not apply where an accused person is convicted pursuant to a trial. They also only apply for sentences of imprisonment.

It must also be noted that these guidelines are not meant to encourage accused persons to plead guilty. It is only meant to set out, clearly, guidelines on the reduction in sentence that the court ought to consider when an accused person pleads guilty. Every accused person has the right to assert his innocence and claim trial.

If the final sentence after these guidelines are applied is in variance with existing judicial guidelines or precedents, the court will have to decide which guideline to follow. While this remains in the court’s discretion, accused persons must note that the guidelines in this article are not intended by the SAP to apply over and above existing guidelines or precedents.

How Binding Are These Guidelines?

Although these guidelines are important in guiding the courts, they are not binding on any court. The court may decide whether to adopt these guidelines in a given case. Even if they do choose to adopt these guidelines, the court can also decide how the guidelines should be applied.

Hence, accused persons must note that while these guidelines are important and relevant, they are merely a guide. It is not guaranteed that the courts will invariably adhere to these guidelines.

The Recommended Approach for Determining a Sentence

According to the guidelines, the recommended approach for determining a sentence where an accused person pleads guilty is outlined below. Steps 2 and 3 will be elaborated on later.

Table 1
Table 1

What Is the Applicable Stage of Proceedings, And What Is the Appropriate Reduction to the Sentence?

As mentioned above, the court will determine the applicable stage of proceedings in Step 2. Afterwards, based on the stage of proceedings, the court will apply an appropriate reduction to the sentence in Step 3.

For these 2 steps, the guidelines are as follows:


Must Accused Persons actually Plead Guilty, Or Is The Indication Of Intention To Plead Guilty Sufficient?

For Stage 1, the maximum reduction in sentence of 30% will apply as long as the accused person indicates during Stage 1 that he intends to plead guilty. There is no need for the guilty plea to be actually taken.This is because in many instances, the court and the parties may require time to fix and prepare for a plead-guilty hearing.

However, the 30% maximum reduction in sentence will only apply if the accused person later follows through by pleading guilty without resiling from his initial indication of plea. It must be noted that the court may apply a lower reduction in sentence if it finds that the accused person had unreasonably delayed his guilty plea after his initial indication during Stage 1 that he would do so.

For all the other Stages (Stages 2, 3, and 4), the corresponding maximum reduction in sentence will only apply if the accused person actually pleads guilty. The mere indication of intention to plead guilty will not be sufficient.

What If The Charge Changes And The Accused Person Pleads Guilty To An Amended Charge?

What happens if the accused person pleads guilty following an amendment to the charge which has a material bearing on the sentence (such as an amendment of a charge to a different offence, or a substantial amendment to the particulars of the charge)?

In such a situation, the court may award an appropriate reduction in sentence, subject to the maximum reduction of 30%, regardless of what the recommended reduction is (as outlined in the table above). In doing so, the court will consider factors including: (a) the significance and extent of the amendment to the charge; and (b) the impact of the accused person’s plea of guilt, e.g. on victims and witnesses.

Situations Where The Guidelines Will Not Apply

The guidelines will not apply in the following situations:

  • Where a Newton Hearing is conducted, and the accused’s version of events are rejected by the court in this Hearing. A Newton Hearing is a hearing that the court may convene if it finds that it is necessary to resolve disagreements on the facts of the case.In this situation, the court may apply a reduction of sentence that is just and proportionate, without referring to the guidelines. In doing so, the ourt will consider: (i) the conduct of the defence; (ii) the nature of the issue raised in the Newton hearing; and (iii) the court’s findings in the Newton hearing.
  • Where the court feels that it would be contrary to the public interest for these guidelines to be applied, given the circumstances of the specific case.

In such a situation, the court may apply a reduction in sentence which is just and proportionate without reference the guidelines.

How Are The Current Guidelines Different From The Past?

The guidelines discussed in this article are the first official set of sentencing guidelines published by the Sentencing Advisory Panel of Singapore, which was established in 2022.

Despite the enactment of these guidelines, there is no fundamental change to the sentencing practices that were in place in Singapore Courts. Prior to these guidelines, the courts were already in the practice of reducing sentences, in appropriate cases, if accused persons pleaded guilty.

As this practice was already happening in courts, the guidelines only seek to build on and provide greater structure to past practices. As expounded on by the Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam, on the parliamentary speech held on 19 September 2023,the guidelines aim to set out clearly the ranges of reduction in sentence that a Court may consider granting, based on when an accused person pleads guilty.

Hence, there has been no actual changes to sentencing practices in Singapore Courts with regards to these guidelines. The guidelines are only a way of bringing clarity and consistency to the passing od sentences.


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Filed under: Criminal Defence
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