Public Nuisance – How much of a nuisance?

Like any other Singaporean, a short 1 minute video clip was shared with me on Facebook. In that, a young couple (Singaporeans I would assume) was seen yelling at an elderly man and shoving him because of a table ‘reservation’.

On 25 April 2017, the Singapore Police Force arrested a 46-year-old man and a 39-year-old woman for causing public nuisance at a hawker centre in Toa Payoh.

When I was in the United Kingdom pursuing my undergraduate studies, I often pride myself to live in a cultured and civilised society. Of course, such incidents are often brushed off as “daily happenings” – it spreads virally on social media for a day or two and it disappears.

Let’s be real, everyone working in the Central Business District knows this unspoken ‘rule’. In true Singaporean fashion, you ‘reserve’ for a table at the hawker centre with a packet of paper napkins or any other accessory during lunch. As incredulous as it sounds to our western counterparts, we rarely see or hear disputes over table ‘reservation’ in the Wall Street of Singapore.

Now we do know that public nuisance is a criminal offence, but do we consciously spot for that in public? This is what the law provides:-

“A person is guilty of a public nuisance, who does any act, or is guilty of an illegal omission, which causes any common injury, damage or annoyance to the public, or to the people in general who dwell or occupy property in the vicinity, or which necessarily cause injury, obstruction, danger or annoyance to persons who may have occasion to use any public right.”

Consequently, one who commits such an offence is punishable under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (Cap. 184) (the “Act”) and on conviction, liable to a fine not exceeding $1,000. The Act further provided examples of nuisances such as:-

  1. Putting up any advertisements against or on any public spaces without consent;
  2. Bathing or washing himself/herself, or any other person, animal or thing on any public space or by the side of any water areas.
  3. Causing trouble or inconvenience to a person bathing at a bathing place by wilful intrusion;
  4. Disposing of their pets’ carcasses in a way not to be a common nuisance;
  5. Placing any dead animal on or near a public road;
  6. Spitting in public areas; and
  7. Leaving a ferocious dog or animal unmuzzled or urges any dog or animal to attack any person or animal.

So, the punishment is a $1,000 fine. Whilst some say the value of money is relative, this seems like too low a fine for causing inconvenience and needless anxiety to the public. Query: Should a punishment for an offence not be a deterrence for the general public?

In a recent interview, our Minister of Law, K Shanmugam opined that “How society feels about the punishment meted out in criminal cases has to be something the Government must pay heed to, but this does not equate to bowing to public pressure. This is because, if penalties do not reflect the weight of public opinion and people do not find them fair, the law would lose its credibility and would not be enforceable.”

Our Law Minister also added that “…Penalties and criminal laws can only be enforced if people believe that they are fair and that certain conduct ought to be made criminal … Otherwise they lose credibility.”

Even though our Law Minister has announced the review of the laws, this was not one of them. Indeed, this is considered a “petty crime” and did not garner a widespread of public outcry. In my humble opinion, though, reviews should also be conducted regularly even on miscellaneous offences – citizens should have a say on offences often committed by fellows citizens.

Written by Tracy Wang, Associate, Golden Law LLC