by Nigel Chin on

It was an incident that set tongues wagging. And even before any facts were established, many people began jumping to conclusions.

In case you were wondering, we’re talking about the case of a man who had allegedly filmed upskirt videos of a woman and died after being apprehended by five men following a 500m chase.

The incident has racked up a lot of attention, but among the flood of comments, one interesting point has been raised: Should Good Samaritans be charged, others may feel less inclined to intervene or lend a helping hand to victims in future, when a crime occurs in front of them.

Criminal lawyer Josephus Tan tells The Pride that he believes there should be no reason for anyone to be afraid of being charged, so long that they had made a private citizen’s arrest in a proper manner.

“It’s very important to send out a message that an incident like this shouldn’t stop Good Samaritans from stepping up,” Tan said. “But at the same time, you must take reasonable steps to ensure that you won’t cross the line (when stopping suspects).”

Tan explained that under Section 66 of Singapore’s Criminal Procedure Code, individuals are empowered to make a private citizen’s arrest – provided that they are sure the suspect has committed an arrestable offence such as theft, robbery or in the recent case, taking upskirt videos.

But the Invictus Law Corporation managing director emphasised that it is crucial for those who want to help out to establish what exactly happened before making the arrest. Otherwise it might encourage the lynch mob mentality.

“You can’t go around performing vigilante justice on anything which you deem to be wrong,” Tan said.

The code also states that the private person must, without unnecessary delay, hand over the arrested person to a police officer or take him to a police station.

Tan also warned individuals that they shouldn’t inflict harm on the suspect, unless it is done in self-defence. Even then, the retaliation to a provocation should be done in proportionality as well.

“If the person reacted by brandishing a weapon and coming at you, you are actually entitled to defend and protect your own life,” said the 40-year-old.

“But if the person only threw a punch and what you did is to take a weapon and hit him on the head, that’s disproportionate. The person, by throwing a punch, didn’t cause any imminent danger at all so you can’t be reacting excessively.”

Tan also recommended that if an individual wants to help but is unsure if he is able to overpower the suspected criminal, what he or she could do is to just trail the suspect and keep the police updated on the location.

“It is advisable not to put yourself in harm’s way. While under the law you have the power to make a private citizen’s arrest, at the end of the day, you are not trained to make the arrest and it’s better to do what you can within your own limitations,” Tan said.

He added: “Being a Good Samaritan is very general – it’s just stepping up to help. It isn’t defined by the fact that you must accomplish or complete something. If you know something is beyond you, just alerting the authorities is enough.

“You can provide information about the suspect that could help the police in their investigation. It’s better than being someone who doesn’t do anything, or just takes a photo or video with the intention of posting it online and start an online lynch mob.”

As for the five individuals in the current case, Tan believes that they will not be in trouble if the findings from the autopsy or coroner’s inquiry show that the cause of death was not linked to their actions. However, they may face possible jail time if the findings indicate that the man suffered from injuries sustained during the arrest. Should that be the case, they may face possible charges such as voluntarily causing hurt.

But until the facts of the case are made known, there is no point jumping to conclusions over what transpired during the incident, or speculating whether the five individuals were right or wrong in what they did.

If anything, careless speculation may only serve to hinder the investigations and cause more anguish to the five individuals involved. Worse, it may cause potential Good Samaritans to think twice about coming forward to help in future – and that would only serve to deal a great blow to the state of civic-mindedness in Singapore.