Leonard Lim – Straits Times
Singapore. The death penalty will remain a key part of the criminal justice system in Singapore, even as steps are taken to refine Singapore’s longstanding position on capital punishment.
Under changes proposed in Parliament on Monday, mandatory death sentences will no longer be meted out for certain specific instances of drug trafficking and murder.
The courts will be given the discretion to decide on a death sentence or life imprisonment, but only if two “specific, tightly-defined” conditions are both met in the case of drug trafficking, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said.
First, the person must have been only a courier, and not been involved in any other activity related to drug supply or distribution.
Second, the trafficker must have cooperated with the Central Narcotics Bureau in a substantive way, or have a mental disability that substantially impairs his appreciation of the act’s gravity.
Still, capital punishment – a mandatory sentence since 1975 for anyone who traffics in drugs above stipulated thresholds – will remain in most cases.
“The mandatory death penalty will continue to apply to all those who manufacture or traffic in drugs – the kingpins, producers, distributors, retailers – and also those who fund, organize or abet these activities,” said DPM Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister. “By their actions in the drug trade, these offenders destroy many lives.”
One reason for the amendment, said Teo, is changing societal norms and expectations. Another reason is to target those higher in the syndicate hierarchy.
“If the couriers give us substantive cooperation leading to concrete outcomes, such as the dismantling of syndicates or the arrest or prosecution of syndicate members, that will help us in our broader enforcement effort,” Teo said.
Law Minister K. Shanmugam, addressing the House after DPM Teo, said the government intends for capital punishment to apply only in murders where there is an intention to kill.
But where there is no outright intention to kill, the courts will have the discretion to mete out either the death penalty or a life sentence.
This will be a departure from mandatory death sentences for murder in place since 1871.
The draft legislation for the changes will be in place later this year, after consultation with stakeholders. Then, all accused persons who meet the requirements can choose to be considered for re-sentencing under the new law.
This will include the accused in ongoing cases, and convicts who have exhausted their appeals and are on death row. There are now 35 such convicts – 28 for drug offenses and the rest for murder.
The government has deferred all executions since a review – which prompted the move towards increased discretion for the courts – began a year ago.
Both ministers stressed that in spite of the refinements, Singapore, which has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, still sees the death penalty as relevant.
“Capital punishment will continue to remain an integral part of our criminal justice system,” said Shanmugam.
DPM Teo said the changes are ‘carefully calibrated’ to maintain the strong deterrent value of a mandatory death sentence.
In proposing the tweaks, the government seeks to achieve and balance the objectives of continuing the tough stance on crime and refining the country’s approach towards sentencing offenders, said Shanmugam.
There will be no tweaks to the third category of crimes punishable with death – firearms offences. These are a “serious threat against law and order,” he said.
Law Society president Wong Meng Meng said the changes give judges more flexibility in the administration of justice and room to temper justice with mercy where the case’s facts require.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times