All Eyes on the Judges: Death Penalty no longer Mandatory

9 Jul

Judges will finally be made to work harder, at least when it comes to the death penalty as it is applied in drug trafficking and homicide cases. The Singapore govt has seemingly out of the blue announced that mandatory death penalty in the two aforementioned mentioned offences would now be amended to allow judges’ discretion. Discretion in drug trafficking offences will apply to those only playing the role of a courier and if they cooperated with the CNB in a substantive way or proven to have mental disability. In homicide cases, it is proposed that the mandatory death penalty will apply only where there is an intention to kill.

Now why would the govt suddenly do so is still not quite clear as there was no real mainstream public pressure on them…in fact, most Singaporeans seem to agree with the death penalty although there is a small group of activists, like TOC, MARUAH, Kirsten Han, M Ravi, Andrew Loh etc, who have dedicated their time and effort to the anti-death penalty movement. Some, like me, are entertaining the thought that this govt has grown a conscious at least in terms of recognizing how we can over-punish criminals with harsh sentencing. Anyway, kudos to the minister for doing the right thing, who was btw a practicing lawyer himself.

Without saying that it is related, just two weeks ago, the Singapore govt signed a MoU with their Malaysian counterparts to foster closer cooperation in drug enforcement. And within an hour after the announcement of the proposed amendments, the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore (ACLS) and the Law Society of Singapore issued statement hailing the proposed changes to how the mandatory death penalty is applied. So fast? It seems to indicate that they might have a hand in this.

“This is a historic moment for the criminal justice system in Singapore. The announcement represents a significant step in humanising the criminal law. The criminal Bar has laboured many years for such a change to the mandatory death penalty in order to give the courts more discretion. We are very happy that the Ministry of Law has heard our voice over the years and that our views matter. As criminal lawyers, we are proud to be a stakeholder in the administration of criminal justice,” wrote Mr Wendell Wong, Chairman, Criminal Practice Committee, Law Society of Singapore.

Whatever the forces that might have worked behind the scenes, this is a progressive and forward-looking development for the criminal justice in system. Now, all eyes will be on the judges as they shoulder a heavier responsibility in meting out equitable (not fair) and explainable sentences. Are our judges ready for such a duty when previously the duty to pass the death penalty have been burdened on the law books rather than judges’ discretion. Would it be fair to question the judges, who if given a choice, would act like any normal human being and be less inclined to shed blood and proclaim the death penalty?

Just as there are mistakes in mandatory death penalty, there will similarly be mistakes (perhaps even more) in judges’ discretion. No system is perfect. How tolerant are we of mistakes of a different nature?

Also, which way forward for the anti-death penalty movement in Singapore? After calling for the riddance of the mandatory in death penalty, would they now turn their attention to the complete abolishment of the death penalty?

Excerpt from TODAY.

First, the trafficker must have only played the role of courier, and must not have been involved in any other activity related to the supply or distribution of drugs.

Second, discretion will only apply if – having satisfied this first requirement – either the trafficker has cooperated with the Central Narcotics Bureau in a substantive way, or he has a mental disability which substantially impairs his appreciation of the gravity of the act.

The Government has proposed to change the law such that when these conditions are met, the courts will have the discretion either to sentence the trafficker to death, or alternatively to pass a sentence of life imprisonment with caning, said Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister.



In homicide cases, the Government also proposed that the mandatory death penalty will apply only where there is an intention to kill, said Law Minister K Shanmugam. The mandatory death penalty will, however, continue to apply to firearms offences to maintain a highly deterrent posture.

In making the changes today, the Government seeks to achieve and balance two broad objectives, said Mr Shanmugam. The first is to continue taking a strong stance on crime. The second is the refinement of our approach towards sentencing offenders.

“Our cardinal objectives remain the same,” he added. “Crime must be deterred and society must be protected against criminals. Criminals should receive their just desserts. But justice can be tempered with mercy and where appropriate, offenders should be given a second chance.”

Update: Please read here for MARUAH statement on the mandatory death penalty.


2 Responses to “All Eyes on the Judges: Death Penalty no longer Mandatory”

  1. limpehsong July 11, 2012 at 11:52 am #

    as long as they keep the death penalty, a democales sword for those who committ dastardly crimes like murder, they can be lenient on small time drug pushers.


  1. The Rethinking on the Mandatory Death Penalty « Chemical Generation Singapore - July 10, 2012

    […] The Rethinking on the Mandatory Death Penalty Law Minister K Shanmugam changed the law on mandatory death penalty on drug traffickers, after 32 years. The reasons for the change of the law that was enacted in 1975, was changing societal norms and acknowledging that drug couriers were the pawns, and should not get capital punishment. Much credit is due to the campaigners who fought to abolish the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking offences. Just as much credit is also due to the current government in their surprise move to listen, without public consultation seemingly. […]

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