JUSTICE SYSTEM IN SINGAPORE: CANING, TOUGH SENTENCES AND EXECUTIONS

JUSTICE SYSTEM IN SINGAPORE

The legal and education systems in Singapore are based on the British systems. The Singapore government has credited caning—flogging criminals with a rattan cane, a practice introduced by the British—with making Singapore’s crime rate so low. The Singaporean justice system has many critics. Some have called it rooted in draconian “despo-nepotism" and "protected by a battery of power-corrupted judges." Its restrictive policies have led to the departure of some Singaporean citizens who enjoy the more liberal atmosphere found outside Singapore.

The Singapore legal system is based on English common law. According to Article 2 of the constitution, the laws of Singapore include written laws and any legislation of the United Kingdom or other enactments or instruments in operation in Singapore. Common law and any custom or usage having the force of law in Singapore also are in effect according to Article 2. Representation by legal counsel is provided by law, but the right to trial by jury was abolished in 1959 for all except capital offenses, and all jury trials were abolished in 1969.

The Constitution establishes two levels of courts--the Supreme Court and the subordinate courts. Subordinate courts include criminal courts, criminal mentions courts (at which charges are first placed), and traffic, night, coroners’, civil, and family courts, plus various other tribunals and services that support the subordinate court system. The Syariah Court, established in 1955, adjudicates Muslim marriages, divorces, property dispositions, and other matters relating to Muslim inheritance, betrothal, marriage, and divorce.

Magistrates' courts try civil and criminal offenses with maximum penalties of three years' imprisonment or a fine of S$10,000. District courts try cases with maximum penalties of ten years' imprisonment or a fine of S$50,000. Juvenile courts are for offenders below the age of sixteen. Small claims courts hear civil and commercial claims for sums of less than S$2,000.

The judicial system reflected British legal practice and traditions, except for trial by jury. Singapore abolished jury trials except for capital offenses in 1959; all jury trials were abolished by the 1969 amendment of the code of criminal procedure. Singapore has not submitted an International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration. It is a non-party state to the International Criminal Court.

Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “The legal system is derived from British law, but Singapore has introduced its own traditions. Trial by jury was abolished in the 1970s. Offenders appealing for leniency have sometimes had their sentences increased. The country still uses the colonial-era Internal Security Act, which allows for arrest without charge and indefinite detention without trial. However, some members of the al-Qaida-linked militant group Jemaah Islamiyah were released after it was determined that they were responding well to rehabilitation. Restrictions on free speech and assembly are among the toughest in Asia. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, October 18, 2006]

Judicial Branch in Singapore

The judicial branch is headed by a Supreme Court, whose chief justice is appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister. Other Supreme Court judges then are appointed by the president on the advice of the chief justice. The Supreme Court consists of the Court of Appeals and the High Court. Supreme Court judges or former Supreme Court judges can sit as judges on the Court of Appeals and the High Court, as designated by the president after consultation with the prime minister. Judges normally serve until age 65.

Singapore's judges and superior courts repeatedly demonstrated their independence from the government by ruling against the government in cases involving political opponents or civil liberties. The government response in such cases was to amend the law or to pass new laws, but it did not attempt to remove or to intimidate judges. Although internal political struggle in Singapore from the 1950s through the 1980s was often intense, and the ruling government was quite willing to intimidate and imprison its political opponents, it always followed legal forms and procedures. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The attorney general is appointed by the president, on the advice of the prime minister, from persons qualified to become judges of the Supreme Court. A judge may be removed from office only for misbehavior or incapacitation, which must be certified by an independent tribunal. The attorney general, who is assisted by the solicitor general, is the principal legal advisor to the government, serves as the public prosecutor, and is responsible for drafting all legislation. The office of the attorney general, the Attorney General's Chambers, is divided into the legislation, civil, and criminal divisions. *

Supreme Court in Singapore

Singapore's judicial power is vested in the Supreme Court, consisting of a chief justice and an unspecified number of other judges. All are appointed by the president, acting on the advice of the prime minister. The judiciary functions as the chief guardian of the Constitution through its judicial review of the constitutionality of laws. The Supreme Court of Judicature Act of 1969, and various subsequent acts ensured judicial independence and integrity by providing for the inviolability of judges in the exercise of their duties and for safeguards on their tenure. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Supreme Court consisted of the High Court, which has unlimited original jurisdiction in all civil and criminal cases and which tries all cases involving capital punishment; the Court of Appeal, which hears appeals from any judgment of the High Court in civil matters; and the Court of Criminal Appeal, which hears appeals from decisions of the High Court in criminal cases. The final appellate court is the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty's Privy Council in London. Specialist Commercial Courts consist of Admiralty Court, Intellectual Property Court, and Abritation Court. *

According to Article 100 of the Constitution, the president may make arrangements for appeals from the Supreme Court to be heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. In May 1989, Parliament abolished the right to appeal to the Privy Council except for criminal cases involving the death sentence and civil cases in which the parties had agreed in writing to such an appeal at the outset. *

The chief justice and other judges of the Supreme Court, including judges of appeal and judicial commissioners, are appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister. The prime minister, however, is required to consult the chief justice on his recommendations for the Supreme Court. Judges of the subordinate courts are appointed by the president on the advice of the chief justice.

In 2000, AFP reported: “ Proceedings in Singapore's Supreme Court will be videotaped to help judges make a decision by observing the behaviour of suspects in the stand, a report said today. Videotapes of a trial will be replayed in the privacy of a judge's room at their leisure to help them assess the case, Singapore's Today newspaper reported. "The judge can make observations of the demeanour of the witness. He may fidget or look uneasy -- gestures that give the impression that he is not telling the truth," the Supreme Court Registrar, Chiam Boon Keng, told the daily. "This will enhance the decision-making process." Currently, judges rely largely on their notes, transcripts and their recollection of relevant details when they pen their decisions. "A picture speaks clearer than a thousand words," Chiam said. "This is something new. We need to test the system and make changes to the rules," he said. [Source: Agence France Presse, November 16, 2000]

Singapore’s Tough Laws and Prison Sentences

Singapore is notorious for its tough sentence that include the death penalty for possession of more than 500 grams of marijuana. Vandalism carries a fine of up to S$2000 (US$1415) or up to three years in jail, in addition to three to eight strokes of a cane. In April 2003, a 17-year-old boy was sentenced to 14 years in prison and 24 lashes for stealing cell phones. It was the perpetrator’s first offence, When he was 16 he and two companions where involved in 45 incidents of robbing schoolchildren of their cell phones, threatening to beat them up if they the resisted.

Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “Singapore's tough laws have sometimes triggered international anger, most recently when a 25-year-old Vietnam-born Australian was executed for heroin trafficking last year. The death penalty is mandatory for armed robbery and some drug trafficking offences. In 1994, an American teenager found guilty of vandalizing cars with spray-paint, and was caned despite appeals for leniency by US President Bill Clinton. Singapore threatened to cane any violent protesters when it hosted the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in September. The gathering was peaceful. Singapore was once an unruly place, particularly in the years leading up to independence in 1965 and the early years of nationhood, when gang violence was common and the Malay and Chinese communities sometimes clashed. Authorities have kept crime low in the past few decades, and many Singaporeans support tough justice. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, October 18, 2006]

See Drug Laws Under Drugs

According to Human Rights Watch: Singapore's Internal Security Act (ISA) and Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act permit the authorities to arrest and detain suspects for virtually unlimited periods of time without charge or judicial review. In September 2011, Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry said threats of subversion, espionage, terrorism, and racial and religious extremism keep the long-criticized ISA “relevant.” The Misuse of Drugs Act permits the authorities to confine suspected drug users in "rehabilitation" centers for up to three years without trial. Second-time offenders face prison terms and may be caned. [Source: Human Rights Watch]

Singapore law broadly defines sedition as acts agitating against the government and the administration of justice, fostering discontent among citizens, and promoting hostility between ethnic groups. Under the Internal Security Act, authorities can detain people indefinitely without charges. Singaporean authorities are notorious for getting detainees to sign statements that incriminate themselves or their friends while imprisoned.

Some criminals often end up in Singapore’s fortress-like Tanah Merah Prison. Most do time at Changi Prison. There, visitors sometimes meet inmates through video conferencing rather than face to face visits.

Courts Try to Temper Tough Sentences with Focus on Rehabilitation

In 2006, Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: Singaporean “judges are trying to inject a dose of compassion into some rulings. One beneficiary of the new trend is Ridzuan Mohamad Hanafi, a 20-year-old Singaporean who faced at least five years in jail and five strokes of the cane for trafficking in the synthetic drug Ecstasy. Instead, to his shock, he was sentenced to two years' probation and 150 hours of community service. "The courts are ever more so willing to look at the spectrum of options available to them to find what is best for each individual young offender," said Wendell Wong, Ridzuan's defense counsel. He speculated that the judge acted on a probation officer's report that said the first-time offender showed potential for rehabilitation. Prosecutors have appealed the ruling. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, October 18, 2006 \=\]

“The case reflects Singapore's efforts to tinker with strict policies and rules that its leaders say are a hallmark of its success as one of the most secure, modern places in Asia. They acknowledge the need for change, though not at the pace that some international critics would like. The new chief justice, Chan Sek Keong, wants to give judges more room to use alternatives to harsh punishments, with the goal of rehabilitation in mind. The government supports the changes. "The current guidelines that have been put forward are outdated," said Subhas Anandan, president of Singapore's Association of Criminal Lawyers. "They do not give the judge alternatives," he said. "Everything is jail, or jail plus caning. There must be alternative sentencing options like community service, or probation, or probation with a lot of strings attached to it."\=\

“Chan, the chief justice, says courts should place more emphasis on rehabilitating criminals, as well as deterring them, and is reviewing sentencing guidelines for serious crimes. He has set up a special "community court" for certain offenses for which judges may decide to impose probation, counseling and community service, either in combination with or in place of jail, caning and fines. The "community court" hears cases such as those involving 16- to 18-year-olds, people with mental disabilities, disputes among neighbors, suicide attempts, family violence and animal cruelty. "Concern has been expressed on our sentencing practices with respect to consistency and proportionality," Chan said in April after he was appointed to the post. "It is essential to maintain public confidence that while the courts will continue with the policy of dealing firmly with criminals, the punishments imposed should fit the crimes." \=\

“There is no sign that Singapore is going soft on crime, but judges already appear to have deemed some offenders fit for rehabilitation. In recent months, an 18-year-old girl was sentenced to two years' probation instead of jail for multiple charges of counterfeiting currency, and a woman's 33-month jail term for seven counts of credit card fraud was reduced to probation. \=\

Women Prisoners in Singapore Put to Work as Telemarketers

In 2005, Associated Press reported: “Women inmates at a Singapore prison are working 12-hour shifts as telephone call-centre operators and telemarketers in a state campaign to rehabilitate lawbreakers, an official said. "It's pretty much the same as a commercial call centre, except it's behind bars," said Vincent Chan, a senior manager at the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises. "It's our way of upgrading the old prisons' industries and enhancing the inmates' employability," Chan said. He said the call centre is a cubicle-filled room about the size of a basketball court at the Changi women's prison and drug rehabilitation centre. [Source: Associated Press, August 24, 2005 +++]

“The duties of the eight inmates working there include answering questions about prepaid mobile phone cards and consumer products, he said, adding that supervisors monitor the calls to make sure they are limited to business. The operators are trained to speak clearly and to soothe difficult customers. +++

“The call centre operates around the clock and has 10 clients, including a telecommunications company, Chan said. Clients did not want to be named due to concerns that links with a prison could hurt their business. Chan declined to say whether the prisoners are paid for their work, or to give any other details about the programme's finances.” +++

Caning in Singapore

Caning—being flogged with a moistened rattan cane— a judicial practice in Singapore and is meted out for offences ranging from vandalism to illegal possession of drugs. It is mandatory for crimes such as attempted murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking, auto theft, vandalism, illegal immigration and optional for others. Young people have been caned for writing graffiti. Men over 50 and women can be sentenced to death, but not caned.

Judicial caning was originally imposed under British colonial rule in the 19th century According to Human Rights Watch: Judicial caning is a mandatory punishment for medically fit males between the ages of 16 and 50 who have been sentenced to prison for a range of violent and non-violent crimes, including drug trafficking, rape, and immigration offenses. A sentencing official may also order caning in cases involving some 30 other crimes. The United States State Department reported that in 2011 “2,318 convicted persons were sentenced to judicial caning, and 98.9 percent of caning sentences were carried out.” During its United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2011, Singapore rejected all recommendations designed to eliminate caning. [Source: Human Rights Watch]

In 2007, Reuters reported: “A Singapore judge has been punished for mistakenly sentencing a prisoner to an extra three strokes of the cane, the Singapore government said. As a result of the error, Dickson Tan -- who was found guilty of helping an illegal moneylender and also sentenced to nine months in prison -- was caned eight times instead of five, Singapore's Law Minister, S. Jayakumar, was quoted as saying on the Law Ministry Web site. Jayakumar said the district judge was "formally cautioned" and will not sign Warrants of Commitment -- court documents informing prison officials of prisoners' sentences -- in future. The minister said the error arose after a court clerk entered the wrong sentence. "Unfortunately, the sentencing district judge also did not spot the error," Jayakumar said on the website, adding the court clerk has since resigned. Tan's mother is in talks with the government to seek monetary compensation of up to S$3 million ($2 million) over the mistake, according to local media. [Source: Reuters, July 17, 2007]

Details of Caning in Malaysia

Caning victims are tied down to an A-shaped a wooden trestle and flogged on their bare buttocks with a half-inch-thick rattan cane wielded by a professional caner trained in the martial arts. The canes are moistened so they don't fray. The reason it so painful is that the first few blows open the skin and subsequent blows are wielded on the open wounds. Caning is so painful that victims usually go into shock before the caning is finished and are left with permanent scars. They often have to sleep on their stomach for weeks and have difficulty walking.

On caning in Malaysia, Amnesty International reported: “Specially trained caning officers tear into victims’ bodies with a metre-long cane swung with both hands at high speed. The cane rips into the victim’s naked skin, pulps the fatty tissue below, and leaves scars that extend to muscle fibre. The pain is so severe that victims often lose consciousness. The Malaysian government does not punish officers for their actions. Instead, it trains officers how to conduct caning and pays them a bonus for each stroke. Many double their income through their caning work. Others take bribes to intentionally miss, sparing their victims. +++

“State-employed doctors also play an integral role in caning. They examine victims and certify their fitness to be caned. When victims lose consciousness during caning, they revive them so the punishment can continue. After caning, some victims suffer long-term physical disabilities. “The role that Malaysian doctors play in facilitating deliberate pain and injury through caning is absolutely contrary to international medical ethics,” said Sam Zarifi. “Instead of treating the victims, doctors are assisting in their torture and ill-treatment.” +++

Caning is carried out differently on men and women. Male drug offenders, kidnappers and others have been caned with a thick rattan stick on bare buttocks, breaking the skin and leaving lifelong scars. The handful of women that have been caned have been struck under Islamic laws with a thin cane on the back with their clothes on.

Caning of Michael Fay

In 1994, after pleading guilty to two counts of vandalism and two counts of mischief—for spray-painting 18 cars, throwing eggs at other cars and changing license plates—an 18-year-old American named Michael Fay was sentence to six lashes with rattan cane, four months and fined US$2,230. Fay, a student at the Singapore-American School, also confessed he possessed traffic signs and Singapore flags stolen by the son of a Swedish diplomat.

Fay got four lashes not the original six he had been sentenced to receive. After the punishment was meted out, Fay's lawyer told NBC News, Fay's "skin was ripped open, that he was slashed, that he bled, that scabbing is forming, that he was in a great deal of pain." His father added he had difficulty walking and had "horizontal wounds" and one "two-inch pronounced gash." Others said he was in relatively good spirits and had not trouble sleeping. Fay was one of hundreds who were canned in the early 1990s. Others included 22-year-old Qwek Kee Chong was sentenced to jail and given 48 caning strokes in April 1988 after being convicted on four counts of armed robbery.

U.S. President Bill Clinton issued a "strong protest" to the Singapore government, saying, "This punishment is extreme, and we hope very much that somehow it will be reconsidered." The caning strained Singapore's relations with the United States and has been seen as largely responsible for the United States' voting against holding the first summit meeting of the World Trade Organization in Singapore next year. According to one poll, however, most Americans supported Michael Fay's sentence.

The Government of Singapore has defended the punishment as a traditional part of the country's legal system. After Fay's case became front page news, the Singapore government released the following statement: "Unlike some societies which tolerate acts of vandalism, Singapore has its own standard of social order as reflected in our laws. We are able to keep Singapore orderly and relatively crime-free. We do not have a situation in which acts of vandalism are commonplace, as in cities like New York, where even police cars are not spared the acts of vandals. Singapore’s elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew said, "If they think it's barbaric then please don't bring your 17- and 18-year-old son with you to Singapore, and if you do please warn him of the consequences."

Michael Fay Speaks Out on His Caning Ordeal

In his his first interview after the caning, Michael Fay said that the bleeding it caused was "like a bloody nose." The New York Times reported: “Fay, said in an interview that the four strokes with a rattan cane on May 5 had left three dark-brown scars on his right buttock and four lines each about half-an-inch wide on his left buttock. In his first description of the caning, Mr. Fay said that prison officials told him he shouted, "I'm dying," when the first stroke was delivered. He said he could not remember making the cry. He said a prison officer stood beside him and guided him through the ordeal, saying: "O.K. Michael, three left. O.K., Michael, two left. O.K., one more; you're almost done." [Source: New York Times, June 26, 1994 ^+^]

“After his confession, Mr. Fay contended that he had been coerced by police officers into saying he had spray-painting cars. The Government of Singapore denied that. Mr. Fay had lived with his mother and stepfather in Singapore since 1992. After being freed from prison. he returned to his father's home in this suburb of Dayton.^+^

“Mr. Fay said the caning, which he estimated took one minute, left a "few streaks of blood" running down his buttocks. But his description appeared less horrific than accounts of caning in the past. "The skin did rip open," he said. "There was some blood. I mean let's not exaggerate, and let's not say a few drops or that the blood was gushing out. It was in between the two. It's like a bloody nose." Mr. Fay said the wounds hurt for about five days, after which they itched as they healed. "The first couple of days it was very hard to sit," he said. ^+^

“He said he when he first looked at the scars in a mirror, "I got a shiver down my back," he said, "and I couldn't believe I might have them for the rest of my life." He said that he was able to walk immediately after the caning and that in the days after the punishment he was able to do push-ups. Mr. Fay said he now wanted get on with finishing high school and then go to college "like any other kid in America." ^+^

Death Penalty in Singapore

Amnesty International said Singapore has hanged over 420 people—including dozens of foreigners since 1991 and has the highest per capita execution rate in the world. Amnesty says Singapore does not make public the number of people it executes. Most of those executed were convicted of drug trafficking, it said.

Counties with the most execution in 1994 according to Amnesty International: 1) China (1,791); 2) Iran (139); 3) Nigeria (100+); 4) Saudi Arabia (53); 5) Singapore (32); 6) Egypt (31); 7) United States (31); 8) Azerbaijan (25); 9) Yemen (25); Libya (17). Nations with the most executions in 1995 according to Amnesty International were: 1) China (2,190); 2) Saudi Arabia (192); 3) Nigeria (95); 4) the U.S. (56); 5) Singapore (50); 6) Iran (47); 7) Yemen (41), 8) Russia (28); 9) South Korea (19); 10) Taiwan (16); 11) Jordan (12); 12) Vietnam (10).

In addition to drug trafficking and murder, Singapore also capital punished for armed robbery. Between 1975 and 1995, 149 people were executed. In one month in 1995, five Thai men were executed for murder in a single morning.

In 2005, MSNBC reported: “Singapore has not published polls on the death penalty, but many people say they are in favor of it. “We must have the death penalty in Singapore. If we do not take strict measures, many more drug smugglers will come to Singapore and destroy the country,” said P. Subramaniam, a 56-year-old shop owner, as he sold chilies to a customer. Tengku Sri Melati felt otherwise. “Having the death penalty is like playing God. We have no right to take lives away from another human being. Punish the criminal, but don’t kill him,” said the 23-year-old Muslim woman, who is a researcher at a business institution. [Source: Associated Press, Reuters, msnbc.com, December 1, 2005]

See Illegal Drugs

Executions in Singapore

Executed prisoners in Singapore are hanged. On their execution day, death-row prisoners are taken from their cell to the gallows shortly before dawn. A black cloth sack is placed over the condemned prisoner's head; a hangman fits the noose around his or her head; and a lever is pulled, pulling the wooden floor from under the feet of the prisoner.

In July 2014, Reuters reported: “ Singapore hanged two men convicted of drug trafficking on Friday, the first executions carried out in the city-state for more than three years while the country reviewed its use of the death penalty. Tang Hai Liang, 36, and Foong Chee Peng, 48, both from Singapore, were executed at Changi Prison according to the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), having been convicted of trafficking heroin. [Source: Reuters, July 18, 2014 \~\]

“Singapore put a halt to all executions in July 2011 while it reviewed its use of the mandatory death penalty and now allows judges to have more discretion in certain cases. In November 2013 , it lifted the death penalty on a convicted drug trafficker for the first time. When the review took place, all people on death row were allowed to ask to be considered for re-sentencing, though the CNB said Tang and Foong both said they did not want to be considered. "Tang Hai Liang and Foong Chee Peng had been accorded full due process," the CNB said. \~\

The Singapore Working Group on the Death Penalty, a group of non-governmental organisations, said they believed the executions should not have taken place given another drug offender is making a constitutional challenge against the anti-drug laws. "It was deeply unjust to have executed them before the constitutional challenge was decided," they said in a statement. "The executions are a regrettable step backwards for Singapore," they added. \~\

Death Sentence for a Teenage Drug Courier Sparks Outrage

In 2010, The Guardian reported: “On May 14, the Singapore court of appeals rejected a constitutional appeal that challenged the island-state's mandatory death penalty for drugs. The case was brought by a young messenger named Yong Vui Kong who was arrested for carrying 47 grams of heroin into Singapore when he was just 19 years old. Though he claims to have been ignorant of the contents of the package that he was hired to deliver from Malaysia, the decision makes it probable that he will die for his "crime". [Source: The Guardian, May 18, 2010 |::|]

“On its own, this case is cause for despair. The state-sanctioned killing of a poor, vulnerable young man should attract outrage from all quarters. However, the decision is also disheartening to abolitionists of capital punishment who had started to believe there was a progressive moderation occurring in Singapore's application of the death penalty. |::|

“Throughout the 1990s and the early part of the last decade, Singapore had been widely seen as one of the most aggressive executioners in the world. It was believed to have had more executions per capita than anywhere else and the overwhelming majority of those sent to the gallows were drug offenders. According to Singapore's ministry of home affairs, of 138 executions carried out between 1999 and 2003, 110 were convicted of drug-related crimes. However, in its latest report on the death penalty, Amnesty International wrote: "The island state has significantly decreased its use of the death penalty in recent years." Only one person was known to have been executed in 2009 compared with 21 hangings in 2000, according to the organisation. |::|

“It has to be mentioned that the death penalty for drugs is a violation of international law no matter how infrequently it is carried out. There are numerous treaties and international guidelines that restrict the use of the death penalty and it has long been established by United Nations political bodies that drug offences should not be made capital crimes.

“Nevertheless, there are 32 countries in the world that prescribe the death penalty for drugs, 13 of which make it a mandatory penalty for certain categories of narcotics crimes. However “even though the very existence of capital drug laws is at odds with international law“ not all death penalty policies are equal in practice. Fewer than half of the 32 countries have executed any drug offenders in the last three years. Many of these countries “even those that make it a mandatory punishment“ have gone more than a decade without executing anyone for any crimes. For example, Brunei Darussalam has a mandatory death penalty for drugs in law, but in practice it hasn't executed anyone since 1957. On the other hand, there is a very small group of countries on the fringe of death penalty policy that ferociously execute drug offenders, including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and (until recently) Singapore. |::|

“However “at least as far as anyone knows since Singapore's death penalty statistics are not thoroughly reported“ the country appeared to be softening. There were various theories, one of which posited that Singapore was stepping into line with the international trend of limiting the application of capital punishment. For the last several years, Singapore appeared to be making strides with regard to bringing its death penalty policy into sync with the rest of the world. However, the decision to retain the mandatory death penalty for drugs “to say nothing of its willingness to hang a drug offender arrested in his teens“ clearly indicates that Singapore continues to exist on the fringe.”

Reforming Singapore’s Death Penalty Laws

Human Rights Watch reported: On November 14, 2012, Singapore’s parliament passed new laws authorizing incremental changes in mandatory death penalty provisions that affect some 20 drug-related and intentional murder offenses. In drug cases, judges may drop the mandatory death sentence requirement and opt instead for life in prison with caning if two conditions are met: the accused must have functioned only as a courier, and either meaningfully cooperated with the Central Narcotics Bureau or have a “mental disability that impairs appreciation of his own actions.” [Source: Human Rights Watch]

However, a new section of the Misuse of Drugs Act limits judicial discretion by stating that the public prosecutor has “sole discretion” to determine whether a person has substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in disrupting drug trafficking activities. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Han has defended mandatory death sentences in drug-related cases, citing what he said is their known deterrent effect.

Parliament also passed less controversial amendments to the criminal law, which remove mandatory death sentences for murderers who had “no outright intention to kill.” Courts may instead choose to impose life imprisonment. All future death penalty cases will be automatically reviewed, and the new laws provide that all eligible existing death penalty cases will be reviewed for re-sentencing. There are some 35 inmates currently on death row, but all executions have been on hold since July 2011.

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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