MARUAH President Braema Mathi says, "We applaud the Singapore Government for taking this important first step. But this is only a small step in the right direction, as the mandatory death penalty is fundamentally troubling, and it continues to be applied to a substantial number of criminal offences."
The Government announced today that it will change the law, such that the mandatory death penalty will not be applied in two types of cases: firstly, where a drug trafficker only played the role of a courier, and the trafficker had substantively cooperated with the police or had a mental disability; and secondly, where there is a homicide but there was no intention to kill. In these cases, the courts may either impose the death penalty, or sentence the convicted person to life imprisonment with caning.
MARUAH is troubled that the mandatory death penalty will continue to be maintained for offences such as intentional murder, kidnapping, firearms offences and drug trafficking where the conditions spelt out by the Government are not met. MARUAH also notes that there has been anecdotal evidence of inadequate due process and fairness in capital trials. Finally, the Government has still not provided convincing evidence of the effectiveness of the death penalty in deterring crime.
Accordingly, MARUAH renews its call, as first articulated in its UPR submission, for the Government: to review the scope of capital offences, so as to ensure that the death penalty is imposed only in the most serious of crimes; to prohibit the imposition of the death penalty in the context of group crimes, where the accused person has not personally intended to commit murder; to review the criminal process to ensure that capital cases undergo the most rigorously fair pre-trial and trial process, including access to counsel immediately upon arrest, an effective system of supervision of the extraction and recording of confessions by the police, and a repeal of the use of presumptions in capital cases; and to publish persuasive, objective evidence of the deterrent effect of the death penalty.
The Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore (ACLS) and the Law Society of Singapore have hailed the proposed changes to how the mandatory death penalty is applied in drug trafficking and homicide cases.
Their statements in full are as follows:
"The Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore is heartened to hear that the Ministry of Law is proposing the partial abolishment of the mandatory death penalty for certain offences.
"This marks a significant first step in re-tuning the oft-derided application of the mandatory death penalty for accused persons who are not at the extreme ends of the culpability scale. The Ministry of Law's proposal to give our Judges the discretion in deciding if the death penalty should be imposed in Section 300(b), (c), and (d) of the Penal Code recognises that there is a wide spectrum of culpability in murder cases. We are glad that the Ministry of Law has acted upon the realisation that the mandatory death penalty has a limited (if any) deterrent effect on certain accused persons such as those who act without properly considering the consequences of their actions. In this vein, the limited exceptions moored by the Ministry of Home Affairs for certain drug runners recognise the need not to impose the ultimate penalty on the pawns in the drug trafficking game.
"Further, the proposal to consider the retrospective application of these laws to the inmates currently on death row is reflective of the sincere thought that has been put into formulating this progressive change in the law. The ACLS understands that the effecting of the death penalty has been suspended since 2011 and the new measures put in place will provide a massive sense of relief to these inmates. The ACLS looks forward to contributing to the discussion surrounding the scope of the proposed retrospective effect of the said amendments.
"This change is a significant milestone in Singapore's legal history and recognises that the measure of a society is how it treats its most unfortunate. Death row inmates deserve punishment, but not all deserve death. These new measures are progressive and will have (a) massive impact on the criminal justice system," wrote Mr Subhas Anandan, President, ACLS.
"The Law Society welcomes this development in our criminal justice system. During the review of the Penal Code in 2007, the Society had recommended to the Government that the death penalty should be discretionary for all offences where the death sentence is now mandatory. This first step towards greater discretion in sentencing for murder offences will give judges more flexibility in the administration of justice, and more room to temper justice with mercy where the facts of the case require," wrote Mr Wong Meng Meng, SC, President of the Law Society of Singapore.
"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.