Anti-Death Penalty in Singapore

One reader reflects on the situation in Singapore.

Yong Vui Kong’s appeal is going before the Court of Appeal this March. It seems that Singapore cyberspace is pretty much silent on the issue but a few interesting points in the death penalty debate have nevertheless been brought up, specifically the debate on the mandatory death penalty in Singapore. I have said earlier that I would support a movement that removes the mandatory death penalty and I hope with this case and the coverage by TOC, the government would at least entertain the thought of a public debate on the issue.

Michael Hwang puts it most eloquently in his address to the Law Society in 2008, “The extent to which an offender ought to be punished cannot be determined solely by the need to stamp out future repetitions of the same offence; there is a moral limit to the law’s power to make an offender an example for others to fear.” It resonates as I read it because I can imagine someone receiving a heavier sentence as a deterrence but I cannot fathom a person dying to act as a deterrence; not to mention the many petty drug traffickers.

Michael Hor also points out succinctly how problematic the mandatory death penalty is:

Perhaps the most prominent aspect of a mandatory death penalty is the absence of a judicial discretion in relation to the most extraordinary sentence in our criminal law. The judge trying the case can only determine guilt or innocence, and once that is done, the death penalty automatically follows. This goes against the grain of modern penological thinking that the punishment ought to fit not only the crime, but the criminal. It means that the judge should have the power and the duty to take into account the personal circumstances of the offender.

But Michael Hor was also quick to point out that in Singapore’s case, the prosecution and police does mitigate the eventual punishment meted out to offenders in terms of going for a reduced charge. But like Hor, I agree that there is no harm in also allowing the judge to be part of this mitigation process and in fact, it might provide greater transparency and oversight to the criminal law process in Singapore.

In tandem with the mandatory death penalty and the absence of discretion on the part of judges’ sentencing, the legal process under the Misuse of Drugs Act contains presumptions which shifts the burden of proof to the accused. Hence, he is not granted the principle of innocence until proven guilty. He has to prove that he either did not know he was carrying drugs – failure to do so will, in the current system, most probably result in sentencing him to the gallows.


Read the original entry on Covered In His Blood blog


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