Why should death sentences be mandatory?

While the death penalty and other tough measures like caning may seem barbarous to many, I feel as deterrents to serious crimes they have few equals.

But why should such sentences be mandatory? It is as if the circumstances leading to every crime are the same. Too many offences here carry a mandatory sentence.

Yes, tough measures are needed to deal with heinous crimes, which includes poisoning the minds and bodies with forbidden drugs, but is the ultimate penalty warranted for every such crime?

I have no objection to sentencing guidelines but tying a judge’s hands in sentencing is an altogether different thing.

Does the Government think that Singapore judges will not dish out a sentence befitting the crime?

There have been previous calls for judges to be given more discretion in sentencing. Some years ago former judicial commissioner K S Rajah, in the Law Gazette called for sentencing discretion after the courts had rejected the appeal of Vietnamese-Australian Nguyen Tuong Van, 24, against his death sentence for heroin-trafficking.

Mr Rajah said then: “One way to make it more human and not a cruel punishment is to allow judges the discretion rather than make the death penalty mandatory.”

Every crime is committed under different circumstances and call for different forms and degrees of punishment. The law recognises this to an extent, hence the different charges with an offence involving death ranging from manslaughter, which does not involve capital punishment to murder, where the person once found guilty cannot escape the hangman’s noose, unless pardoned by the President. That is why too there is a range of sentences for even a similar crime.

Mandatory sentences, I suppose, were fine in the days when juries were involved in deciding the guilt or innocence of criminals. But those days are long gone.

Singapore’s judges are carefully picked from among the best and brightest in the land. Many come from the best law schools in England, the United States and often have years of practice in the courts before they are appointed to the bench.

Singapore did away with the jury system because it was thought the man-in-the-street would cringe at imposing the ultimate punishment.

By making the death sentence mandatory for murder, discharging a firearm during the commission of a crime and for various drug offences, is the Government afraid that our judges, too, will show their soft side?

Shouldn’t we have the confidence to allow our judges more discretion? The constraints placed by our lawmakers, Parliament, make judges mere functionaries dishing out prescribed sentences for certain cases.

As I have said before, punishment by formula cannot serve the interests of justice.


Read the rest of the article by Conrad Raj at TODAYonline