Alan Shadrake, Singapore’s death penalty use debated in UK House of Lords

The following is a transcript from the House of Lords Debate in the UK Parliament on 30th Nov 2010. It touches on the Alan Shadrake case and also Singapore’s use of the death penalty.

Baroness Stern: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on the Government’s efforts at the United Nations and on the success of the resolution. The Minister will be aware that Singapore was one of the states strongly opposed to the resolution. In relation to Singapore, is the Minister aware of the book by the British author Alan Shadrake, which highlights flaws in the way in which the courts in Singapore deal with capital cases? Is he further aware that Mr Shadrake has been given a prison sentence of six weeks for insulting the Singapore judiciary as a consequence of his book? Therefore, have the Government made representations to Singapore about the treatment of Mr Shadrake and about the use of the death penalty there?

Lord Howell of Guildford: I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her kind words. She is of course second to none in campaigning on this central and very important issue. Yes, I am aware of Mr Shadrake’s book and can confirm that he has been sentenced to six weeks in jail for contempt of court. My colleague, the Minister of State, Jeremy Browne MP, issued a statement on 16 November expressing dismay that Mr Shadrake had been charged, convicted and sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonment in Singapore for expressing his personal views on the legal system.
Senior United Kingdom officials have discussed the death penalty with Singapore, most recently in July. The Singaporean authorities are aware that we certainly do not share their views on certain aspects of human rights, but we and the European Union continue to engage with them to encourage them to ratify and implement international human rights agreements and conventions.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the support that 22 Commonwealth countries still have for the death penalty? I note that the Foreign Office strategy document on the abolition of the death penalty makes an issue of the fact that the Government have to work with those countries. Will my noble friend tell us what he is doing to get the Commonwealth countries on board to abolish the death penalty?

Lord Howell of Guildford:
This issue is particularly important to me personally, as of course it is to the Government as a whole. As we have outlined in HMGStrategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, we are looking to expand that work with the Commonwealth, given the number of Commonwealth countri
David Howell, Lord Howell of Guildford

es that retain the death penalty, as my noble friend rightly pointed out. We have funded projects in a number of countries and there has been some success. We successfully challenged the mandatory death penalty in Barbados in 2009 and in Kenya in 2010. Indeed, the Kenya challenge led to the commutation of the sentences of the entire population of 4,000 prisoners being held on death row in 2009. There is some progress, but my noble friend is right to say that this is a very worrying area.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, does the Minister realise that the English Bar has a very good relationship with the Singapore Bar? Could we not use the English Bar to press on its colleagues in Singapore the necessity of being more generous towards people?

Lord Howell of Guildford:
I think that that is a very good idea, and one that is often overlooked in thinking about and analysing the Commonwealth. The legal and judicial links between the 54 countries of the Commonwealth provide one of the most powerful opportunities to improve and upgrade human rights, and indeed the administration of justice generally. The noble Lord is absolutely right.

Lord Low of Dalston:
My Lords, in 2010 Sudan raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18 and introduced the Child Act 2010, which prohibits the execution of children. However, in October, 10 people, of whom four are believed to be children, were sentenced to death by hanging. What representations have the Government made to Sudan on this issue?

Lord Howell of Guildford:
The noble Lord is right to use the word “However” because, although Sudan has raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18 and has indeed introduced an Act of Parliament that inhibits the execution of children-I should think so too-nevertheless, in October, 10 people were sentenced to death by hanging and four of them are believed to be children. We regularly raise human rights issues with the Government of Sudan, including that of the death penalty. We are aware of the incidents in question and continue to monitor the situation closely. I cannot tell the noble Lord more than that at the moment, but he is absolutely right to point out the contrast between what Sudan has passed as law and what it appears to be intending to do. I hope that we can take effective action.

Lord Howell of Guildford is the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office in UK.

You can also find out more about Amnesty International UK here.