~by Atticus ~
The Government has proposed amendments to abolish certain mandatory provisions in the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The proposals will make drug trafficking offenses by drug mules no longer punishable with a mandatory death penalty, but will instead provide discretion for the courts to provide a term of life imprisonment with caning provided that the drug mule cooperates substantively with the Central Narcotics Bureau.
The exception will only apply if the drug mule is not involved in the supply or distribution of the drugs, but only acted as the courier.
The amendments will also provide for discretion in cases where the courier has a mental disability which substantively impairs his appreciation of the gravity of the act.
Under the current regime it is mandatory for Courts to sentence a drug courier caught with specified amounts of Class A drugs to death regardless of his personal circumstances.
This has been criticised by activists and opposition political parties as unduly binding the hands of the judiciary, and has been the subject of several constitutional challenges by constitutional lawyer M Ravi.
TOC has previously, in several editorials, called for the abolition of the mandatory death penalty and highlighted the case of young drug mule Yong Vui Kong.
In an editorial of 24 February 2010, we wrote:
The mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking is particularly egregious for several reasons. First, it lacks a sense of proportionality. A young unwitting drug mule (a typical profile of those arrested for trafficking) caught with 30 grams of morphine, for example, gets no more sentencing consideration than a serial killer, while this does nothing to deter the real traffickers who put him up to it. Second, the defendant is saddled with an unusually onerous burden of proof: if caught in possession of a drug, he is automatically presumed to be responsible for it and to know its nature, and if caught with a certain amount he is alleged to be trafficking.
Anti-death penalty activists TOC spoke to were happy but indicated that further dialogue on the issue of the death penalty was necessary.
Rachel Zeng of the Singapore anti-death Penalty Campaign told TOC:
“Whatever the reasons the government has, I thank them for making this step and would like to extend an invitation to the relevant authorities to consider engaging with us in dialogue or discussions over the possibilities of replacing the death penalty with alternative methods of persucution which may be more humane.”
Activist and film-maker Lynn Lee, who has extensively covered the case of Yong Vui Kong, said that she was pleased but many questions remained for the government to answer.
Once legislation has been put in place, all accused persons who meet the requirements can elect to be considered for resentencing under the new law. This will include accused persons in ongoing cases, as well as convicted persons who have already exhausted their appeals and are currently awaiting execution.