Death no longer mandatory for drugs in Singapore
SINGAPORE, July 10 — Judges will have the discretion to impose life imprisonment with caning, instead of the death penalty, for specific types of drug trafficking cases under proposed legislative changes.
Changes will also be made to the capital punishment regime for murder cases such that the mandatory death penalty will apply only when there is an intention to kill.
Yesterday, following a periodic review that started in July last year, the Government floated these proposals in Parliament, with the draft legislation implementing the changes to be introduced later this year.
For drug trafficking, the wider judicial discretion in sentencing introduces an option for enforcement agencies to be assisted in their efforts to target those higher up in the syndicate at a time when the drug situation could become more complex, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told the House.
Mandatory capital punishment will also apply to a much narrower category of homicides, said Law Minister K. Shanmugam, under changes that seek to properly balance the various objectives of “justice to the victim, justice to society, justice to the accused, and mercy in appropriate cases”.
Under the proposed changes to the drug trafficking regime, the death penalty will not be automatic for convicted drug traffickers only when two “specific, tightly-defined conditions are both met”.
First, the accused must have “only played the role of courier”, and must not have been involved in any other activity related to the supply or distribution of drugs. Second, the trafficker must also have either cooperated with the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) “in a substantive way”, or has a mental disability that “substantially impairs” his appreciation of the gravity of his act.
Mr Teo stressed that the proposed changes are not a departure from Singapore’s “zero tolerance” approach against drugs.
Instead, the proposed changes represent a strategy and approach adapted to counter the changes in the way drug trafficking syndicates operate, and also “puts our system on a stronger footing for the future”, he added.
While statistics show an improving drug situation, it still remains a “serious threat”, said Mr Teo, citing how the authorities and the criminal justice system have increasingly had to deal with a situation where drug syndicate leaders “consciously target and exploit vulnerable groups to do the high-risk work for them, while remaining behind the scenes”.
So, the Republic has to “find more ways of targeting those who are higher up in the drug syndicates, compared with the couriers”.
“If the couriers give us substantive cooperation leading to concrete outcomes, such as the dismantling of syndicates or the arrest or prosecution of syndicate members, that will help us in our broader enforcement effort,” said Mr Teo.
Greater enforcement against cross-border syndicates
Separately, penalties for repeat traffickers will be enhanced. Enforcement efforts against cross-border syndicates will also be stepped up, including more resources being invested in technology and intelligence, as well as strengthening partnerships with regional counterparts.
Asked by MPs if the proposed regime will remain a strong deterrence against drugs, Mr Teo acknowledged there are “some risks”, although he believed the specific conditions will preserve the strong deterrent value.
Several lawyer-MPs also zoomed in on the “cooperation” issue, asking how it will be defined, as well as whether it may give the authorities an “unfair leverage”, as Nominated MP Eugene Tan put it.
Mr Teo replied that there will be a consultation with stakeholders to define the precise scope of “cooperation” when the amended legislation is eventually tabled.
Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang asked why mandatory death sentences cannot be done away with and questioned Mr Teo on whether the deterrent value would diminish if the courts had discretion in every case.
In response, Mr Teo said the mandatory death penalty provides a “very certain and severe punishment and it has been a very strong deterrent”.
Citing how it had led to drug syndicates “deliberately” opting to traffic drugs below the threshold levels, he added that it “clearly has an impact on behaviour”.
All executions have been suspended since July last year, when the general review - conducted regularly to ensure efficacy of our criminal justice system - of the drug situation and the death penalty began, and will remain so until the proposed changes are enacted.
Those currently on death row - 28 for drug-related offences and seven for murder - can “elect to be considered for resentencing under the new law” if they meet the requirements, added Mr Shanmugam. So can defendents in ongoing cases, as well as convicted persons who have already exhausted their appeals.
Mr Teo said it “wouldn’t be correct or appropriate” for him to speculate on how many of those on death row “might possibly have their sentences changed”.
Mr Shanmugam stressed that lawyers should “carefully study the legislation when it is enacted and properly understand the precise scope of the changes” before giving legal advice to their clients. — Today