Singapore: 32 on death row can seek review of sentences
By K.c. Vijayan
The Straits Times
Tuesday, Jan 01, 2013
SINGAPORE - They were facing certain death by hanging, but may now get a lifeline as changes to the mandatory death penalty kick in from Jan 1.
A key plank in the amendments to the Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code as well as the Misuse of Drugs Act will give these prisoners an opportunity to introduce new evidence to prove that they satisfy the new conditions for a life sentence instead of death.
In Singapore, a life sentence lasts for a prisoner's natural life, but he can apply for a review of his sentence after he has served 20 years in jail.
The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) told The Sunday Times on Friday that the changes would affect 32 inmates on death row, whose appeals had been dealt with previously.
The amended laws provide a chance for these prisoners to apply for their cases to be reviewed for re-sentencing by the Court of Appeal under the new regime.
Prior to the changes that were gazetted on Friday, the death penalty was mandatory for drug trafficking in certain amounts, and murder.
The Penal Code defines murder as culpable homicide carried out in one of four mental states.
The changed laws make death compulsory only if the accused intentionally killed the victim. For the other three mental states, judges can now impose a life sentence, with the addition of caning.
For drug trafficking, the death penalty will no longer be mandatory under two specific conditions: First, if the trafficker only played the role of a courier and had not been involved in other drug-related activities, and second, if the trafficker cooperated in a substantive way.
A stay of execution was put in place after the Government started its review of the mandatory death penalty in July last year.
The lawyers of two death row prisoners - convicted killer Kamrul Hasan Abdul Quddus and convicted drug trafficker Lim Boon Hiong, - say they plan to apply for a review of their clients' cases.
Kamrul, a Bangladesh national, was found guilty in 2010 of murdering his Indonesian girlfriend, whose naked body was found dumped in a Queensway construction site.
Drug offender Lim was driving a car found with more than 16g of heroin hidden inside when he was intercepted by drug enforcement officers along Bukit Timah Road in 2008. Both Lim and a passenger in the car were convicted of the capital offence and failed in their appeals last year.
Lim's lawyer Ramesh Tiwary said the new laws, in relation to his client's drug trafficking case, involve a three-way process.
The offender's lawyer will have to make representations to the AGC, which would have to agree to the review. The re-sentencing can then be heard before the appeals court.
This is provided that the public prosecutor is satisfied that the offender was indeed just a courier and had substantially cooperated with the authorities during investigations.
"We are looking at all the angles to see how we can satisfy the requirements under the changed law," said Mr Tiwary.
He added that this was a new area and there were no precedents for such changes to the law in Singapore or abroad.
The changes made to the mandatory death penalty attracted widespread debate when Parliament passed the law last month.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Law Minister K. Shanmugam stressed then that the mandatory death penalty, which has played a big part in deterring drug trafficking in Singapore, will remain a linchpin in the war against drugs.
For instance, although the amended Misuse of Drugs Act could allow drug couriers deemed to have offered "substantive" assistance, which leads to the disruption of drug trafficking activities, a chance to escape the gallows - merely trying their best would not be enough, said Mr Shanmugam.
A high standard of cooperation from drug couriers should, therefore, be expected before they qualify for a life sentence instead of being sent to the gallows.
If a courier's best efforts were enough, he added, drug syndicates would send couriers "primed with beautiful stories, most of which would be unverifiable".
It would also weaken the deterrent effect of the death penalty, Mr Shanmugam added in reply to MPs' call for a possible lowering of the threshold for cooperation.
This cooperation mechanism, he said, was also not unique to Singapore as countries such as the United States and Britain have similar provisions.
Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister, said its intent was not to help drug couriers escape hanging, but to help enforcement agencies get to the syndicates' masterminds.