Fewer cases may get death penalty

The current review of homicide laws may well lead to a reduction in the number of cases that draw the death penalty, lawyers say.

The Law Society believes the review is significant as it would literally mean the "difference between life and death".

Last month, Law Minister K. Shanmugam provided details about the committee reviewing homicide laws, that he announced in Parliament in March last year.

The review is considering creating a special set of laws to deal with offenders who cause death as a result of violent crimes such as rape, crimes committed against young people and those committed by gangs.

The committee, chaired by Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah, is also looking at how to deal with mentally disabled offenders.

A Law Ministry spokesman told The Sunday Times that the exercise is part of "the continual review of legislation that the Government conducts".

He added: "We take into account feedback received from the legal fraternity, both generally and in the context of specific law reform exercises."

He pointed out that the current homicide laws stemmed from the 1860 Indian Penal Code.

"How the criminal law views culpability has changed considerably since then," he added. "The law could benefit from a relook in the light of these changes. The overall intention is to ensure that the law draws appropriate distinctions between offenders of different culpability, and assigns punishment proportionately.

"The review will also take into account public order considerations. An example is death caused in the context of violent group crimes. What each individual member of the group knew or did is often unclear, and traditional concepts of individual liability may not be adequate.

"Another area is whether deaths caused in the context of certain crimes such as rape, should be punished more severely."

Mr Wendell Wong, chairman of the Law Society's criminal practice committee, said its submissions called for the reduction of the categories of homicide cases where the death penalty may apply. 

"It is our hope that this review will generally lead to a narrowing of the number of homicide cases that attract the death penalty."

He added that the review is significant as the potential benefits impact not only offenders but also their families. "It is literally about the difference between life and death."

He noted that the review enabled public policy issues to be considered "upfront and with the input of various stakeholders in the criminal justice system. If the death penalty no longer applies in certain homicide offences, then the judges need not consider such a punishment in those offences at all."

Echoing similar sentiments, Association of Criminal Lawyers Singapore spokesman Sunil Sudheesan expressed the hope that the "murder provisions can be significantly reviewed so that only those with the clear intention of causing death will face the possibility of the death penalty".

There were no executions in 2012 and although figures for 2013 have not been released, it is believed there was none, given the ongoing review of existing death row cases in the light of last year's changes to capital punishment laws.

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