Singapore — Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam, in a written response in Parliament on Monday (Oct 5) to a question from Workers’ Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) concerning the death penalty, said studies have shown it to be an effective deterrent against serious crimes.
At the end of his answer, Mr Shanmugam invited Associate Professor Lim to share whether or not he supports the death penalty, for what offences and why, and said that his views “will be given careful and respectful consideration”.
The death penalty in Singapore has been in the news due to the recent stay of execution granted to convicted drug trafficker Syed Suhail Syed Zin pending further hearings on his case. Some groups have actively been calling for the death penalty to be abolished.
A/Prof Lim had asked Mr Shanmugam a two-fold question: “Whether there has been any systematic study by the ministry as to the deterrent effect of a life sentence relative to the death penalty” and “whether the study has been conducted in cases where the reasoning capacity of the perpetrator may have been compromised such as by mental illness or addiction.”
Lawyer Ravi M Ravi, who filed a Judicial Review Application in the case of Syed Suhail had called his client “a victim of his own addiction which is a medical condition”, and asked for a “better response than imposing death penalty”.
In his written response, Mr Shanmugam said that there are three considerations in the decision to apply the death penalty: The seriousness of the offence, how frequent or widespread the offence is, and the need for deterrence. He added that capital punishment is usually meted out for such offences as intentional murder, gang robbery with murder, trafficking of significant quantities of drugs, terrorist bombing, and the use of firearms.
He confirmed that there have indeed been studies commissioned by the Government as to how effective the death penalty is as a deterrent to crime versus imprisonment, and also concerning perspectives on the public about the death penalty.
In 2019, the Ministry of Home Affairs carried out a study on the attitude of 2,000 residents concerning the subject, and “the majority of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the death penalty is more effective than life imprisonment” when it comes to crime such as using firearms in Singapore, murder and drug trafficking.
In 2018, another study was conducted on a sample of non-Singaporeans likely to visit the country “and hence might potentially encounter Singapore laws and penalties”. Seventy-six per cent of the respondents said they believe that “the death penalty is more effective in discouraging people from committing serious crimes” in comparison to life imprisonment. When it comes to discouraging people from bringing drugs into the country, an even higher number (84 per cent) voiced this view.
Mr Shanmugan added in his reply that while some conclusions can be made from these studies, “but the very nature of these studies is such that more work will have to be done over periods of time”.
The Home Affairs Minister added that it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure the safety and security of Singaporeans, balanced out with a criminal justice system that is fair and just.
“The approach we have taken has resulted in Singapore being one of the safest places in the world to live. This is something deeply valued by Singaporeans,” he wrote.
Mr Shanmugam’s full written reply to A/Prof Lim can be found here. /TISG
Read also: Is it time for the death penalty to be abolished?