Mandatory death penalty no longer applies to murder cases where killing was unintentional

by Hetty Musfirah

The mandatory death penalty will no longer be applied to murder cases where killing was unintentional.

While those who have been served death sentences will also be granted an appeal automatically.

The changes come as Parliament passed the relevant amendments to the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code today.

Under the revised Penal Code, the mandatory death penalty will only apply to cases where killings were intentional.

Otherwise, the court will decide if the accused should be given the death sentence or life imprisonment.

The court may also order caning in cases where life imprisonment is ordered.

Law Minister K Shanmugam said this move will allow the courts to exercise greater discretion:

"We are making the changes in the context of the homicide rates in Singapore which is low - 0.3 cases per 100,000 population. In these circumstances, we think it is right to introduce more judicial discretion, in deciding whether the death sentence ought to be imposed for murder. (ENEWS: (16:24:40.24) Where possible where practical, where it is realistic and where it does not substantively impact our criminal justice framework, we must move towards giving greater discretion to the courts."

All existing cases, if eligible, will be considered for re-sentencing under the new law.

Some MPs like member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, Alvin Yeo, called for more reforms:

"I do hope that the Ministry of Law not stop at the mandatory death sentences for murder but carry out a wholesale review of the mandatory sentences in our Penal Code and other penal statutes to see if there are properly calibrated for the interests they seek to protect or simply to see whether or not some of them may have outlived their usefulness."

MP for Aljunied GRC, Sylvia Lim also spoke:

"It remains a mystery why section 300c should still be classified as murder, when the accused need not have intended death nor known that death was likely. Even after this amendment bill, the judge could still impose death for section 300c, which is not easy to justify. It seems more appropriate to move such situations lower down the seriousness ladder to a lesser category of homicide which does not attract death."

The Law Minister revealed his ministry is reviewing the provision for such murder cases:

"We are looking at number of provisions including section 300c and if we believe it ought to be either moved or amended in some form, we will let the House know. In the intervening period that we had I did not think that we should take such a major step having reviewed it in July and putting up the bill now. A, for the reason that discretion is going to be given to the judges now to impose life imprisonment, so a judge who then decides to impose a death sentence would be satisfied on the facts that death indeed is merited as the high court judge, as opposed to life imprisonment."

Separately, amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code have also been passed to make the process of appeal automatic in cases where the accused has been given the death sentence.

No death sentence can be carried out, unless confirmed by the Court of Appeal.

(ENEWS: The changes will mean that the Court of Appeal reviews a death sentence where there is no appeal by the accused.  In such cases, the Public Prosecutor will be required to file a petition for confirmation with the Court of Appeal, who will review the correctness, legality and propriety of the conviction and sentence.

 shanmugam 17:12:36.20
"The Court of Appeal may choose to hear parties if it deems that to be necessary, after examining the record, the court will either confirm the sentence of death passed upon the accused, or set it aside and it can make such further order as it deems fit.

The Criminal Procedure Code has also been amended to provide that an appeal against a conviction can be filed only after sentence is passed in respect of that conviction. This will ensure that appeals against the conviction and sentence are heard together, in line with the practice today.

The changes will apply to all criminal cases and not just capital punishment cases.

The Law Ministry has said that the amendments aim to provide an additional safeguard in the capital punishment regime. )