By Rachel Zeng

During the First Reading at the Parliamentary Sitting on 15 October 2012, a set of amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) was announced. Details surrounding the changes to be made towards the mandatory death penalty for drug traffickers were also release.

The following is an excerpt of the press release issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 15 October 2012, explaining the changes:

…  two specific conditions are provided for under which the death penalty will no longer be mandatory for drug trafficking. First, the trafficker 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, discretion will only apply if, having satisfied this first requirement, either the trafficker has cooperated with the CNB in a substantive way, or he has a mental disability which substantially impairs his appreciation of the gravity of the act.

“Substantive cooperation” is defined as “Substantively assisting in CNB’s operations to disrupt drug trafficking activities within or outside of Singapore”, which may include, for example, the provision of information leading to the arrest or detention or prosecution of any person involved in any drug trafficking activity. The law will provide for the Public Prosecutor to issue a “Certificate of Cooperation” where this condition is met. The courts will then have the discretion to sentence the defendant to either the death penalty or life imprisonment. Those sentenced to life imprisonment will also be liable to caning of at least 15 strokes.

In relation to “mental disability”, the language of the current diminished responsibility provision applicable to murder will be adopted. The defendant will need to establish to the courts that he suffers from an abnormality of mind as substantially impaired his responsibility for his actions. Persons who are determined to have been acting under a “mental disability” will be sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Bill will also enact transitional provisions which provide that all accused persons who meet the conditions pertaining to the mandatory death penalty can elect to be considered for re-sentencing under the new law.  Procedurally, the accused will be able to apply to the court to admit further evidence if it is unclear from the record of proceedings of his trial and/or appeal as to whether he was a courier, or whether he satisfies one of the conditions. Where applicable, the re-sentencing will take place at the first instance in the High Court, with an appeal to the Court of Appeal. Further, existing cases will also be re-considered for clemency.

Indeed the “partial lift” to the mandatory death penalty is appreciated along with the moratorium on executions since July 2011, further clarifications are needed. However, breaking the usual style of simply pointing out the problematic areas, I will briefly list down the bouquets, followed by questions, doubts and lastly, personal hopes. Please note that the following lists are non-conclusive and I might make further comments after upcoming discussions with fellow activists, lawyers as well as further research.


1. Current death row inmates who are eligible will be given a chance for re-sentencing.

2. Mitigating factors will be considered in future cases if offenders satisfy the two conditions stipulated.

3. Chances of offenders with mental disabilities being sentenced to death will be lessen.

Questions and Doubts:

1. Who makes the decision on whether an accused has “substantially cooperated”?

2. What happens if the accused cooperates by providing information that are within his/ her scope of knowledge, but the information given do not lead the CNB to the syndicates behind such sophisticated drug operations?

3. If an accused with an IQ that falls below the average satisfy the first condition, will his/ her IQ level be considered as a factor that impairs his/ her judgment on the gravity of the act (in the event he/ she is unable to provide information regarding the people who had recruited him/ her)?

4. Given the fact that life imprisonment in Singapore is indefinite (do correct me if I am wrong), I do not think that anyone with a mental disability should be given such a sentence because from the accounts of former prisoners I have spoken to, the environment and conditions in our prisons are far from rehabilitative. This might worsen the mental condition of such offenders.

5. Sentencing any person to life imprisonment without parole also highly contradicts the Singapore Prison Service’s motto of “Rehab, Renew, Restart”.


As a campaigner against the death penalty and the mandatory death penalty, I definitely hope to see Singapore going towards the path of abolishing the death penalty. More efforts should be spent looking into alternative methods of legal punishment that seek to rehabilitate offenders rather than using the short cut method of eliminating them from existence forever or to lock them up indefinitely.