Singapore courts have recently reviewed two death penalty convictions in July and August 2013, replacing these with a combination of life imprisonment and judicial caning (see below for more details on sentences). These reviews were undertaken pursuant to 2012 legislative amendments which give Singapore judges some discretion over imposing the death penalty in cases of murder and drug trafficking, offences that previously carried the mandatory death penalty. The two reviewed death penalty convictions had been handed down prior to the 2012 legislative amendments. Altogether, 34 death penalty convictions are expected to be reviewed by Singapore courts.
Public debate in Singapore has focused on how these legislative and judicial developments permit a more circumscribed use of the death penalty and the tailoring of sentences to each individual case. These developments will also positively impact investigations into possible wrongful convictions. Such investigations usually take many years, and the Singapore Innocence Project was just formally launched in May 2013. Singapore prides itself on its efficient legal system, and it is commonly believed that those sentenced to the death penalty are not on the “death row” for long – though detailed official statistics on this is not publicly available.
Avoiding the death sentence will allow cases of wrongful conviction to be remedied while the wrongfully convicted person is still alive.
Note: In both reviewed cases, the convicted persons had their death sentences reduced to sentences of life imprisonment with 24 strokes of the cane. Judicial caning is a permitted form of legal punishment under Singapore’s Criminal Procedure Code, and a convicted person may be sentenced to a maximum of 24 strokes of the cane.