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MHA responds to death penalty commentary by Leader of Opposition Pritam Singh

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Tuesday (Sept 6) responded to a commentary by Mr Pritam Singh, Workers' Party chief and Leader of the Opposition, which was published recently in TODAY.

MHA responds to death penalty commentary by Leader of Opposition Pritam Singh
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SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Tuesday (Sept 6) responded to a commentary by Mr Pritam Singh, Workers' Party chief and Leader of the Opposition, which was published recently in TODAY. Its full reply is published below:

Mr Pritam Singh has shared his views on drug trafficking and the death penalty ("Commentary: Death penalty for drug trafficking should stay, but certain aspects of drug law can be improved”).

Mr Singh’s views are in broad agreement with our zero-tolerance stance against drugs.

He accepts the necessity of the death penalty, and acknowledges its deterrent effect, without which there would be more traffickers bringing larger amounts of drugs into Singapore.

And Mr Singh accepts that the criminal nature of the drug trade, and the devastating impact of drugs on society, should feature more strongly in the discourse of abolition advocates.

There are also some errors in Mr Singh’s article.

First, Mr Singh says that the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) issues the Certificate of Substantive Assistance (CSA). This is inaccurate.

The Public Prosecutor (PP) decides on the issuing of the CSA, under Section 33B(2)(b) of the Misuse of Drugs Act. The reason for this was most recently affirmed by the Court of Appeal in the cases of Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam v PP (2019) and in Rosman bin Abdullah v PP (2017). CNB will, of course, advise the PP.

Second, Mr Singh referred to the case of Farid Batra (“Farid”), where he said that CNB did not issue a CSA prior to his trial but had “interestingly” issued one after the substantive judicial process had run its course, after the Court of Appeal ruled that Farid was a courier.

In Mr Singh’s view, this case illustrated that the decision to withhold the issuance of a CSA prior to trial can be “wrong” or “unjustified”.

Mr Singh has misunderstood the process. The PP decides on the CSA, based on whether the accused has substantively assisted the CNB in the disruption of drug trafficking activities. It is not dependent on whether the court finds the accused to be a courier.

And, the practice is that the CSA is issued at the end of court proceedings. This is to allow the PP to consider all evidence presented in court, in order to assess whether the CSA should be issued.

Thus, contrary to what Mr Singh had suggested, the CSA was not withheld, and then issued at the end of the trial.

Third, Mr Singh referred to the case of Abdul Rahim Bin Shapiee (“Rahim”). He said that the courts found that Rahim was not a courier and imposed the mandatory death penalty, even though he received a CSA.

Mr Singh suggested that this showed that judges would impose the death penalty even if they could avoid it. This statement may give a misleading impression.

In cases involving a CSA, there are two conditions to be satisfied before life imprisonment may be imposed in lieu of the death penalty.

First, the accused must be a courier — this is to be decided by the courts based on the facts put before it.

Second, the accused must be issued a CSA by the PP based on the substantive assistance he has provided.

Both conditions must be satisfied, before the court may impose a sentence of life imprisonment — otherwise, the death penalty has to be imposed.

In the case of Rahim, one of the two conditions was not satisfied: The court was not satisfied based on the facts that he was just a courier. Therefore, in these circumstances, the death penalty has to be imposed.

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MHA Pritam Singh death penalty crime court law drugs

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