Category Archives: Thoughts on Death Penalty

Certificates of Cooperation: Process needs to be clear

What is the process in which a Certificate of Cooperation gets issued? How and when are the decisions made?

These were the main questions on my mind coming out of Mohammad Ridzuan bin Md Ali’s appeal on Thursday morning. A five-judge court had been convened – for the first time in almost two decades – but had not been able to provide any clarity on the issue as Ridzuan’s criminal motion was dismissed on procedural grounds.

Ridzuan and Haleem: same charge, different sentence

Ridzuan and his friend Abdul Haleem Abdul Karim were both arrested in May 2010 and charged with trafficking 72.5g of heroin. Both had sought to plead guilty at first, but were not allowed to do so as they were both capital cases. So they went to trial and were convicted in 2013.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) granted Haleem a Certificate of Cooperation, and he was sentenced to life in prison with 24 strokes of the cane. Ridzuan, on the other hand, did not receive a Certificate of Cooperation, and the judge had no choice but to sentence him to death.

The Straits Times reported that when Haleem heard his friend would be sent to the gallows, he asked the judge not to spare him.

Choking with emotion, he told Justice Tay Yong Kwang: “If you are sparing my life and not sparing his life, I’d rather go down with him.”

But the judge replied: “The court does not have complete discretion to do whatever you want me do.” 

Abdul Haleem then pointed out that he and his friend faced the same charges.

The judge told him: “You have certification from the Attorney-General’s Chambers, he does not.”
– ‘Drug courier spared the death penalty’, The Straits Times, 11 April 2013

Besides the appeal against his conviction, Ridzuan’s lawyers had sought on Thursday morning to ask the court to issue a mandatory order to compel the AGC to issue Ridzuan a Certificate of Cooperation. But the Court of Appeal did not have the power to grant such an order; an application has to be made to the High Court instead. Whether the High Court will order the AGC to issue Certificates of Cooperation remains to be seen.

Questions relating to the Certificate of Cooperation

The amendments to the mandatory death penalty are welcome in the sense that it allows judges a little more latitude in their sentencing. But this process of granting (or not granting) Certificates of Cooperation has always been a point of concern.

The judges in court on Thursday had briefly asked Deputy Public Prosecutor Francis Ng about the process of issuing Certificates of Cooperation. DPP Ng responded that the framework offers the “greatest flexibility”, so as to help the accused to offer to cooperate at any time and “be considered” by both the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) and the public prosecutor.

This gives us little assurance; it doesn’t tell us how “substantive cooperation” is defined, or what the CNB and public prosecutor will take into consideration when they make their decision. There is no demonstration of transparency in this process, and no effort made to address the issue of how the issuing of such certificates give investigators and prosecutors enormous power over a person’s life or death – perhaps even more than judges have.

DPP Ng had tried to explain that the process would not disadvantage couriers with little information to give. Even if an accused person insists that he/she did not know that he/she was carrying drugs, he/she would still be able to give information on the people who had given him the bag to carry.

But this is exactly what Cheong Chun Yin did; claiming that he had not known he was carrying heroin (he believed they had been gold bars), he nonetheless provided CNB with the name, description and phone number of the man who had recruited him. Yet Chun Yin has not received a Certificate of Cooperation, and still sits on death row.

What informed the decision to not grant him a Certificate?

The Certificate of Cooperation is a crucial aspect of the amendments to the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking. It is one of the criteria that determines whether the court is allowed to exercise discretion or not. The process towards granting such a certificate should, at the very least, be transparent and clear. Otherwise, how are we to tell if accused persons who have been denied the Certificate were unfairly prejudiced in some way or another?

By: Kirsten Han

Hanging On: Singapore’s Persistent Relationship with the Death Penalty

by Ivan Teo

The death penalty doesn’t make for good dinner conversation. In Singapore, tacit approval of it is a foregone conclusion. To question it is taboo. Many deem the death penalty integral to our justice system and society.

I used to ignore it; it was something for someone else to worry about. Until I came across a few videos, of tearful relatives pleading their loved one’s case. Not faceless “others”, but real people begging for their lives.

It made me sit up, take notice and wonder: Why has the death penalty so captivated Singapore? Why can’t we seem to let it go?

Perhaps we need some background information on the subject. Singapore and the death penalty go back a long way: it was codified in the then-British colony’s Penal Code, and enacted in 1871. It’s a punishment that Singapore has fiercely defended and retained to this day. Singapore has not been hesitant in using it, with one of the highest per-capita execution rates in the world between 1994 and 1999. Data released has shown that Singapore executed 4 people in 2011.

Still, what do these numbers actually mean? To me, fairly little. Because I believe a life is worth far more than any statistic can tell us.

I don’t believe in the death penalty. But I do not want to only trot out cases that win sympathy. I do not want to cherry pick cases rife with allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. I want to talk about the place death penalty has in Singapore and whether it is deserved.

The nature of this punishment should make anyone hesitate. It is irreversible. You cannot recompense a life. And while we may have faith in our justice system, it is human to err and it is humans who work within this system. The propensity for a miscarriage of justice and the gravity of the consequences are considerations that must be taken into account. Issues of proportionality also come into play. A bulk of those executed within our shores is for drug-related charges. Should non-violent drug offenders be sentenced to death?

Finally: the deterrent factor. The most commonly used — and overstated — argument. An attractive one due to its simplicity. Commit a crime, get punished, future crimes are prevented. However, this truism has not fared well under scrutiny, much research done on it have been inconclusive at best. Furthermore, the intentional homicide rate in Singapore is comparable to that of Norway and Hong Kong, and Singapore’s drug-related crime rate is worse than those in countries such as Costa Rica and Turkey. All these states have managed to deter heinous crimes without recourse to the ultimate penalty of death. I don’t think we need to do so either.

The death penalty in Singapore raises important questions about the kind of criminal justice system we want. Do we want an ‘eye-for-an-eye’ custom that legitimizes executions based on retribution? Or do we want a system that is merciful, that believes in rehabilitation and reparative justice?

We all want closure for the victims’ family and friends. We all want to deter crime. But the dead can’t make amends. The dead cannot be deterred. And while the death penalty may have some benefits, the question asked should not be: Does it work?

It should be: Is it right? Is it necessary?

All we can do now is to ask these questions and try to change minds. This will not be easy. Singapore has often used nationalistic language to jealously guard capital punishment. So it is up to us, Singaporeans who care about this issue, to raise it, to make it into a national conversation. While there have been some positive steps in the right direction, we have a long way to go. And we will work and wait for the day when cooler heads prevail and Singapore finally makes a clean break from the death penalty.