The High Court exercised its new discretionary powers for the first time in a murder case today. It sentenced Fabian Adiu Edwin to life imprisonment in place of the death penalty. Fabian had been convicted of murder under section 300(c) of the Penal Code in September 2011.
The decision follows recent amendments to Singapore’s death penalty regime. Under the new laws, the High Court can now choose between a sentence of life imprisonment with caning or the death penalty, in cases where a person is convicted under sections 300(b) to (d) of the Penal Code.
Fabian’s case is one such example. He was found guilty of culpable homicide amounting to murder under section 300(c) by the High Court in September 2011. His execution however, was stayed because of a government-led review of the laws relating to death penalty. The proposed changes were passed by parliament in 2012 and took effect in January 2013.
Under the new law, inmates who were earlier convicted under sections 300(b) to (d) of the Penal Code will have a chance to have their sentences reviewed by the High Court. Judges will have discretion to replace what was previously a mandatory sentence of death, with life imprisonment and caning.
In Court this morning, the Prosecution submitted that the appropriate test which the judge should use to determine if a sentence of death is warranted, is to look at whether Fabian’s crime has outraged the feelings of the community. Under this test, the Court should look at three broad factors – the seriousness of the offence, how widespread the criminal activity has become, and the need for deterrence.
The Prosecution highlighted that Fabian and his co-accused had armed themselves and the harm caused was severe because it resulted in the death of the deceased. Furthermore, in the last 10 years, there were 25 cases of robbery-cum murder, of which 4 occurred in 2008. As such, the Prosecution submitted that a deterrent sentence of death was warranted.
Defense Counsel, Anand Nalachandran however, argued that a death sentence should only be used as a last resort. He pointed out that all homicide offences are, by their nature, very serious and urged the Court to look at the circumstances surrounding the case.
Mr Nalachandran told the court that Fabian had been lured to Singapore to work at the age of 17 and that expert witnesses had testified that he had a sub-normal IQ. Further more, Fabian was only 18 years and 10 months old when he committed the offence – just above the legal limit for the death sentence to be imposed. Mr Nalachandran also said the death of the deceased was not an intended consequence.
In response to the Prosecution’s call for a deterrent sentence, Mr Nalachandran pointed out that since 2008, the number of robbery-cum-murder cases has also been on the decline, with only 1 case in 2009, 2 cases in 2010, 1 in 2011, 2 in 2012 and 1 thus far in 2013. Above all, life imprisonment, while less harsh than the death penalty, is still a very harsh punishment and an appropriate deterrent.
In delivering the reasons for his decision , Justice Chan Seng Onn took into account the fact that Fabian had committed a series of robberies and on one of these instances had murdered the victim. However, he agreed with the Defence that Fabian’s young age and his sub-normal intellect should be regarded as mitigating factors in his favour and he therefore handed down a sentence of life imprisonment with 24 strokes of the cane.
Our report on the changes to the application of the death penalty for murder and drugs can be found here
Article: Damien Chng and Priscilla Chia