Mandatory should be removed from Death Penalty.From: The Age
Top Singapore lawyer slams death penalty
November 22, 2005 - 6:04AM
One of Singapore's top criminal defence lawyers says the city-state should abandon its use of the mandatory death penalty.
Speaking ahead of next week's scheduled execution of Australian drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van, Subhas Anandan said if Singapore's courts had more discretion, the Melbourne man may have avoided death row.
"I am not opposed to the death sentence, but I am not in favour of the mandatory death sentence," Subhas told AAP.
Subhas has handled more than 50 capital cases in Singapore over the past 35 years, and is regarded as one of the country's leading legal professionals.
Nguyen, 25, is set to be hanged at dawn on Friday December 2 after being caught with almost 400 grams of heroin while in transit at Changi Airport in 2002.
Singapore law mandates that those caught with more than 15 grams of heroin are deemed traffickers.
A judge must sentence someone to death if they are found guilty of trafficking.
Nguyen was convicted, lost his appeal and has now had all bids for clemency rejected by the Singapore authorities, including repeated appeals from the Australian government.
Subhas said it was essential that judges in Singapore be allowed to weigh the circumstances of each case when deciding an appropriate sentence.
The judge has to be able "to look at the circumstances in which things have been done," said Subhas.
"Sometimes the reasons vary, so I think that the judge should be given the discretion whether to impose the death sentence or not," he said.
The comments put him at odds with Singapore's government, which has consistently argued that compulsory use of the gallows is a vital part of its criminal justice system.
"Even in drug cases, there are cases where there are 15 grams, 20 grams, one kilogram," said Subhas.
"I am not saying that he (Nguyen) doesn't deserve the death sentence," he added.
"I am saying that if judges are given the discretion he - along with many others - may not have got the death sentence."
Amid the mounting anger in Australia about Nguyen's likely fate, the use of mandatory death sentencing has also drawn fire from the United Nations.
Philip Alston, a Geneva-based Australian who monitors the death penalty for the world body, said last week that a black-and-white approach is entirely inappropriate where the life of the accused is at stake.
Subhas is well known for his defence work.
One tabloid dubbed him "public defender number one" for his high profile work.
Singapore also imposes the mandatory death sentence for murder, certain firearms offences and kidnapping.
Amnesty International has said the country probably executes more people relative to its size that any other state worldwide.
Well I have to agree to with Mr Subhas on this. While I am not against death penalty, I do not find it necessary to have mandatory death penalty, especially for offences drug offences.
Death penalty is the ultimate punishment for any crime. Given its finality, the accuse should be able to have his/her migrating circumstances taken into account of the sentence.
With a mandatory death sentence, however, the judges have no room for discretion.
Hence I personally would prefer that the part mandatory be removed from the death sentence.