I am appalled by how our so called best and brightest legal minds make such illogical childish arguments in court and on the front page press. It makes me wonder if they really believe what they are saying, or are they compelled by some reason beyond our understanding to continue holding their grip on injustice, and are hence left with little choice but use these flimsy arguments.
1. “The mandatory death penalty for serious drug offenses here is a “trade-off” the Government makes to protect ‘thousands of lives’ that may be ruined if drugs were freely available”
Since when did we start trading justice for mere its deterrent effect?
If we begin to accept unjustly disproportionate punishments in order protect even innocent lives, would we not have apply the same principle to all abhorant crimes and impose the mandatory death penalty for all these crimes? Rapes, break-ins, corruption, snatch theft, errant construction companies flouting safety rules — are these any more acceptable than drug trafficking and why do we not impose a mandatory death penalty?
Does having the mandatory death penalty instead of a discretionary death penalty really protect ‘thousands of lives’ more?
Where is the proof? Where is the evidence?
How does this even work at the logical level?
Firstly, will judges stop imposing the death penalty on drug traffickers just because the sentencing is up to their discretion rather than mandatory? For cases where judges indeed do not impose the death penalty (even on appeal by the State prosecutors), should we ask ‘why’? Is it because our judges have somehow gone soft and incapable of administering just and appropriate punishments? Or is it because discretionary death penalty gives them that capacity to administer just and appropriate punishments?
Secondly, will druglords suddenly increase their trafficking volume just because the judges are given the discretion to administer the death penalty to an exploited drug mule? This assumes the opposite of course. Do you really believe druglords go “hmmm wait a minute, the judge doesn’t have a choice but to kill this puny teenage drug mule if he’s caught. Yeh, I shouldn’t smuggle drugs and get my drug mule into trouble.” Do you believe that for one moment?
Thirdly, it assumes that just because the judges have the discretion to administer the death penalty, the amount of drugs being smuggled PAST our Customs police & our wonderful police force here will increase by so much it can support the drug habbit of thousands of more drug users. This logic discounts all the law enforcement efforts, and assumes that the severity of the law is the primary determinant of how much drugs come into Singapore. If more drugs really get smuggled in, should we not be scrutinizing our Customs?
So pray tell, somebody please, how does the MANDATORY death penalty actually reduce the number of dead drug users by thousands?
2. “We are sending a signal to all the drug barons out there, just make sure you choose a victim who’s young, or who’s preferably a mother of a young child and use them as the people to carry the drugs into Singapore. And then there can be a lot of sympathy generated if they do get caught”
First. Now, Min. Shanmugam, do you really believe that drug barons will go “Oh poor Mr Tan is not a young chap and has no young child. If he gets caught, he will get no sympathy and he will hang. Poor man. Let’s not use him as our drug mule. Let’s instead go find a young man, or a mother with a young child, so that at least our drug mule doesn’t have to hang if caught.” The fact is that drug barons will use anyone who is desperate enough to risk his life for the few thousand dollars he gets from smuggling. Greedy people tend not to smuggle drugs because greedy people tend to value their life on top of their money too. It’s desperate people who risk their lives because they have little else to lose anymore. Are desperation and stupidity crimes deserving of death?
Second. Under our current laws, children under 16 do not get the death sentence. Are we sending a signal to all the drug barons, just make sure you choose a 15 year old delinquent to carry drugs into Singapore, then they will get sympathy and won’t be hung anyway ? Shall we then sentence 14 and 15 year old delinquents to death to save the lives of thousands more? More importantly, I would like to know what proportion of drugs are smuggled into Singapore by under-16s versus grown adults? If Min. Shanmugam is right, surely we would see a huge percentage of under-16s? Do we? I’d like to know. Convince me.
Third. Min. Shanmugam has acknowledged that drug mules a victims chosen by drug barons. He has acknowledged that young drug mules or mothers of young children are victims. If the law punishes these victims with death, the law victimizes these druglords’ victims a second time. The druglords use these drug mules as a human shield against the law. How can we, in good conscience, allow the laws of Singapore to play to the hands of these druglords? How can we, in good conscience, deliver the deathblow to these victims, on behalf of the drug barons?
3. The TODAY article ( http://www.todayonline.com/Print/Singapore/EDC100510-0000060/Death-penalty,-a-trade-off ) attempts to link the issue of drug trafficking and the vice of prostitution together. It shows how enforcement has improved the Joo Chiat problem.
As mentioned in my earlier paragraph, good policing work is necessary to curb drug trafficking. Joo Chiat got cleaned up without resorting to mandatory death penalty for anyone. On the contrary, another unjust law comes into play here, and this time, it’s an unjustly lenient law.
A 19 year old, to hang at age 20, for being exploited by drug lords to deliver 47g of heroin
A 36 year old, fined $8000, for exploiting a 17 yr old girl, by bringing her in from china to become a prostitute, and living on her earnings. Ok his sentence was upped to 1 year.
( I made this comparison in the TODAY paper I first noticed Vui Kong’s case. Both stories were published in the same paper http://mathialee.wordpress.com/2008/11/15/how-is-life-valued-in-court/ I’m sorry I didn’t have the good sense to link the original TODAY report on that day. If anyone can help, I’ll greatly appreciate )
A search of the Penal Code reveals that:
Traffickers of minors (i.e. children) for the sex trade carries a sentence of up to 10 years and a fine (Sect 372, 373, 373A , or see my comment below).
The sentence for human slavery ?
“Unlawful compulsory labour
374. Whoever unlawfully compels any person to labour against the will of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.”
Trafficking drugs by a 19 year old? MANDATORY death.
Keeping slaves? 1 year’s jail. (Contrast this to how China handles slavery. http://iso.china-labour.org.hk/en/node/47574 Now I’m not praising China’s judiciary system. I’m just embarrassed at Singapore’s laws)
Was it harsh(er) laws that cleaned Joo Chiat up? Harsh(er) laws that prevent slave drivers from keeping slaves in Singapore? I’ll let the reader decide.
On the day that Vui Kong’s sentence was stayed, I went to court to watch Ravi M. & Walter Woon argue out their cases. That day, I had no stomach to hear the verdict passed. This was not an academic argument in an ethics class. Here was a boy heading for the gallows. I could not bring myself to witness a near-child being killed. I left. Later I heard about the “Judgement Reserved”. I felt sad, that the only way to administer justice given such a law, was to reserve judgement.
I had wanted to write about what I had seen in court, but didn’t as I was too caught up with meeting my thesis deadline then. Now I raise some of the points that Walter Woon & Ravi M. argued. I was honestly shocked & disappointed that a man as intelligent as Walter Woon could argue the way he did. Perhaps, it just goes to show that there really is no good argument that even the most intelligent of men, could be to retain the MANDATORY death penalty.
One of the key points that Walter Woon brought up was that of Deterrence. I’ve already covered this point in my Point 1. How can the deterrent effect be lost when judges are given the discretion to administer the death penalty justly where appropriate? Do we want deterrence at the sacrifice of justice? Do we want to chop off the hands of thieves to deter pickpocketting?
Walter Woon came up with 2 other very interesting points which I cover in my Points 4. And 5.
4. Walter Woon argued that the 15g of heroin — the cut-off point for the mandatory death sentence – is sufficient for “12 drug addicts for 7 days”, what more 47g. Hence Parliament sets the mandatory death sentence with the intention to nab big time traffickers who traffic large volumes, not small ones. His implication is that Vui Kong, and anyone, caught with at least 15g is a big time trafficker.
My question then, is this. How are “big time” vs “small time” drug traffickers determined? By the volume of drugs you are made to carry? Or by how powerful and protected you are in the drug trafficking hierarchy? Think about the military. Who is the big timer? The one who throws a bigger bomb vs the one who throws a smaller bomb? Or the general who plots in safety vs the guy who is out on field throwing the bigger bomb?
If we acknowledge that drug volume trafficked cannot be used as an indicator of “big vs small time” trafficker, and if we acknowledge , as Walter Woon does, the original intention of the law, then all the more we need to make this law discretionary. In this way, the judge can decide from the evidence if this is a big or small timer.
Furthermore, we acknowledge the need to differentiate between big vs small timer, surely we need to consider the circumstances of the drug mule, to see if his conditions (eg. age, family dependants etc) made him a vulnerable target to be exploited?
As Ravi M. pointed out, our courts recognise the status of a child in sentencing. We do not sentence under-16s to death. What reason is there to ignore this principle just because the trafficker is 3 years older than that 16 years?
5. Walter Woon also repeatedly stressed that the job of the court was to administer the law, not to make or change the law. That was the job of the elected Parliament, and it was up to the electorate and Opposition to lobby Parliament should they want the laws changed.
Here, I agree with Walter Woon. I suppose that is why the Minister for Law is now commenting? How can we, the Citizens of Singapore, lobby our Parliament to be logical, more effectively?
I believe our laws cannot be about technicalities. Nor must it fall prey to filmsy childish arguments. I have never come across a sound argument for death penalty to be mandatory — not from a justice point of view, nor from a deterrence point of view. Of course, I’m unschooled in the area of law and I may be mistaken in my understanding. But then again, if I were, so would be many other First World progressive countries.
I’ll like to close by expressing my deepest admiration for Ravi M. I’ve told him to his face, and I’ll like to state it publically here, that he’s my hero, and everything a human being should be.
I’ll like to hear the rationale for the following contradictions :
21 years old age limit for R(21) movies
21 yrs old age limit for voting
18 yr old age limit to drive
16 yr old age limit for killing someone or being killed in war (NS age limit)
(you can’t vote for the govt you want, even tho’ the govt who comes to power has the authority to send you to war to die)
16 yr old age limit for age of consent to sex
( i can’t understand how people think that we should not lower the R(21) movie age limit, should not let our 16 year olds learn about sex in sch, do not want our 16 year olds having sex, but shoud lower the 16 yr old age of consent)
16 yr old age limit for sentencing someone to death for drug crimes
14 yr old age limit for being given to marriage legally
(even tho’ they have no capacity to vote their govt, or to handle a R(21) movie, they can be allowed to make a lifetime commitment , and have kids at 15yr old??)
Explain this to me, someone, please!