First Choice

The Death Penalty in Singapore

05 November 2021

A Safe and Secure Singapore

The Government has the responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of Singaporeans. Our tough laws, including the death penalty, and strict enforcement of the laws, have made Singapore one of the safest places in the world.

In Singapore, the death penalty is applicable only for a very limited number of offences, involving the most serious forms of harm to victims and to society, such as intentional murder and trafficking of significant quantities of drugs. We have put in place many judicial safeguards surrounding its use.

Considerations in Applying the Death Penalty

In deciding whether to provide for the death penalty to a particular offence, the Government takes into account (amongst other factors) three key considerations. First, the seriousness of the offence, in terms of the harm that the offence will cause to the victim and to society. Second, how frequent or widespread the offence is. Third, the need for a very high degree of deterrence. These considerations are considered in totality.

For example, drug trafficking causes immense harm to drug abusers, families and the community. The capital sentence thresholds for drug trafficking are high and involve significant quantities of drugs. For example, the capital sentence threshold amount of 15 grammes of pure heroin (diamorphine) is equivalent to 1,250 straws of heroin, which can feed the addiction of 180 drug abusers for a week.

Deterrent Effect of Death Penalty in Singapore

The deterrent effect of the death penalty has been shown by (i) the majority of Singapore residents and non-residents agreeing that the death penalty is more effective than life imprisonment in deterring very serious crimes; (ii) the significant reduction of very serious crimes (including drug trafficking) after we introduced the death penalty; and (iii) drug traffickers restricting their drug trafficking behaviours, e.g. by trafficking below the capital sentence thresholds.

Deterrent Effect of Death Penalty in Singapore 
[Infographic from MHA Facebook, 6 Oct 2020]

In 2019, MHA commissioned a survey of 2,000 residents, on their views of capital punishment. The majority of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the death penalty is more effective than life imprisonment as a deterrent against serious crimes.

In 2018, MHA commissioned a study of a sample of non-Singaporeans who are likely to visit Singapore and hence might potentially encounter Singapore laws and penalties. The majority of the respondents similarly agreed that compared to life imprisonment, the death penalty is more effective in discouraging people from committing serious crimes.

There is also evidence that drug traffickers who had been arrested knew about the death penalty and the amounts that would attract the death penalty, and this had caused them to reduce the amount of drugs they trafficked. MHA found that there was a 66% reduction in the average net weight of opium trafficked in the four-year window after the mandatory death penalty was introduced in 1990 for trafficking more than 1,200 grammes of opium.

Similarly, in the four-year period after the introduction of the mandatory death penalty in 1990 for trafficking more than 500 grammes of cannabis, there was a 15 to 19 percentage point reduction in the probability that traffickers would choose to traffic above the capital sentence threshold.

Another study conducted by MHA on convicted drug traffickers and non-drug traffickers (e.g. drug abusers) showed that traffickers who had higher awareness of and were mindful of the severe legal consequences had limited their trafficking behaviour. This points to restrictive deterrence, as trafficking activities were intentionally limited when there was greater awareness of sanctions. The majority of the offenders who were non-traffickers (85.1%) likewise felt that the death penalty has a deterrent effect.

Maintaining a Fair and Just Criminal Justice System

Singapore has a fair and just criminal justice system. All persons are accorded full due process under the law, and there are additional safeguards provided in capital cases to ensure that the death penalty is passed only after a very rigorous legal process.

For instance, the High Court shall not record a guilty plea in a capital case unless the accused is tried and the Public Prosecutor leads evidence to prove that the elements of the offence have been made out in a trial. A convicted person sentenced to death by the trial court is entitled to appeal against both the conviction and sentence. Furthermore, even if there is no appeal, the law mandates that the case must be reviewed by the Court of Appeal, which is the highest appellate court in Singapore.

Once the date for the judicial execution is known, the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) will inform the next-of-kin of the scheduled date and will facilitate extended visits for the family. SPS will also render assistance to the family, attend to their queries, and arrange for officers to provide psychological and emotional support to the family.

Compliance with International Law

International law does not prohibit the use of the death penalty when applied according to the due process of law and with judicial safeguards. Every country has the sovereign right to decide for itself whether to impose capital punishment as part of its criminal justice system, depending on its own circumstances and in accordance with its international obligations. This sovereign right to impose the death penalty was reaffirmed most recently at the 75th United Nations General Assembly in 2020.

Further Reading

•   Committee of Supply Debate 2022 on “Singapore’s Approach to Criminal Justice” – Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, 3 March 2022

Economist Intelligence Unit: The Global Liveability Index 2021

Written Reply to Parliamentary Question on Studies on the Deterrent Effect of a Life Sentence Relative to the Death Penalty, by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, 5 October 2020

The Straits Times: Parliament: Statistics, studies show death penalty deterred drug trafficking, firearms use and kidnapping, says Shanmugam, 5 October 2020

TODAY Online: Most S’pore residents surveyed agree death penalty more effective than life in jail as deterrent against serious crimes: Shanmugam, 5 October 2020

CNA: Surveys show death penalty seen as a more effective deterrent than life imprisonment for some offences: Shanmugam, 5 October 2020

•   Singapore Statement at the UNGASS 2016 Plenary Session – Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, 21 April 2016

•   Transcript of Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam at the High-Level Side Event at the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly “Moving Away from the Death Penalty: National Leadership”, 25 September 2015