Written Replies to Parliamentary Questions

Written Reply to Parliamentary Question on Cases of Canings Administered by the Singapore Prison Service without Judicial Sentencing over the Past 10 Years, by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 03 August 2021


Mr Leon Perera: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs over the past 10 years (a) how many cases have there been of canings administered by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) without judicial sentencing; (b) what is the median number of strokes imposed for these cases; and (c) how many times have visiting Justices of the Peace amended the number of strokes imposed by the SPS.


1.   The Prisons Act provides for caning as one of the punishments for committing aggravated prison offences that have serious implications for institutional order and discipline. Examples of such offences include taking part in any assault or attack of any officer, and aggravated or repeated assault of any other inmate.

2.   There is a framework to ensure that punishments are imposed fairly and appropriately. Upon the receipt of a report that an inmate has committed an offence, Singapore Prison Service’s (SPS) Provost Officers will investigate the case, which includes taking statements from the complainants, witnesses and the accused, as well as reviewing all evidence relevant to the case. Thereafter, as part of the adjudication process, every inmate suspected of having committed an offence will be informed of the charge and evidence against him, and given the opportunity to provide his defence. The adjudicating Superintendent will consider all the facts of the case, including the inmate’s defence and mitigation, before deciding if the inmate is guilty, and if so, the punishments to be imposed.

3.   Every case where an inmate is given corporal punishment by the adjudicating Superintendent will be referred to an Institutional Discipline Advisory Committee. This Committee is an independent body appointed by the Minister for Home Affairs comprising reputable members of the public, including at least a member who is legally trained. The facts of the case will be put before the Committee, which will then advise the Commissioner of Prisons as to whether the corporal punishment to be imposed on an inmate for the aggravated or major offence is, in the Committee’s view, excessive.

4.   The Commissioner of Prisons will review each case involving an aggravated offence, and then can confirm the punishments imposed or vary any of them. After the corporal punishment is confirmed, a medical officer will ensure the inmate is in a fit state of health to go through the punishment both prior to and during the execution of the punishment. If, during the execution of the punishment, the medical officer certifies that the inmate is not in a fit state of health, the punishment will be stopped.

5.   From the period of 2011 to 2020, SPS administered 2,875 instances of institutional caning, to 2,149 inmates (i.e. some inmates were found guilty of multiple aggravated or major offences).

6.   The number of strokes meted out in each case depends on a myriad of factors that are specific to the case. The median number of strokes imposed between 2011 and 2020 inclusive was three, across a variety of aggravated or major offences. The most common offences for which caning was imposed involved aggravated violence against other inmates and violence against staff.

7.   The Prisons Act also provides that where a prisoner is accused of any aggravated prison offence and the Superintendent is of the opinion that, in the circumstances of the case, the power of punishment which the Superintendent possesses is inadequate, the Superintendent may report the matter to the Visiting Justice or Justices. The Visiting Justice or Justices, after investigating the charge, may punish the prisoner found guilty of the offence after due inquiry by imposing a higher corporal punishment.

8.   SPS did not make any such referral to Visiting Justices from 2011 to 2020.