Skip to main content arrow-down arrow-tail-right arrow-triangle-right calendar camera compass download email eye facebook flag mail phone pin play send square-right tag twitter youtube badge message

Singapore public opinion survey reveals low support for the mandatory death penalty

  • News
  • 5 Mar 2018

Research by the National University of Singapore has revealed that the Singaporean public favours a discretionary, not a mandatory, approach to sentencing in capital cases. Face-to-face interviews were carried out with a representative sample of 1,500 Singaporean adults to ascertain their attitudes towards the death penalty, and the imposition of the mandatory death penalty in particular. The findings demonstrated that there was little public support for the mandatory death penalty when the respondents were presented with typical cases where this sentence would be legally required, calling into question the government’s lack of meaningful reform in this area.

The research was modelled upon a public opinion survey in Malaysia, commissioned and published by The Death Penalty Project in 2013 and carried out by Professor Roger Hood, who was also consultant to the Singapore study. The Malaysia study revealed that, while on the surface support for the death penalty was strong, when faced with the reality of judging different case scenarios few respondents thought that the death penalty should be applied in all cases. The findings inspired the authors of the Singapore study to replicate the research in their own country, to see if similar conclusions could be reached.

Parallels can be drawn between Malaysia and Singapore, who both continue to carry the mandatory death penalty for certain offences, including murder and drug trafficking. Both governments have expressed commitment to reforming the mandatory death penalty for drug offences. However, despite limited reforms made in Singapore in 2013, mandatory death sentences continue to be imposed on many drug offenders. The Malaysian government has similarly introduced legislative amendments which would give judges some discretion over whether to apply the death penalty in drug trafficking cases, but these have not yet been brought into force and mandatory death sentences continue to be imposed.

As in Malaysia, the research in Singapore revealed low public support for the mandatory death penalty. Less than half of respondents expressed support for the policy when posed with the simple question, but actual support for the mandatory death penalty was much lower when asked to say what the appropriate penalty should be when faced with three typical scenario cases of murder and two scenarios of drug trafficking where the mandatory death penalty would be enforced. Only 12% of the total sample thought that the death penalty should be imposed on every one of the three murder cases and only 10% of both drug trafficking cases.

The research therefore exposed a disconnect between support for the mandatory death penalty in theory and when confronted with the reality of the law requiring its use in Singapore. Support for the death penalty in general was not as strong as the government has suggested. Although 72% said they were generally in favour only 9% said they were ‘strongly in favour of it’. The research also revealed that that the Singaporean public is poorly informed about the death penalty. Six out of ten said they knew ‘nothing or little about it’ and 80% said they rarely talked about the subject to others. Moreover, only one-third of those interviewed could give an estimate of the number of people executed in the last 10 years which was “more or less” correct. Only about one in five said they were ‘very interested or concerned’ about the issue, which was consistent with the findings in Malaysia, where the public were similarly uninformed about the death penalty and only 8% said they were ‘very concerned’ about the issue.

The Death Penalty Project has been commissioning, supporting and publishing independent academic research on public attitudes towards the death penalty for almost a decade. This research has consistently shown that, contrary to depictions of widespread popular support for the death penalty, the situation is often much more nuanced. Much lower support when faced with the reality of making life and death decisions, and a general lack of great concern about the death penalty suggests that there would be little public opposition to abolition. We hope that this study will encourage the Singaporean government to commit to further reform of the mandatory death penalty, ensuring that judges are granted full discretion over all capital cases, and will inspire policymakers to take the moral leadership in moving the country closer to abolition.

 

 

Notes to Editors

The report, Public Opinion on the Death Penalty in Singapore: Survey Findings (NUS Law Working Paper No. 2018/002) was published by the National University of Singapore. The authors are Wing Cheong Chan, Ern Ser Tan, Jack Tsen-Ta Lee and Braema Mathi. Roger Hood, Professor Emeritus of Criminology at Oxford University, was a consultant on the research and The Death Penalty Project also provided guidance and support to the authors.

Latest news

Privy Council clarifies the approach trial judges should adopt when explaining “intent” to juries in The Bahamas
Read More
International Women's Day Q&A: Women in Human Rights
Read More
Cayman News Service: UK court rules against closed-door legal hearing
Read More
Cayman Loop News - Justin Ramoon, sentenced for murder, gets go ahead for judicial review
Read More
PRESS RELEASE - Privy Council refuses to allow Cayman Government to hold secret hearings in prisoner transfer case
Read More
Cayman Compass - Privy Council rules against secret trial for exiled killers
Read More
Cayman Marl Road - Privy Council refuses secret hearings in Cayman prisoner transfer case
Read More
NEW op-ed: Time to scrap capital punishment in Taiwan
Read More
Privy Council: Appeal dismissed amidst serious disclosure failings
Read More
James Guthrie, impressive barrister whose work in the Privy Council included a string of landmark cases – obituary
Read More
LATEST OP-ED: Hoyle & Jabbar - Death penalty doesn’t deter crime
Read More
New article in Kenya's The Star: Death row convicts in Kenya not threatened by penalty – findings
Read More
PRESS RELEASE - New research exploring socio-economic profiles of Kenya’s death row prisoners
Read More
Kenyan prisoners on death row weren’t deterred by the threat of the death penalty: new research findings
Read More
The Death Penalty Project pays tribute to James Guthrie KC
Read More
London-based NGO to challenge lawfulness of Guyana’s death penalty at CCJ
Read More
PRESS RELEASE - Guyana’s Court of Appeal refuses to declare the death penalty unconstitutional
Read More
The Conversation: 'Why has Kenya not abolished the death penalty? Habit and inertia'
Read More
Political and legal issues: reflections on our report launch in Kenya, Nairobi
Read More

Stay up-to-date with our work