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Baying for a pound of flesh – and more

By Andrew Loh Can you take the life of someone, anyone, based on dubious arguments alone? It seems you can, from what our ministers said in Parliament recently on the changes to the mandatory death penalty. The amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), which Parliament approved, mean that drug traffickers can now be given the alternative sentence of life imprisonment and a minimum 15 strokes of the cane, instead of the death penalty. This sentence, however, is subject to two stringent conditions, as DPM Teo Chee Hean explained in Parliament in July: “First, the trafficker must have only played the role of courier, and must not have been involved in any other activity related to the supply or distribution of drugs. Second, discretion will only apply if having satisfied this first requirement, either the trafficker has cooperated with the Central Narcotics Bureau in a substantive way, or he has a mental disability which substantially impairs his appreciation of the gravity of the act.” These stipulations by themselves raise many questions, some of which have been asked by MPs and which are left unanswered. For example, NMP Lawrence Lien raised an important point about punishment: “This ‘substantive assistance’ standard…