No need for three judges to sit in trials for capital cases: Shanmugam

A person who is sentenced to death but does not appeal must still have a confirmation hearing held by the Court of Appeal, which will have at least three judges, said Mr K. Shanmugam.
A person who is sentenced to death but does not appeal must still have a confirmation hearing held by the Court of Appeal, which will have at least three judges, said Mr K. Shanmugam.ST FILE PHOTO

There is no need for cases involving the death penalty to be tried by a court of three judges since every capital case will eventually come before the appeals court, which will comprise at least three justices, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in Parliament yesterday, responding to a suggestion from an MP.

During the debate on the budget for the Law Ministry (MinLaw), Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) had asked whether Singapore should consider having three judges sit in trials for capital cases. Mr de Souza said trial judges had an important role in deciding questions of fact, which appellate courts seldom disturbed.

Historically, he said, capital offences were the last category of cases in Singapore to be tried by jury and, later, by two trial judges.

He asked if the ministry would be open to studying whether it would be beneficial for the criminal justice system for capital cases to be heard by three High Court judges.

Mr Shanmugam replied: "We haven't yet seen a need to review this. But it does not mean 'no'."

He told the House that since 2012, a person who is sentenced to death but chooses not to appeal must still have a confirmation hearing held by the Court of Appeal.

"That ensures that the imposition of the capital punishment is always reviewed by the apex court of at least three judges. So there is already a two-level process with at least three Judges of Appeal looking at the matter," added Mr Shanmugam.

In his speech, he also announced claim limits in the Small Claims Tribunals will be raised this year.

Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) had said he hoped MinLaw would review the jurisdiction of the tribunals so that more people can have economical and expedient orders and judgment in their contractual claims. Currently, the tribunals hear claims of up to $10,000. This can be raised to $20,000 by consent from both parties.

Mr Tay noted that many professional freelancers who are on a contract for service use the tribunals when they are not paid for work rendered. Raising the claim limits would be a boon for claimants and freelance workers alike, he said.

In response, Mr Shanmugam said amendments will be introduced this year to allow claims of a higher value. He said it is hoped that this would allow claims at the tribunals to be resolved in a quick and cost-effective manner.

When Mr Tay asked the minister for further details, Mr Shanmugam replied: "In good time."


Selina Lum

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2018, with the headline 'No need for three judges to sit in trials for capital cases: Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe