The Court of Appeal of Singapore has dismissed a challenge to the mandatory death penalty, in Yong Yi Kong v. Public Prosecutor, which was issued yesterday. The applicant had been sentenced to death following conviction for trafficking in about 50 grams of morphine. There is now much general authority in human rights law for the impermissibility of the mandatory death penalty under any circumstances, even in the case of conviction for murder. Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights authorizes the death penalty only for 'the most serious crimes'. By removing discretion from a sentencing judge, a mandatory death penalty allows for the possibility of capital punishment in the case of crimes that do not meet such a standard. The United Nations Safeguards on the use of capital punishment hold that the phrase 'most serious crimes' refers to crimes with lethal or other grave consequences.
The judges distinguish the law in Singapore from that in other common law jurisdictions, where mandatory death penalties have been struck down, by noting that Singapore's constitution does not prohibit 'inhuman punishment'. There are many references to international human rights law, and to customary international law, in this unfortunate judgment, which concludes that there is no norm of customary international law prohibiting the mandatory death penalty.