Caning in Singapore often leads to lively debate. Recently, the discussion centred around whether the current exemption for men above 50 years old should be lifted for sex offences against children.
Those arguing for lifting the exemption say that caning was inherited from British rules that were applicable in an era when the life expectancy for men was around 48 years. These days, it is argued that men in their 50s can be as fit or fitter than their younger counterparts. It was proposed to parliament that each case be evaluated to determine if the offender is medically fit for caning instead of having a cut-off age.
Those opposing lifting the age limit argue the courts can impose an additional term of imprisonment of up to 12 months instead of caning if the offender is over 50.
Some strongly feel that caning is ineffective anyway and should be replaced by longer terms of imprisonment. Others oppose caning as a form of punishment altogether.
Whatever your views for or against caning, as the law stands currently, the Singapore Criminal Procedure Code 2010 provides for judicial caning as a sentence and makes it applicable to more than 30 offences.
This article will examine the legal basis for judicial caning, the offences it applies to, who it applies to, exemptions, and the procedures. We will also touch on prison, school, and parental caning as corporal punishment.
Caning under the Criminal Procedure Code
Judicial caning is regulated by Sections 325 to 332 of the Criminal Procedure Act.
Under these sections of the Code, male offenders younger than 50 can be caned for specific offences if a doctor certifies they are in good health.
An accused may be sentenced to a maximum of 24 strokes per trial. So even if the accused is convicted of 2 or more offences in the same trial, the sentence may not exceed 24 strokes.
If the accused could have been sentenced to caning exceeding 24 strokes, had the matters been heard separately, the court may impose a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months instead of the strokes that would exceed the caning limit.
This term of imprisonment (instead of strokes) can be imposed over and above the maximum prison sentence for the offence. So, the total prison time may exceed the maximum prescribed for the offence.
If the sentences are imposed in two separate trials, each sentence may be up to 24 strokes, although this seldom happens.
In the case of a juvenile, the maximum number of strokes is ten strokes with a light cane. Males under 16 may only be sentenced to caning by the High Court, not the lower courts.
Are certain accused exempted from caning?
Yes, Section 325 of the Code stipulates that the following persons may not be caned.
- Men over 50 years old
- Men sentenced to death whose sentences have not been commuted
What offences are punishable by caning?
Caning can be imposed for various offences, ranging from violent crimes to vandalism.
These offences include:
- Sexual offences such as:
- Public order offences such as:
- Joining an unlawful assembly whilst armed with a deadly weapon
- The sale or importing of fireworks – the Hazardous Fireworks Act stipulates that the manager or owner of a company that imports or sells dangerous fireworks must be caned.
- Weapons offences such as:
- Unlawful possession of arms or ammunition
- Trafficking in arms
- Robbery and other property offences
- Drugs offences
- Drug abuse
- Drug-trafficking-related crimes where the death penalty does not apply
- Immigration offences, such as:
- Overstaying your visa in Singapore or entering without a visa
- Knowingly employing illegal immigrants
- Financial offences such as:
- Unlicensed money lending
- Offences against the person:
- Murder, where not sentenced to death
- Kidnapping or hostage-taking offences, including:
- Knowingly receiving ransom
The above offences are examples, but the list is not exhaustive. For some of these offences, caning is compulsory. In some cases, there is also a mandatory minimum number of strokes.
For other offences, the court has discretion on whether to impose caning. In many cases, the courts do not impose caning, even where they have the authority to do so.
Judicial caning procedure
Caning happens in prison – never in public.
If a person is sentenced to caning only, or the caning cannot be carried out before the person’s release from prison, Section 326 provides that the Public Prosecutor can apply to the court to authorise the detention of the person for as long as is reasonably necessary to carry out the caning. The court will direct the place and the time for the caning. The offender is not given any prior notice of when he will be caned.
Section 327 of the Act provides that when a person is sentenced to caning in addition to imprisonment, the caning may only take place after the time to file a notice of appeal has expired, or if notice is given after the appeal is determined. After the notice period expires or the appeal is determined, the caning must be imposed as soon as is practicable.
In the presence of a medical officer
Caning can only be carried out if a medical officer is present and certifies the offender is in a fit state of health to receive caning.
In one session
The caning sentence must be carried out in one session – it cannot be carried out in instalments. If the medical officer certifies during the caning that the person is not in a fit state of health to continue with the caning, it must stop.
Suppose the caning is stopped or never imposed due to the medical officer’s certificate. In that case, the offender is kept in prison until the sentence can be revised by the court who imposed it. The court may impose a penalty of up to 12 months imprisonment to make up for the unfinished strokes, or where the person was certified medically unfit to receive any strokes.
Can foreign citizens be caned in Singapore?
Yes, when it comes to criminal activity, Singapore treats locals and foreigners the same. A foreigner can face caning like any local male offender if convicted of a serious crime that warrants caning under Singapore law.
In 1994, the caning of an 18-year-old American citizen, Michael Fay, for vandalism attracted worldwide publicity.
Even if a prisoner was not sentenced to caning by the court, he can be caned if he commits a serious offence whilst serving his sentence.
It includes offences such as involvement with prison gangs, attempting to escape, destruction of prison property, and assault.
The caning of male pupils is allowed in Singapore’s primary and secondary schools under the education regulations. Schools are given guidelines by the Ministry of Education, and the school’s senior management can decide whether to adopt caning in their school.
If applied, the school can determine their own rules within the parameters of the guidelines. During enrolment, the rules must be communicated to the students and the parent body. It must also be included in the student handbook, on the school’s website, and communicated to the parents at meetings and in letters. Typically, school caning consists of one to three strokes.
Caning in school should always be accompanied by counselling and follow-up guidance.
Only the principal or someone with the principal’s express authority may inflict caning at school. It is usually seen as a last resort and only for serious offences.
It is not illegal to cane your child in Singapore. However, it must not cross the line between acceptable punishment and abuse. It must be in a controlled manner to discipline the child – not in rage.
If in doubt, the court will look at each case and ask the following questions:
- Did the caning cause unnecessary pain or injury?
- Was it proportional to the child’s behaviour?
- How old is the child?
- How frequently is the child caned?
- Did it cause harm to the child’s health or development?
- Did it cause emotional injury?
If the child suffers physical or emotional trauma because of parental caning, the parent can be prosecuted for abuse.
Although strongly criticised by some for its caning policies, caning does not violate anything in Singapore’s Constitution. Singapore is also not a signatory to any existing human rights treaties prohibiting caning.
While caning as a form of corporal punishment is still part of Singapore law, it is essential to understand the law and your rights around caning. If you are faced with an offence that carries caning as a form of punishment, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.
In many instances, the punishment or the number of strokes is discretionary, and an experienced lawyer can help you navigate the process to get the best outcome for your case.