Murder and manslaughter both result in the taking of a life, but the perpetrator’s intention and the circumstances of the event can reduce a charge of murder to manslaughter. In Singapore, manslaughter is called culpable homicide.
The appropriate classification of an offence will depend upon the perpetrator’s intention and the circumstances surrounding the execution of the act.
Penalties for either crime in Singapore are severe, with the death penalty applicable in the most serious cases.
Both murder and culpable homicide can also be prosecuted on an attempted basis, plus there are also other crimes such as causing death by a rash or negligent act.
How many murders occur in Singapore?
When compared to the rest of the world murder and manslaughter in Singapore is extremely rare. According to official statistics from the Police Force there was only 7 murders in 2022 with this figure rarely getting into double figures since the data started to be reported back in 2011. Whilst we’d all love to see this figure at 0, there is no doubt that this low volume is a credit to Singapore and ranks it level with Japan for the lowest murder rates in the world.
What is the crime of murder in Singapore?
Section 300 of the Penal Code in Singapore defines murder which can occur in one of four ways:
An act with the intention to cause death
There must be clear evidence of both the act of murder and the perpetrator’s intention.
An act with the intention of causing bodily injury to a specific person that is likely to lead to death
A clear example of this is severely assaulting an elderly person and leaving them alone without emergency care and support.
Another scenario could be knowing that an individual has a particular health condition which makes them vulnerable and assaulting them, injuring them, or committing another act likely to lead to their death.
Done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person which would, in the normal course of events, lead to death
The action might not be accompanied by an intention on the part of the perpetrator that the victim should die, but in the ordinary course of events, following this particular action, death is likely to occur.
Shooting someone in the chest would ordinarily lead to death; the fact that the gunman didn’t intend that person to die doesn’t reduce the offence to a lesser charge of culpable homicide.
An act which is so dangerous that it would, on the balance of probabilities, lead to death, and the perpetrator is aware of this even if they have not formed the intention to kill
A gunman shooting indiscriminately into a crowd of people does not intend to kill specific people, but the act is so dangerous that clearly, some of the people are likely to die because of suffering injuries that lead to their death.
What is manslaughter in Singapore? – culpable homicide
In Singapore, manslaughter is called culpable homicide and is governed by Section 299 of the Penal Code. This is when a death has occurred at the hands of the accused, but it cannot be proven that it falls within the four legal classifications for murder.
A charge of murder can be reduced to culpable homicide if the defence can show exceptions to the charge.
Section 299 still requires an intention to cause death or an intent to cause injury likely to lead to death or knowledge that the perpetrator’s actions are likely to cause death, to support a charge of culpable homicide.
Here are the exceptions which can reduce a charge of murder to culpable homicide.
- Grave and sudden provocation from the victim towards the perpetrator resulting in a loss of self-control by the latter.
- An act committed in self-defence by the perpetrator to protect themselves or their property.
- A public servant or someone helping a public servant acting in good faith and believing their actions to be lawful and necessary as part of the discharge of their duty.
- A heat-of-the-moment act without premeditation and without the perpetrator taking advantage of the victim, and with no cruel or unusual behaviour.
- The victim agreed to death at the hands of the perpetrator and accepted the risk of a particular act in full knowledge of the consequences. The victim must be over the age of eighteen.
- Committing an act which leads to death whilst the balance of the perpetrator’s mind is disturbed.
- Committing an act resulting in death whilst suffering from a mental condition means the perpetrator is not responsible for his acts and omissions.
The penalties for murder
Murder in Singapore is punishable by the death penalty under Section 302(1) of the Penal Code if the intention is shown the perpetrator intended to kill.
However, if the category of murder is one of the remaining three classifications, other than an act with the intention to cause death, the court has the discretion to sentence offenders to life imprisonment and caning as an alternative.
This is a loosening of the sentencing protocols, which before 2012 required any murder under the four classifications contained in Section 300 to lead to an inevitable penalty of death.
Sentencing considerations for the court
If the court has the option to impose a sentence of life imprisonment but feels this would outrage the community because of the nature of the offence, then they will pass sentence with the death penalty.
Factors like a particularly vicious assault or a blatant disregard for human life are likely to be pivotal in swaying a court to award the imposition of the death penalty instead of life imprisonment.
The penalties for culpable homicide
Punishments vary from life imprisonment and caning to imprisonment of fifteen to twenty years, and either a fine or caning.
Caning can be a punishment option for the court. However, certain restrictions may prevent the imposition of caning as part of a punishment.
Caning can only be used as a penalty for men up to fifty years old. If they are not deemed medically fit, caning cannot be part of any penalty imposed by the court.
Final thoughts on murder and manslaughter in Singapore
Legal representation is essential for people charged with a capital offence. Those who cannot afford a lawyer will be automatically assigned free legal counsel under the Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences (LASCO). This scheme is not means tested, or the subject of eligibility criteria.
For non-capital offences, accused parties can choose to represent themselves. However, because of the possibility of severe penalties, it is usually a better option to choose professional legal representation to clarify the accused’s rights and obligations, plus help prepare the best possible defence.
Frequently asked questions
Are there specific categories of people who can avoid the death penalty after a successful murder conviction?
Convicted murderers under the age of 18 will not receive the death penalty. The other exception is pregnant women. Both categories of offenders will have their sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
Is culpable homicide the same as manslaughter?
Many common law countries have an offence of manslaughter which is the taking of a life but without the intention to commit murder. In Singapore, this offence is called culpable homicide and is the same as manslaughter.
What is the crime of attempted murder?
If murder is attempted, but the victim survives, the perpetrator can be charged under Section 307 of the Penal Code if there is a clear and evident intention to cause death.
The likely penalties depend on whether the victim has suffered injuries or hurt. In the absence of any injury, the offender can expect a prison term of up to fifteen years, plus a fine.
If there is evidence of hurt, the offender may receive a sentence of up to twenty years in prison, a fine, and/or caning. The court also has the option for a full life sentence, plus caning.
Is there an offence of attempted culpable homicide?
Section 308 of the Penal Code details the offence of attempting to commit culpable homicide. There must be an act with the intention to cause death.
Penalties include prison sentences ranging from seven to fifteen years, a fine, caning, or any combination of these, depending on whether hurt has been caused to the victim.
What is the offence of causing death by a rash or negligent act?
In Singapore, killing another person is usually covered by the offence of murder or culpable homicide. However, Section 304A of the Penal Code details the crime of causing death by an act that is either rash or negligent.
Section 26E of the Penal Code explains what it means to commit an act rashly. It is when someone commits an action knowing that there is a risk a particular scenario will occur, or it is already evident, but that person takes the risk anyway when it is unreasonable to do so.
Section 26F defines the concept of negligence as doing something a reasonable person wouldn’t do, or omitting to do an act a reasonable person would do.
A charge and conviction for causing death by a rash act is a prison term of up to five years, a fine, or both. Causing death by a negligent act results in a lesser sentence of up to two years in prison, a fine, or both.
What is a capital offence?
A capital offence is an offence with a maximum punishment of the death penalty.