Murder and Manslaughter in Singapore

A person will face severe punishment if they take a life. It does not matter if they had the intention, were negligent, or reckless to the potential consequences of their actions.

Murder is one of the thirty-three offences which attract the death penalty in Singapore. A perpetrator may succeed in having their murder charge reduced to Singapore’s equivalent of manslaughter.

What is murder?

Murder is when someone intentionally causes the death of another person. It is also murder if that person should have known their acts were likely to cause serious injury or death.

Section 300 of Singapore’s Penal Code states that it is murder when a person causes the death of another with:

a) the intention of causing death;

Example: X, a hitman, shoots and kills Y, their target.

b) the intention of causing bodily injury and knowing or ought to have known that the injury is likely to cause death;

Example: X knows Y suffers from a severe peanut allergy which could kill her. X sneaks peanuts into Y’s sandwich. Y has an allergic reaction and dies.

c) the intention of causing a bodily injury which is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death (usually determined based on objective medical evidence);

Example: X and Y are drinking alcohol and start arguing. X stabs Y in the stomach. Y dies in hospital.

d) the knowledge that what you are doing is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death;

Example: X sets fire to his warehouse to commit insurance fraud. Y was in the warehouse working. Y died in the fire.

It is also murder if the offender did not intend to kill the actual victim but intended to kill someone else. For instance, if X, the hitman, shoots at Y, but hits Z and kills Z.

A person may face a charge of attempted murder under section 307 of the Penal Code. Attempted murder is when a person commits an act intending to cause the death of another person.

Attempted murder is treated in two categories when a court considers sentencing a perpetrator. They are distinguished by whether harm was caused or not.

How Singapore treats murder

Murder attracts the most severe punishment, the death penalty.

The death penalty is mandatory if the perpetrator, convicted of murder, intended to kill their victim (as outlined in (a) above).

But the death penalty is discretionary if the perpetrator is convicted of murder whilst having any other state of mind. A court may instead decide to imprison for life with caning. Caning applies to males up to the age of 50 years old. They are exempt from caning if they are deemed medically unfit.

Someone convicted of murder will not receive the death penalty if they are under the age of 18 or if they are a pregnant woman. They will receive life imprisonment instead.

Those convicted of attempted murder face sentencing according to whether they caused harm to the victim. If the perpetrator does not cause injury, they could face 15 years in prison and a fine.

If the perpetrator caused harm, they could face a sentence of either life imprisonment and caning; or 20 years imprisonment and a fine and/or caning.

You cannot plead guilty to an offence that carries the death penalty. So, you cannot plead guilty to murder. You cannot be granted bail for a charge punishable by death or life imprisonment.

You may be granted bail for life sentences or lower. But, due to the severity of these offences, most offenders are never granted bail and are remanded, pending trial. 

What might get a murder charge reduced?

A person could be cleared of a charge of murder if they were acting in private defence (self-defence). The act must be proportionate to the risk of harm they would likely suffer. For example, if X tried to stab Y with a knife, it would be proportionate for Y to use life-threatening force against X.

There are exceptions that may reduce a murder charge to a culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

These usually cover situations where the perpetrator has a psychiatric illness or disorder at the time of the killing. And for compassionate reasons, such as if a wife is beaten by her husband for prolonged periods.

The prosecution may determine challenges against the elements of a murder charge. They may therefore offer reduced sentencing in exchange for a plea of guilt.

Public interest factors will also be considered. These include age, the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, psychiatric issues, and the possible sentence.

What is manslaughter?

Manslaughter is an offence in common law countries. It is the unlawful killing of someone without the intention to kill. Although there is less blame, there is still fault on the perpetrator’s side. It is manslaughter when there is an element of recklessness or negligence rather than an intention to kill.

Singapore’s equivalent of manslaughter

Singapore does not have a criminal offence of manslaughter. But they have something similar; culpable homicide not amounting to murder and causing death by a rash or negligent act.

Culpable homicide not amounting to murder

Culpable homicide, not amounting to murder, is where the perpetrator causes the death of another. This is with the intention of causing bodily injury likely to cause death. Or the knowledge that their act was likely to cause death.

Although it is like the criteria for murder, the perpetrator’s culpability is less than murder as the act carried out was less likely to cause death.

All intentional killing amounts to culpable homicide. But not all killings amount to murder. There may be some partial defence to the killing where the perpetrator should not face a conviction as severe as murder.

There are several partial defences to murder which reduce an offence to culpable homicide not amounting to murder:

  • Consent if the victim was 18 years or older and consented to the risk of death.
  • Exceeding the power of a public servant is where the perpetrator is a public servant who exceeded their powers. They must have acted in good faith.
  • Exceeding private defence is where the force used in private defence (aka self-defence) is excessive or unreasonable.
  • Diminished responsibility is where the perpetrator may have had a mental impairment at the time. This must have affected their ability to form a rational judgement and/or exercise self-control.
  • Infanticide is where a mother kills her child under 12 months old.
  • Provocation is where the perpetrator is provoked by the victim, and he becomes angry and suddenly loses self-control.
  • A sudden fight may be relied upon only if they did not take advantage or behave cruelly over the victim.

If you are found guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, you could receive imprisonment for life with caning. Or up to 20 years imprisonment with a fine and/or caning. This is likely if death occurs with the intention to cause death or bodily injury likely to cause death.

You may receive up to 10 years imprisonment, a fine, and/or caning if death is caused with the knowledge that the act was likely to cause death. But, without any intention to cause death or bodily injury serious enough to cause death.

A person may be found guilty of attempting to commit culpable homicide.

If no harm is caused, you can face imprisonment for up to 7 years and/or fined. If harm was caused, you could receive 15 years imprisonment, a fine, caning, or any combination.

Causing death by a rash or negligent act

Causing death by a rash act is where the perpetrator was aware of the risk that death or injury could occur, which they disregarded. Courts use a subjective test to assess what they believe went through the perpetrator’s mind at the time.

A person may be imprisoned for up to 5 years and fined for causing death by a rash act.

Causing death by a negligent act is where the perpetrator has failed to take reasonable care to avoid causing death or injury. The standard of reasonableness is what the ordinary person would do in the same situation.

A person may be imprisoned for up to 2 years and fined for causing death by a negligent act.

If accused of unlawfully causing a death

You will be assigned free legal counsel if you are charged with murder and cannot afford a lawyer under the Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences.

You may instruct our lawyers or represent yourself for other offences that do not carry the death penalty. However, due to the severe penalties involved, we advise that you contact us to allow us to assist.

Should you require legal representation, kindly contact PKWA Law for a free first consultation with one of our lawyers.

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Sabrina Chau

Family Law and Criminal Law

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