Presidential Clemency in Singapore

Last updated on January 21, 2019

Featured image for the "Presidential clemency in Singapore" article. It features a man holding on to blue prison bars with his left hand outstretched.

Presidential clemency, or presidential pardon, is an authority held by the President under the Singapore Constitution. It allows him, on Cabinet’s advice, to extend leniency towards those convicted of crimes upon receiving a petition for clemency.

Clemency is most commonly sought in respect of death sentences. However, it is rarely granted.

Clemency may be granted in the form of a remission of sentence, i.e. a full or partial reduction of an offender’s sentence. There are also other ways in which the President is empowered to show mercy. These depend on whether the offender petitioning for clemency is the principal offender, or an accomplice.

Can Principal Offenders Obtain Clemency?

The President has the ability to grant the following to offenders convicted of any offence in any court in Singapore:

  • Pardons: excusing the offender from having to serve his sentence. This pardon may be unconditional or be subject to certain lawful conditions.
  • Reprieves: a postponement of the execution of the offender’s sentence.
  • Respites: a suspension of the execution of the offender’s sentence.

Can Accomplices Obtain Clemency?

The President can also grant pardons (but not reprieves or respites) to accomplices. This is provided that these accomplices have given information which leads to the conviction of the offence’s principal offenders.

Presidential Clemency in Respect of Death Sentences

Presidential clemency is frequently sought by offenders who have been sentenced to death as a “last-ditch” attempt to avoid the gallows after all avenues of appeal have been exhausted.

Upon receiving a petition for clemency, the President requests the judges who tried the case to make reports on the case to him.

The President then forwards these reports to the Attorney-General (AG) and instructs the AG to send these reports, together with the AG’s opinion on them, to the Cabinet. This is so as to allow the Cabinet to advise the President whether the offender should be granted clemency.

Instances of Persons being Granted Presidential Clemency in Singapore

Mr Mathavakannan s/o Kalimuthu

Presidential clemency was granted to Mr Mathavakannan s/o Kalimuthu in 1998 by the late President Ong Teng Cheong.

Mr Kalimuthu had been sentenced to death on 27 November 1996 for committing murder with 2 others. Although all 3 offenders filed petitions for clemency, only Mr Kalimuthu’s was granted, with his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

The reasons for Mr Kalimuthu’s successful petition were not made public.

Anthony Ler’s teenage accomplice

In 2018, the then-teenage accomplice of Anthony Ler was granted presidential clemency by President Halimah Yacob after being detained at the President’s pleasure for 17 years.

The accomplice had been found guilty of murdering the wife of Anthony Ler in 2001. However as he was below 18 years old when he committed the crime, he was spared the death penalty and instead detained at the President’s pleasure in accordance with Singapore’s criminal laws then.

(Being detained at the President’s pleasure means to be imprisoned indefinitely until the offender is deemed to be suitable for release. In the meantime, the offender’s conduct in prison is periodically reviewed to determine whether they should be released.)

In 2017, his lawyer applied for clemency, which was granted after taking into consideration factors such as his good conduct, progress of rehabilitation and duration of sentence already served.

The accomplice’s release was subject to conditions, such as being subject to electronic monitoring and having to abide by curfew hours.

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