SINGAPORE: The decision to commit to not caning suspected bank robber David Roach was a “fairly obvious” choice between letting him go off scot-free or getting him back to face a trial, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Thursday (Feb 22).
In July 2016 the Canadian, 28, allegedly entered a Standard Chartered branch, handed a teller a piece of paper with a threat scrawled on, and made off with around S$30,000 cash.
He flew to Bangkok where he was caught and sentenced to 14 months in prison in June last year for failing to declare the S$30,450 he brought into Thailand in July 2016. Upon completion of his jail term last month, Thailand deported Roach to Canada but he was held en route by authorities in London.
Singapore has sought his extradition - which Roach is contesting - on one count of robbery and one count of money laundering. The former offence carries at least six strokes of the cane.
On Feb 20, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced the Singapore Government would accede to the UK’s request to not carry out corporal punishment should Roach be found guilty of robbery.
Following this, online comments questioned why this was being allowed to happen. Some Channel NewsAsia readers queried whether Singapore’s laws were being “manipulated” by other countries or if justice was being “compromised”. Some people decried Roach’s exemption from caning as “unfair” and an instance of “special treatment”.
But Mr Shanmugam said: “I think the vast majority of people understand what’s happened in this case. He was outside jurisdiction, he was in Thailand, he was allowed to leave Thailand, and we don’t have an extradition arrangement with Thailand. Then he went through the UK, which is part of the Commonwealth, and we were entitled to make a request because there are extradition arrangements with many Commonwealth countries.”
“The UK will not extradite him unless Singapore gives an undertaking not to cane,” he explained. “There are certain punishments which different countries impose, which the extraditing country may not agree with, or it doesn’t exist (there). In the UK, there is no corporal punishment, so they will not extradite to a country which has corporal punishment.”
Mr Shanmugam then pointed out that the Roach decision was not unprecedented. “In the past, there have been cases where the extraditing country does not have the death penalty and therefore they will not extradite unless the requesting country gives an undertaking not to impose the death penalty,” he said.
In 2002, Michael McCrea escaped to Australia after killing his Singaporean driver and the latter’s girlfriend. The Briton was extradited on condition he would not face the death penalty if convicted of murder. He later pleaded guilty to culpable homicide and was sentenced to 24 years in jail.
“FACE SOME MUSIC, IF NOT ALL”
In Roach’s case, MHA could have worked with the Attorney-General's Chambers and other Government bodies to arrive at the decision, criminal lawyers in Singapore suggested.
“British authorities may have made a song and dance about them not releasing Roach unless there is an assurance he isn’t caned,” said Gino Hardial Singh, head of criminal litigation at Eugene Thuraisingam LLP. “I’m sure diplomacy requires that we maintain good relations and at the same time get what we want.”
Said Mr Shanmugam: “You have a choice: You can either say ‘OK, I will not give an undertaking’ - in which case he will not be extradited and he will go off to lead his life in Canada or wherever else. Or we can say we will give the undertaking not to cane, but he will come back to face all the other punishments if he is convicted.
“So I think we have to decide which is the better option for us.”
Mr Sunil Sudheesan, head of criminal law at Quahe Woo & Palmer, reasoned: “Would people rather he not return to Singapore, and escape fully? Obviously not. He should come back and face some music, if not all.
“If the UK says they cannot release him unless Singapore gives assurance, then we unfortunately have no choice,” he added. “A compromise won’t make everybody happy - but the position Singapore has to take now, is to get him back.”
“MHA’s assurance was to avoid a greater injustice,” said Abraham Vergis of Providence Law Asia. “That of not being able to extradite Roach and try him under Singapore laws.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Roach’s fate now forks in two possible directions, according to Mr Vergis, who suggested that in the first instance, the Canadian may be charged with a “lesser” or reduced offence for which caning is not mandatory.
But Mr Singh said: “There cannot be another charge preferred in place of section 392. There isn’t another section which prescribes a lesser term … I would imagine a decree will have to be passed that Roach isn’t caned.”
Section 392 of the Penal Code spells out the punishment for robbery: Imprisonment for at least two years and no more than 10 years, along with the aforementioned minimum six strokes of the cane.
The second option for Roach is to be charged under this section, but with the sentence of caning remitted by the President, said Mr Vergis. He pointed to the infamous 1994 case of Michael Fay, whose caning sentence for vandalism was reduced by the President from six to four strokes after an appeal by then-US president Bill Clinton.
Said Mr Sudheesan: “I believe it will remain a robbery charge … with jail and caning imposed. And the court must order caning, if caning is mandatory.
“So in Roach’s case, his caning will likely be later remitted by the President, on advice of the Cabinet.”