Bristol Law student enters debate on capital punishment
1 November 2006
Gabe Tan, a student in the School of Law and a Student Representative at the University of Bristol Innocence Project, contributed a letter to Straits Times in Singapore arguing against capital punishment.
Gabe Tan, a student in the School of Law and a Student Representative at the University of Bristol Innocence Project, contributed a letter to Straits Times in Singapore arguing against capital punishment. The letter, citing the case of Took Leng How, appeared in the online edition of Straits Times and has been reproduced in several blogs.
Gabe Tan’s letter has now been archived in the pay-to-access section of Straits Times Interactive, but the full text of her letter appears below.
Is it time to rethink the issue of capital punishment?
I am writing in response to the imminent execution of Took Leng How, who was found guilty of killing eight-year-old Huang Na on 10 October 2004 and was given the death sentence on 26 August 2005 after a 13-day trial.
While the execution seems inevitable, I hope to highlight the risk of wrongful executions and the wider implications of the death penalty on the family and the community.
We should rethink our position on a form of a punishment that is deemed 'barbaric' and 'unconstitutional' by a majority in the world today.
In the UK, cases such as Timothy Evans and Derek Bentley in the 1960s highlighted the susceptibility of the criminal justice system to human errors and the risk of wrongful executions.
Similarly, in the US, the 123 exonerations since 1973 have led to the abolition of the death penalty in several states. John Ballard's exoneration in Florida last February is a reminder that wrongful convictions and executions are not problems of the past.
Rather, it is a consequence of a legal process which cannot guarantee that all guilty people will be convicted and all innocent people will be acquitted.
In the case of Took, the fact that the judges were divided on whether Took is 'guilty beyond reasonable doubt' is a good illustration of the uncertainties inherent in the process of obtaining a conviction.
Despite the uncertainties and reservations the court had, the entire trial process from conviction to the date of the forthcoming execution in Took's case is swift.
In the US, the long custodial sentence, sometimes for decades, prior to the execution date have led to numerous exonerations due to fresh evidence surfacing while the prisoner is on death row.
Perhaps, more important is the impact of a death sentence on the family and loved ones of the prisoners on death row.
While little research has been done to assess the impact of state executions on the children of executed prisoners or prisoners on death row, studies on children of incarcerated parents have shown that the children can suffer from psychological and emotional problems because of it.
There is a need for our criminal justice system to acknowledge the impact of parental executions on children and the effects of state executions on the family.
Took's case is an illustration of the futility of the death penalty. While the severity of the crime of murder has to be acknowledged, I am doubtful of capital punishment's deterrent effect on cases like Took's that are often crimes of passion or a tragic result of an untreated mental illness.
While I respect the court's decision, the imposition of the death sentence in this case can only result in a loss of a father, son and husband to his family.
Gabe Tan Si Han (Miss)