Ong Ah Chuan v The Public Prosecutor: PC 1980

(Singapore) It was asked whether the mandatory death sentence for trafficking in more than 15 grammes of heroin was unconstitutional. The appellant submitted that the mandatory nature of the sentence rendered it arbitrary, since it debarred the court in punishing offenders from discriminating between them according to their individual blameworthiness. This was said to be contrary to the requirement in article 9(1) of the Constitution that a person might only be deprived of life ‘in accordance with law’. Rejecting this argument, Lord Diplock said there was nothing unusual in a capital sentence being mandatory and that its efficacy as a deterrent might be to some extent diminished if it were not. The committee considered the nature of specific intent: ‘In a crime of specific intent where the difference between it and some lesser offence is the particular purpose with which an act, in itself unlawful, was done, it borders on the fanciful to suggest that a law offends against some fundamental rule of natural justice because it provides that upon the prosecution’s proving that certain acts consistent with that purpose and in themselves unlawful were done by the accused, the court shall infer that they were in part done for that purpose unless there is evidence adduced which on the balance of probabilities suffices to displace the inference. The purpose with which he did an act is peculiarly within the knowledge of the accused. There is nothing unfair in requiring him to satisfy the court that he did the acts for some less heinous purposed if such be the fact . . ‘
References: [1981] AC 648, [1980] 3 WLR 855, [1981] Crim LR 245
Judges: Lord Diplock
This case is cited by:

  • Cited – Regina v Daniel CACD 22-Mar-2002
    The defendant appealed a conviction for hiding assets from her receiver following her bankruptcy. He said that recent case law suggested that the burden of establishing the defence under section 352 was evidential only.
    Held: The conviction . .
    (Times 08-Apr-02, , [2002] EWCA Crim 959, [2003] 1 Cr App R 99)
  • Cited – Watson v Regina PC 7-Jul-2004
    (Jamaica) The defendant was convicted of two murders from the same incident. The Act provided for the death penalty if he was convicted of a second murder. He appealed the death sentence in the circumstances, and said also that it was . .
    (, [2004] UKPC 34, Times 14-Jul-04, , , [2005] 1 AC 472)
  • Cited – Reyes v The Queen PC 11-Mar-2002
    (Belize) The Criminal Code of Belize provided that any murder by shooting was to be treated as Class A Murder, and be subject to the mandatory death penalty. The applicant having been convicted, appealed saying this was inhuman or degrading . .
    (, Times 21-Mar-02, , [2002] 2 AC 235, [2002] UKPC 11, [2002] 2 WLR 1034, 12 BHRC 219, [2002] 2 Cr App R 16)

These lists may be incomplete.
Last Update: 27 November 2020; Ref: scu.184322