Singapore's cane can't restore justice


Restorative JusticeIf convicted on the drug charges he's facing, it's possible ABC journalist Peter Lloyd's prison sentence will be supplemented by up to 15 lashes of the cane.

Judicial caning was introduced to Singapore by the British. Thousands of male criminals are subject to the barbaric practice each year. The 1.2 metre long rattan cane is soaked in water before use to prevent it splitting and to make it more flexible. The caning is carried out in a single session, and it can lead to permanent scarring of the buttocks.

Amnesty International has condemned Singapore's caning procedures as 'cruel, inhuman and degrading'. They are specified in Singapore's criminal code for administration in conjunction with prison sentences, but also in widespread use in families and schools throughout the country.

Until relatively recently, many Australian parents and teachers used forms of corporal punishment. It is no longer socially acceptable, and legislation is slowly being introduced by various state governments to ban its use. But New Zealand's 'smacking' debate earlier this year demonstrated that there are some vociferous proponents close to home.

Until recent decades, parts of the Catholic education system were particularly noted for their use of corporal punishment. It was also the default means of administering justice in many families. Now teachers and parents struggle to find effective alternatives.

Most encouraging is the growing discussion of restorative justice. Some Catholic education offices are playing a leading role. This in itself is a form or restorative justice.

Restorative justice has a useful outcome, and focuses on the person involved, rather than the misdeed. It can replace or complement retributive justice. The offender sees the full impact of his or her crime, and the victim often receives some form of restitution, directly from the offender.

The Tasmanian Catholic Justice and Peace Commission recently issued a fact sheet on restorative justice. It quotes education consultant David Vinegrad's assertion that humans have always sat around a fire in groups and put their problem — rather than the perpetrator — in the centre. He says:

That's the way human beings are happy interacting with each other. When we don't, and we work punitively, we drive these kids into the subculture. They're the ones burning down our schools.

If Singapore's courts find that Peter Lloyd has been involved in drug use and trade, a caning would make him physically sore, and resentful of Singapore's justice system. In a better world, a form of restorative justice would give him the chance to do something practical towards countering the social ills that led to his actions.


Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.



Flickr image by Robby Garbett

Topic tags: peter lloyd, abc journalist, drug charges, singapore, cane, corporal punishment, restorative justice



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Existing comments

Having known Peter Lloyd in his childhood and during his years at St Gregory's College Campbelltown and knowing some of the value systems within his family, I can't help thinking that Peter is already paying mentally and this is the worst form of punishment, the mental regret and sorrow for any sins he may have committed both socially and against all his learnings. I agree wholeheartedly with your writings! God help him!

Genevieve Slattery | 28 July 2008  

So let's hope that the judge has a jar of Smarties on his bench and gives Peter Lloyd 15 of them! When people know the severe law in Singapore and flount it, then a damned good thrashing is better than a hanging.

philip herringer | 28 July 2008  

A bit of condign punishment does not prevent people from then going on to do 'something practical', IF they so CHOOSE. So what is the problem?

HUGH LARACY | 29 July 2008  

so let's all sit around a camp fire and blame the problem. really michael, don't criticise singapore's legal system when ours is an absolute joke. and i'm sick of hearing about "this barbaric practice" i don't hear any of you saying that what happened to anita cobby was barbaric, what about her right to life.

geet | 01 September 2008  

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