High Court dismisses M’sian death row prisoners’ application for stay of execution, protection order for former SPS officer

Datchinamurthy s/o Kataiah and Gobi s/o Avedian's Singapore lawyer M Ravi said on Fri (14 Feb) that his clients will be bringing their case to the Court of Appeal

The High Court on Thu (14 Feb) dismissed the application of two Malaysian death row prisoners to halt their execution and for the court to grant a mandatory protection order for a former Singapore Prison Services (SPS) officer who is willing to testify regarding their case.

Judge Valerie Thean, in setting aside the application, reasoned that media reports such as the statement made by Malaysian human rights group Lawyers For Liberty — which Datchinamurthy s/o Kataiah and Gobi s/o Avedian had relied upon in an affidavit — “are not reliable evidence” to be used in judicial proceedings.

Touching on the application for the mandatory order for the former SPS officer against civil and criminal liability the A-G and the Home Affairs Minister, the judge noted that Mr M Ravi had accepted “in his written submissions that the court cannot compel the Minister or the AG not to prefer charges”, but to instead compel them to consider using their discretion to grant immunity

“I note that the AG has exercised his discretion,” she said, adding that there is “no basis in law to impose a duty on the Minister” to consider granting immunity in such a way.

In a copy of the application, filed on 28 Jan and seen by TOC the next day, the two Malaysian detainees sought a stay of execution on the basis that there is “an imminent risk” of undergoing execution that is not “in accordance with law” should the recent allegations of brutality in judicial executions be true.

The mandatory protection order for the former SPS officer against criminal and civil liabilities, according to the document, was sought by the plaintiffs “to enable him to provide the necessary information” in support of their application.

Mr Datchinamurthy and Mr Gobi were convicted on drug trafficking charges separately, and were sentenced to death in 2015 and 2018 respectively.

M’sian death row prisoners’ application “a clear case of abuse of process”, allegations based on “hearsay”: A-G’s representatives

In calling for the dismissal of Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy’s application, Deputy Senior State Counsel Wong Woon Kwong argued that the mandatory order sought by the two death row prisoners for the former SPS officer is “fundamentally flawed”.

Citing Borissik Svetlana v Urban Redevelopment Authority — in which it was decided “unequivocally” that the Court “cannot, by mandatory order, direct any public body or anybody else” to “perform their duty” in a certain manner — the A-G’s representatives argued that “the AG’s discretion should not be unduly fettered”.

The death row prisoners, they argued, at most had the right to seek a mandatory order for the A-G to consider granting immunity to the former SPS officer, not a mandatory order to compel the Court to instruct the A-G to grant such an order.

Touching on the A-G’s decision to not grant the former SPS officer immunity, the A-G’s representatives said: “The Applicants have not shown how the decision not to grant immunity would directly contravene their constitutional rights, or why immunity is necessary in this situation apart from the fact that the former SPS officer just wants it.”

The A-G’s representatives also argued that Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy had failed to exhaust all legal means available to them prior to seeking the mandatory protection order for the former SPS officer, as the two death row prisoners “had never approached the AG or the Minister to grant such immunity” to said officer.

“The AG’s decision not to grant immunity was only made after proceedings were commenced,” said the A-G’s representatives.

The A-G’s representatives also reiterated the Government’s stance that contrary to the allegations made in Mr Datchinamurthy’s affidavit in the application, all judicial executions are “conducted in the presence of, amongst others, the superintendent of the prison and a medical officer of the prison”.

They added that “a Coroner is required to conduct an inquiry within 24 hours after an execution to satisfy himself that the execution was carried out duly and properly”, adding that “any impropriety would have been seen or discovered by these parties”.

Calling the allegations “patently false and scandalous”, the A-G’s representatives argued that the allegations were based on “hearsay”, which is contrary to what an affidavit should contain — namely facts that the person giving the affidavit is able to prove based on his own knowledge.

The A-G’s representatives also added that Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy have not been able to refute the evidence given by SPS Deputy Assistant Commissioner See Hoe Kiat.

Mr See, claimed the A-G’s representatives, said “in no uncertain terms” that “the SPS has never carried out the training, or given, instructions” on the alleged procedure when the rope breaks.

The Deputy Assistant Commissioner also confirmed that “the rope used in judicial executions has never broken before”, which was not refuted by Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy, according to the A-G’s representatives.

Additionally, the A-G also claimed that the former SPS officer has yet to come forward to give his statement to the police, which “betrays the fact that his allegations (if in fact they were made) are false”, particularly when a person can be prosecuted for giving a false statement to the police.

The death row prisoners’ application, said the A-G’s representatives, was founded on “unsubstantiated allegations made by a foreign organisation which has aggressively and publicly campaigned against the death penalty in Singapore”, and thus should have never been filed.

“In doing so, it has made false and scandalous allegations against the Singapore Government and the Singapore Judiciary,” they argued.

The A-G’s representatives branded Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy’s application as “a clear case of an abuse of process”.

“The leave requirement was intended to deal precisely with applications like this, by filtering out groundless cases at an early stage to prevent waste of judicial time and to protect public bodies from unnecessary harassment,” they said.

Gobi s/o Avedian and Datchinamurthy s/o Kataiah to appeal against High Court decision: Lawyer M Ravi

Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy’s Singapore counsel M Ravi on Fri (14 Feb) said that his clients will be appealing against the High Court decision to the Court of Appeal.

Their appeals to the Court of Appeal is being scheduled to be heard in the week of 23rd Mar, and are being expedited, according to Mr M Ravi.

The lawyer said that the appeals focus on “the right of access to justice without any interference into lawyer’s representation”, which is “tantamount to the right of fair hearing being affected” as a result of “any threat to independent legal representation”.

“I had submitted in court that it stemmed from the Attorney General’s confirmation of the express reservation of the government’s rights against me personally.

“It was stated by the AGC that the government was keeping open a full range of possible options that it might avail itself in relation to my conduct in the case,” said Mr M Ravi, in reference to a statement made by Deputy Senior State Counsel Wong Woon Kwong at a pre-trial conference on 4 Feb.

“I had addressed the court that this is an implied threat and undermines the Law Society’s mission statement that calls for an independent, effective and competent legal profession which is fundamental to the upholding of the rule of law,” said Mr M Ravi.

Judge Thean on Fri in her judgement said that she “could not see any basis for concluding that Mr Ravi would have felt threatened in any way, or that it would have been reasonable for him to do so”, as Mr Wong “was merely communicating a position that should be familiar to all lawyers”.

Mr Wong’s statement, she added, “served as a salutary reminder to Mr Ravi that he should conduct himself appropriately and in accordance with the standards expected of all counsel as officers of the court”.

Mr M Ravi in a statement on Fri also revealed that Wong SC had applied to the court to “impose cost orders personally” against him. The hearing of this application is expected to be held in early March.

Families of Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy decided on bringing their case to the Court of Appeal “to know the honest, open, transparent answer for these death row inmates”: Pannir Selvam Pranthaman’s sister Angelia Pranthaman

The sister of another Malaysian death row prisoner in Singapore told TOC after the hearing on Thu that the families of Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy have decided to bring the case to the Court of Appeal as they “want to know the honest, open, transparent answer for these death row inmates”.

“This is dealing with life. This is important … This is not a joke. So we want to push it to the extent that we can to the Court of Appeal,” said Angelia Pranthaman, the younger sister of Pannir Selvam Pranthaman.

“We will not leave it [the case] here hanging – we will try our best until the end to get the justice that the death row inmates needed,” she stressed.

“This is dealing with life. This is important … This is not a joke. So we want to push it to the extent that we can to the Court of Appeal,” she said.

Mr Pannir, who was convicted of drug trafficking, was granted a stay of execution in May last year. However, a procedural application he made was dismissed by the High Court in Jul the same year.

Following that, the family of Mr Pannir — alongside the families of other Malaysian death row prisoners in Changi Prison, and activists from human rights organisations including Lawyers for Liberty and Amnesty International — submitted a memorandum to President Halimah Yacob in a bid to appeal for clemency for Mr Gobi and Mr Datchinamurthy.

The memorandum called upon Mdm Halimah and the Government of Singapore to reconsider the death penalty, particularly against drug mules “while the drug kingpins and traffickers are still at large”.

“We hope that you, Madam President, and the Government of Singapore would take a moment to reconsider the death penalty. It has proven not to be an effective deterrent and will not improve crime rates or trends in Singapore,” the memorandum read.

Touching on Mr M Ravi’s handling of his clients’ case, Ms Angelia said: “All this while, nobody came forward for these type of issues … He didn’t take a single cent from us families. He is voluntarily doing this.”

When asked on the families’ view regarding the allegations concerning the purported brutal execution method in Changi Prison, Ms Angelia said that the families believe that such executions might have taken place before, because “Singapore has never been transparent at all on what is happening [regarding judicial executions]”.

“Let’s say Singapore has previously mentioned that the number of executions is such and such … We might believe then that the rope-breaking never happened. But Singapore has never been transparent. So this leads to more doubt as to whether it has never happened,” she said.

Earlier on Wed (12 Feb), the High Court dismissed Mr Pannir’s challenge against the rejection of his clemency plea.

His lawyer Too Xing Ji told The Straits Times that Mr Pannir will be making an appeal against the High Court’s decision. Mr Pannir has also subsequently applied for leave to commence judicial review proceedings.

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