Death row inmates: New Bill proposed to prevent 'dragged-out' cases after appeals are exhausted

Singapore's Supreme Court (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)
Singapore's Supreme Court (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — A new Bill was introduced in Parliament on Monday (7 November) to clarify court processes for capital cases, such that death-row inmates seeking a stay of execution after their legal avenues are exhausted would be required to state reasons for not filing the application earlier.

A joint media release by the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Home Affairs said that, under the new Bill, only the Court of Appeal may hear such post-appeal applications in capital cases, and grant a stay of execution of the sentence.

The inmate would also have to apply for permission before a single judge to make a post-appeal application, and would be required to state the grounds of the challenge and the reasons for not filing it earlier.

If permission were to be granted for the post-appeal application, it would have to be filed within a specified period, and the hearing before a panel of three or more judges would be fixed within a specified period.

The ministries added that the court may decide whether the applicants or the applicants' counsel had abused the court process in a relevant application, or had abused the court process to "delay or frustrate the carrying out of the capital sentence" in any other application or action.

“There have been a number of applications by prisoners awaiting capital punishment at the last minute, after all avenues of appeal have been exhausted," a Ministry of Law spokesperson told The Straits Times.

“The proposed amendments will clearly set out the process for such applications, and the court will have discretion to allow challenges even if they do not comply with this process.”

Several cases were chastised for abuse of court processes

The proposed amendments to clarify the post-appeal process came after several judgments in which the Court of Appeal chastised the abuse of court processes and the dragging out of post-appeal capital cases.

The most high-profile case involving a death-row inmate was that of Malaysian Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, who was convicted of trafficking 42.72 grams of heroin in 2010 and given the mandatory death penalty.

His appeal was dismissed in 2011, but he filed seven applications to challenge his death sentence since 2015.

Days before he was to be hanged on 10 November 2021, his then-lawyer M. Ravi filed an application to the High Court, seeking judicial review of the impending execution. He also filed an appeal after the application was dismissed, and a separate application to the Court of Appeal, asking for a stay of execution for Nagaenthran to be assessed by a panel of psychiatrists.

In its judgment dismissing both challenges in March 2022, the Court of Appeal noted that the two applications took a “tortuous path” to come before it.

Nagaenthran's case gained prominence after anti-death penalty activists - including British billionaire Richard Branson - campaigned for his release in both Singapore and Malaysia.

The proposed amendments will provide that a capital sentence can be carried out unless the President has ordered a respite; the Court of Appeal has ordered a stay of execution; or an application for a stay of execution has been filed in court and served on the Singapore Prison Service.

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