SINGAPORE: A Malaysian man was granted a stay of execution on Thursday afternoon (May 23) by the Court of Appeal, a day before he was due to face the gallows.
Pannir Selvam Pranthaman, 31, was found guilty of carrying 51.84g of heroin at Woodlands Checkpoint in September 2014.
Pannir Selvam, who was due to be executed at dawn on Friday, appealed for a stay of execution so that he can challenge the clemency process.
His lawyers argued that the accused was only told a week ago of his execution date and that his petition for clemency to President Halimah Yacob had been rejected.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said that Pannir Selvam should “have a reasonable opportunity to take advice on whether he can mount a successful challenge”.
During the hearing, Deputy Public Prosecutor Francis Ng "candidly" acknowledged that this would not have given Pannir Selvam much time to obtain advice on any options he had to appeal the execution of the sentence, said Chief Justice Menon.
Lawyer Too Xing Ji came forward to represent Pannir Selvam on the hearing date itself, after learning about the case the night before.
“To be fair to him (Mr Too), we could not expect him to be in a position mount a full developed argument,” said Chief Justice Menon.
"There was also nothing to suggest that the applicant had acted with undue delay or in abuse of the process of the court. In the circumstances, we think the execution should be stayed until further order.”
Pannir Selvam's application was also heard by two Judges of Appeal, Judith Prakash and Steven Chong.
"DEPRIVED OF FAIR CLEMENCY PROCESS": PANNIR SELVAM IN AFFIDAVIT
In an affidavit filed on May 21, Pannir Selvam said that that he had been "deprived of a fair determination of the clemency process".
Pannir Selvam took issue with the letters sent to his family about the rejection of his clemency petition from the President's office and the scheduled execution date from the Singapore Prison Service.
Both letters were received on May 17.
"This means that the decision of the prison to proceed with the execution was made prior to the rejection of clemency by the President," said Pannir Selvam in the affidavit.
"This raises serious questions and has seriously prejudiced the clemency process to which I was entitled under Article 22P of the Constitution."
Pannir Selvam also brought up the "extreme shortness of time", saying that he was not able to engage lawyers in Singapore to file a challenge to the clemency decision and to obtain a stay.
Detailing a timeline of events, the President's principal private secretary Mr Benny Lee in an affidavit said that prior to May 7, Mdm Halimah had been advised by the Cabinet "that the law should be allowed to take its course" in Pannir Selvam's case.
On May 7, Mr Lee then signed three letters informing Pannir Selvam and his family that the death sentence would stand.
The letters, which were dated May 17, were then sent by the Istana on May 14 to the Singapore Prison Service "for onward transmission" to Pannir Selvam and his family.
Meanwhile, in response to Malaysian media reports, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has said that the clemency petitions for Pannir Selvam's case "were carefully considered".
"The President acted on the advice of the Cabinet, in accordance with Article 22P of the Constitution, in not exercising the clemency power," said MHA.
The ministry also responded to Malaysia media reports which said that Pannir Selvam was unreasonably denied a "Certificate of Substantive Assistance", which might have spared him the mandatory death penalty.
"MHA would like to clarify that the decision is taken by the Public Prosecutor in his sole discretion, based on whether the offender had provided the authorities substantive assistance that leads to the disruption of drug trafficking activities in Singapore. The Public Prosecutor determined that he had not."
LAWYERS CAME FORWARD 10 MINUTES BEFORE HEARING
In an email to CNA, Mr Too and his colleague Lee Ji En said they came forward to represent Pannir Selvam just 10 minutes before the hearing was about to start.
“After finding out about the case last night, I reached out to the various parties to find out more about the case,” said Mr Lee. However, they only managed to get in touch with Pannir Selvam’s Malaysian lawyers, N Surendran and Latheefa Koya, on the day of the hearing.
“We were concerned by the fact that Pannir was going to argue in person,” said Mr Lee. “We felt that, given the stakes involved, Pannir deserved legal representation."
Both Mr Lee and Mr Too said they will be helping Pannir Selvam with his case.
“We are just happy to have assisted the court in this case, and that Pannir will be given the opportunity to exercise his rights under the law in a meaningful fashion."
Speaking to CNA, Mr Surendran said that Pannir Selvam and his family "are tremendously relieved".
"The last one week since reviving the execution has been harrowing and traumatising," he said.
Pannir Selvam will have two weeks to file his intended application together with any supporting evidence, while the prosecution will also have two weeks to respond.
The oral grounds of decision stated that both parties will have to file skeletal submissions within a week of the prosecution’s response, adding that the hearing date for the case will be fixed thereafter.
Pannir Selvam's father Pranthaman Rajoo was overjoyed with the Court of Appeal's decision to stay the execution, and told Bernama he was praying hard that it would not be short-lived.