SINGAPORE: A High Court judge has dismissed a last-ditch court application against the death sentence of a Malaysian drug trafficker.
Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, 33, has been on death row for about 11 years for importing 42.72g of pure heroin into Singapore in 2009 in a bundle strapped to his thigh.
In November 2010, he was sentenced to death. Nagaenthran failed in his appeals to the High Court in 2011 and the Apex Court in 2019, where a court of five judges including the Chief Justice dismissed his applications. His subsequent petition to the President for clemency was unsuccessful.
On Monday (Nov 8), lawyer M Ravi filed a court application before Justice See Kee Oon, which was heard in chambers and without access to the media.
Mr Ravi's application in relation to Nagaenthran's impending death sentence hinged on the factual contention that Nagaenthran purportedly possesses the mental age of someone below 18, Justice See said in his oral remarks issued on Monday evening.
The lawyer argued that judicial mercy should be exercised to grant Nagaenthran a reprieve from the execution of the death sentence, pending further psychiatric examinations and reports on his mental state.
Justice See noted that it was not disputed that Nagaenthran was assessed to have an IQ of 69. However, he was found by the trial judge not to be suffering from any degree of intellectual disability, even though it was accepted that he had borderline intellectual functioning.
Justice See pointed out that "there is no credible basis" for Mr Ravi's assertions for Nagaenthran's mental age.
"Mr Ravi has only met the plaintiff once in the last three years, for a mere 26 minutes in all from 9.20am to 9.46am on Nov 2, 2021," he said.
He added that there was "no legal basis" for the argument that customary international law should take precedence over domestic law.
"The plaintiff has also not shown any legal or evidential basis to support his submission that mental age should be reassessed after the time of commission of the offence," said Justice See.
"He has not shown an arguable prima facie case demonstrating that his current mental state is any different compared to his mental state at the time of commission of the offence."
The judge said Nagaenthran had his sentence affirmed by the Court of Appeal, and that his attempt to seek re-sentencing was also dismissed by the same court.
"I reiterate that the plaintiff has been accorded due process in accordance with the law. It is not open to him to challenge the court's findings pertaining to his mental responsibility, whether directly or indirectly, in yet another attempt to revisit and unravel the finality of those findings," added Justice See.
Lawyer M Ravi said in a Facebook post after the hearing that Nagaenthran's hanging has been stayed, pending an appeal he intends to make against Justice See’s decision. The appeal is set to be heard on Tuesday.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) said in a statement after the hearing that Mr Ravi’s evidence was “contrary to the objective facts”.
A Singapore Prison Service (SPS) officer who had observed Nagaenthran for almost three years and interacts frequently with him gave evidence that Nagaenthran was able to plan his daily visit and call schedules, understand that his sentence was to be carried out soon and choose prison officers to care for his needs in the time leading to his execution, said AGC.
He could communicate “coherently and purposefully” and provide contact numbers of relatives and a childhood friend.
AGC said it wrote to Mr Ravi on Nov 5 to Ravi to seek Nagaenthran’s consent to disclose to the court the records of his latest medical and psychiatric assessments, as these may be subject to doctor-patient confidentiality. However, Mr Ravi did not respond or attempt to take instructions from Nagaenthran on this issue.
BACKGROUND TO THE CASE
Nagaenthran was set to hang on Wednesday. An online petition against his death penalty has drawn more than 60,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
The petition said Nagaenthran was an "intellectually disabled" man who committed "a non-violent crime" through coercion. The case drew global news coverage from outlets including CNN, The Guardian and The Washington Post.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) subsequently issued statements in response, saying that amount of heroin Nagaenthran was caught trafficking was enough to feed the addiction of about 510 abusers for a week.
MHA said the High Court held in 2011 that Nagaenthran knew what he was doing, and upheld the death sentence after assessing the evidence of psychiatrists, including one called by the defence. The defence's psychiatrist had agreed that Nagaenthran was not intellectually disabled.
In the 2019 Court of Appeal judgement, the court noted that Nagaenthran had been referred in 2013 to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for a forensic psychiatric evaluation, in order to assess if he was suffering from an abnormality of the mind and therefore suitable for resentencing under the 2012 amendments.
The IMH report found that Nagaenthran had no mental illness at the time of the offence and was not clinically mentally retarded. However, his borderline range of intelligence might have made him more susceptible to believing a man's purported threat to kill his girlfriend.
"The Court of Appeal affirmed the High Court’s decision and said that it was satisfied that Nagaenthran clearly understood the nature of his acts," said MHA.
This involved attempting to conceal the drug bundle by strapping it to his thigh and wearing a large pair of trousers over it as he knew it was illegal for him to transport drugs.
He had committed the crime to pay off his debts, and hoped to receive an additional sum of money upon successful delivery, MHA said.