Court dismisses applications by 22 death-row inmates over forwarding of letters by prisons to AGC
SINGAPORE: A court has dismissed a bid by 22 inmates on death row to seek information over purportedly private letters from two inmates to their lawyers and families that the Singapore Prisons Service had forwarded to the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC).
The 22 inmates, who are represented by lawyer M Ravi, had started legal action to obtain information from the AG, including the identities of those who had asked for the inmates' correspondence to be forwarded to the AG and the people who sent on the information.
The inmates had contemplated pursuing legal proceedings against the AG or its officers for alleged breaches of professional duties to safeguard the inmates' rights, misfeasance in public office and damages for harm caused by the breaches.
In a judgment released on Tuesday (Mar 16), Justice See Kee Oon dismissed the applications, saying this was not the right forum for such actions. He said the inmates are precluded from such applications against the AG, and that such disclosures sought are "neither necessary nor relevant".
The 22 inmates are: Syed Suhail Syed Zin, Gobi Avedian, Datchinamurthy Kataiah, Moad Fadzir Mustaffa, Hamzah Ibrahim, Iskandar Rahmat, Lingkesvaran Rajendaren, Norasharee Gous, Nazeri Lajim, Saminathan Selvaraju, Rosman Abdullah, Roslan Bakar, Masoud Rahimi Mehrzad, Zamri Mohd Tahir, Pannir Selvam Pranthaman, Fazali Mohamed, Rahmat Karimon, Tan Kay Yong, Ramdhan Lajis, Jumaat Mohamed Sayed, Tangaraju Suppiah and Muhammad Faizal Mohd Shariff.
Most of them are set to hang for drug trafficking, except Iskandar Rahmat, who is a former police officer behind the 2013 double murders in Kovan.
The AG's main argument was that the inmates had no basis to make their requests against the Government. Despite this, the AG voluntarily disclosed all the related correspondence they received from prisons in the interests of transparency.
The AG also argued that the court's power to order the applications sought by the inmates was subject to limitations in the law, and can be ordered against the Government only where there are specific civil proceedings that the current case does not fall into.
Justice See said a previous court had noted that while the Prisons Regulations allowed the prisons to make copies of the inmates' correspondence for administrative roles of screening and recording letters, they were not allowed to forward such correspondence to the AGC.
If the AGC wished to obtain such copies of correspondence, it had to obtain the prisoner's consent or an order of court.
"However, the court also accepted that the incident had ultimately resulted due to an oversight on the part of the AGC and was not an attempt to seek an advantage in the proceedings," observed Justice See.
He referred to a previous judgment that highlighted the risk of potentially frivolous applications for discovery even before a case was made out.
"In my view, if pre-action disclosures could be ordered against the Government, it would conceivably create a situation where it could be easier to obtain information from the Government via pre-action disclosures than via the conventional discovery processes associated with judicial review," he said.
He added that this would not only potentially open the floodgates to people seeking pre-action disclosures of information against the Government, it would also be inconsistent with a ruling that such disclosures are not usual.
He said the proper forum for the disciplinary proceedings that the inmates alluded to was the Law Society's Disciplinary Tribunal, and said the inmates "may potentially have a cause of action against the Government through a civil action filed against the AG".
According to lawyer M Ravi's Facebook page, the inmates had to pay S$10 in costs.