‘No legal prohibition’ at the time when prison service forwarded convict’s letters to AGC, says MHA
SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Tuesday (Sep 22) said there was “no legal prohibition” in 2018 against the Singapore Prisons Service (SPS) extending letters written by a convicted drug trafficker to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC).
Defence lawyer M Ravi alleged during a hearing on Tuesday that SPS had breached client-solicitor privilege by giving private letters from Syed Suhail Syed Zin, who was convicted in 2015, to the AGC.
He was set to hang on Sep 18 this year, but the execution was stayed at the last minute after intervention from his lawyer.
The “breach” was raised by human rights coalition Community Action Network in a statement on Monday.
READ: Court of Appeal orders further arguments in case of drug trafficker on death row, execution on hold
In a statement, MHA laid out the circumstances surrounding the incident.
It said that during a hearing before the Court of Appeal on May 3, 2018, Syed Suhail informed the Court that he wished to introduce evidence from his uncle for the purposes of the appeal, having given the Court various reasons during the trial for not calling his uncle as a defence witness.
MHA added that the hearing was then adjourned for parties to look into this request and the Court of Appeal allowed the AGC to file a response if it thought that Syed Suhail was abusing the process of the Court.
MHA said in the preparation of its response, AGC approached SPS to check whether Syed Suhail had expressed any prior intention to call his uncle as a witness. SPS’s checks revealed that Syed Suhail had informed the Superintendent of his intention to call his uncle as a defence witness. He had also written four letters to his uncle.
“In this context, SPS extended a copy of these letters, and one letter to his then-counsel (i.e. the Letter) to the AGC on May 10, 2018 and Jun 7, 2018,” the ministry said. “At that time, there was no legal prohibition in the Prisons Act or Regulations against doing so.”
ALLEGATIONS OF DISCRIMINATION 'BASELESS': MHA
MHA also denied allegations of discrimination or impropriety in the scheduling of judicial executions.
Lawyer M Ravi said that there was prejudice as his client was lined up to hang before foreigners due to reasons related to COVID-19.
Syed Suhail had filed an application to the High Court for permission to commence judicial review proceedings against the Singapore Prison Service (SPS), to stay the execution of his sentence.
He alleged that the order for judicial execution violates his Constitutional right to equal treatment under Article 12, as differential treatment has been applied between foreigners and Singaporeans in the scheduling of his judicial execution.
Syed Suhail's application was dismissed by Justice See Kee Oon on Sep 17, and the appeal was heard by the Court of Appeal on Tuesday. Parties have been directed to file further submissions, and will return to the Court of Appeal on a date to be fixed after Oct 6.
“All prisoners sentenced to capital punishment are accorded due process according to the law,” the ministry said in its statement.
“A judicial execution will only be scheduled after an inmate has exhausted all legal channels for appeal and clemency, regardless of whether the prisoner is a Singaporean or a foreigner.”
The ministry added that four judicial executions were carried out in 2019, involving two Singaporeans and two foreigners.
“Such allegations are baseless and will be comprehensively addressed in MHA’s response which will be filed before the next hearing date.”
The ministry said it is unable to give further comments as the matter is currently before the Courts.