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Court of Appeal dismisses plea by mother of Malaysian drug trafficker on death row

Court of Appeal dismisses plea by mother of Malaysian drug trafficker on death row

People walk across a bridge near the Supreme Court in Singapore on Nov 9, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: The Court of Appeal on Tuesday (Apr 26) dismissed a last-minute plea by convicted Malaysian drug trafficker Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, who has been on death row for more than a decade, and his mother.

Taking place one day before Nagaenthran's scheduled execution, the hearing was convened after a criminal motion was filed by Nagaenthran and his mother Mdm Panchalai Supermaniam on Monday.

In the motion, they sought a stay of execution arguing that it was unconstitutional to carry out the death sentence because Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who presided over Nagaenthran's previous failed appeals, was also the Attorney-General during his conviction.

A panel of three judges comprising Justices Andrew Phang, Judith Prakash and Belinda Ang heard the criminal motion on Tuesday.

Delivering the judgment on behalf of the panel, Justice Phang said the Court of Appeal found the application to be "devoid of merit".

He added that it appeared to be a "calculated attempt" to diminish the finality of the court process.

"No court in the world would allow an applicant to prolong matters ad infinitum" by filing such applications, said the judge.

"There must come a time when the last word of the court is the last word."

The case has attracted international attention. The court's public gallery was full, and several members of the international media were present.


Earlier, Nagaenthran's mother Mdm Panchalai addressed the court herself through a Tamil interpreter. She told the court that she had arrived in Singapore from Malaysia last week.

Mdm Panchalai spoke briefly, telling the court: "We want him back alive, your honour." She said her family was in "dire straits" and that the application was to ask for time for them to get a lawyer.

Nagaenthran was sentenced to death in 2010 for importing 42.72g of heroin into Singapore in 2009 in a bundle strapped to his thigh.

He previously failed in his appeals to the High Court in 2011, to the Court of Appeal in 2019 and in his petition to the president for clemency.

At the end of March, the Court of Appeal upheld the dismissal of his application to commence judicial review proceedings on the basis that he purportedly possesses the mental age of someone below 18.

Chief Justice Menon had described that appeal as "a blatant and egregious abuse of the court's processes", which seemed to have the aim of "unjustifiably delaying" the execution.


Deputy Public Prosecutor Wong Woon Kwong argued that Mdm Panchalai had no standing to be a party to the application, and that it could only be brought by Nagaenthran himself.

On the substance of the motion, Mr Wong called it "baseless" and said that Nagaenthran previously did not object to Chief Justice Menon's involvement despite knowing that his tenure as Attorney-General had overlapped with Nagaenthran's criminal proceedings.

"It is dishonest for Nagaenthran to now take issue with the Chief Justice's involvement in legal proceedings, yet conveniently omit the fact that he had confirmed, through his counsel and on legal advice, that he had no objections to Chief Justice Menon being on the coram," said Mr Wong.

The prosecutor added: "In any event, Chief Justice Menon was not involved in any of the decisions pertaining to Nagaenthran's prosecution."

Mr Wong also argued that the application, which he said had no merit, was the latest in a series of "repeated drip-feeding to abuse the court's process".

He argued that Chief Justice Menon's involvement was not raised earlier by Nagaenthran's previous lawyers even though one of them, Mr M Ravi, had considered this issue.

This appeared to show that the application was "deliberately withheld" for this stage of proceedings, said the prosecutor.


To that end, Mr Wong asked the court to compel Mdm Panchalai to disclose the identities of those involved in drafting the motion paper and affidavit for the application.

This would disallow those individuals from evading possible consequences, including costs and sanctions, he said.

The prosecutor said it was "obvious" that the motion paper had been drafted on legal advice, with Justice Phang also noting that it was "very much a legal document".

According to the prosecution, Mdm Panchalai had alluded to the documents being prepared with the help of "friends and social activists".

"By masking the identity of the 'friends and social activists' who purportedly assisted Mdm Panchalai with this application, the bringers of this application seek to shield the persons who are participating in this gross abuse of process," said Mr Wong.

"The lawyers and persons responsible for abetting this application should not be allowed to hide under a veil of anonymity to evade the consequences that ought to normally follow in such abuses of the court's processes."

Under questioning from the judges, Mdm Panchalai said that the legal documents were drafted by "family" and "friends of our relatives".

She said these friends were "educated" but not legally trained, and that they were also the ones who helped her to physically file the application.

Mr Wong additionally asked the court to order that no further applications shall be brought by or on behalf of Nagaenthran without the leave of the Court of Appeal.

"Nagaenthran has been afforded due process under law. Yet, whether through the influence of external parties or otherwise, Nagaenthran has continued to abuse the court's processes by yet again bringing another meritless application which takes up valuable court resources.

"This must be stopped to stem the continued attacks on the fundamental administration of justice," said the prosecutor.

After the judgment was delivered, Nagaenthran requested to spend time with his family, specifically seeking permission to "hold their hands".

Mdm Panchalai told the court that the family would have been given a three-hour meeting with Nagaenthran in prison ahead of his execution, if not for the hearing.

The judges granted Nagaenthran's request for them to hold each other's hands in the courtroom, and gave the family another two hours to spend together in the Supreme Court building after that.

Source: CNA/dv(ac)


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