Opposition parties in Singapore have written to the law minister concerning claims of a climate of fear among lawyers discouraging them from representing drug mules on death row, following two recent cases in which inmates were forced to appear in court for themselves.
The Reform Party, People’s Power Party and Red Dot United said in their letter to K Shanmugam that these were “serious allegations” as, under the Singapore constitution, everyone is entitled to legal counsel and representation.
“The right to counsel is a key constituent of the right to a fair trial and goes to the heart of the rule of law, upon which the economic prosperity and national development of Singapore are anchored,” they said.
“We are concerned by such serious allegations that lawyers in Singapore might be afraid to represent prisoners in such important legal matters because of the fear of reprisals by the state.”
Malaysian Datchinamurthy Kataiah, who is on death row in the city-state for a drug trafficking offence, had argued before the judge himself in his appeal on April 28.
He was due to be executed the following day despite his legal challenge which was still pending in court.
The High Court subsequently granted him a stay of execution pending the outcome of his hearing on May 20.
Datchinamurthy’s case had sparked comparison with that of Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam, another death row inmate who was executed earlier last month.
Nagaenthran’s mother Panchalai Supermaniam had appeared in court during her final attempt to save her son, as she could not find a lawyer willing to represent him.
Nagaenthran’s execution had caused international outrage due to his mental disability. He had an IQ of 69, a level recognised as a disability, and was reportedly coerced into trafficking a small amount of heroin into the island republic.
The Singapore Attorney-General’s Chambers later said it would not hesitate to cite critics who repeated what it described as “false allegations” contained in Panchalai’s affidavit for contempt.
“The AGC takes a serious view of any act that may constitute contempt, and will not hesitate to take appropriate action to protect the administration of justice,” it said.
The Singapore opposition parties today asked if lawyers in the city-state were afraid to represent prisoners in important legal matters due to fear of government reprisal.
“Do lawyers in Singapore operate under a climate of fear of state reprisals for taking on certain types of cases or defendants?” they said.
“If not, what measures are there to explicitly prevent the assumption of such potential reprisals forming among lawyers?“
They also questioned procedure in criminal courts, asking if these place too onerous a requirement on lawyers to represent such cases, and whether these procedures adhere to the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of the Lawyer.
“We believe that it is the duty of the government of the day to actively quell myths just as robustly as it defends harm to its reputation, and must be seen to set the record straight even – and perhaps especially – when such urban legends create conveniently favourable outcomes,” they said.