- Advertisement -

Singapore CJ loses cool as he dismisses challenge by death row inmates against new law

The prisoners, including four Malaysians, had to argue their case themselves as lawyers were afraid to represent them.

2 minute read
Singapore Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.
Singapore Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

Singapore's top judge lost his cool today when a group of prisoners lodged their own appeal against a new law that seeks to further curtail prisoners' right to appeal their death sentences.

In the end, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, sitting in Singapore's Court of Appeal today, summarily dismissed the death row inmates' application.

Thirty-six prisoners, who were not represented by lawyers and included four Malaysians, sought an order that two provisions in the Post-Appeal in Capital Cases Act (PACC), which allow death row inmates to appeal, violate their constitutional rights.

The Malaysian prisoners in question are Saminathan Selvaraju, Lingkesvaren Rajendaren, Datchinamurty Kataiah and Pannir Selvam Pranthaman.

It was learnt that the prisoners had to file and argue the case themselves as Singaporean lawyers are afraid to take on the challenge of death sentences.

In recent years, the courts have imposed heavy costs on lawyers who have dared to mount such challenges. Disciplinary action has also been taken against some lawyers.

However, just minutes after one of the prisoners, Masoud Rahimi Mehrzad - who was sentenced to death under Singapore's controversial drug laws - began to present his case, Sundaresh interrupted him and asked, “Do you understand the point of locus standi?”

He said that since the provisions of the PACC were not yet in force, the law would not affect the prisoners.

Another prisoner replied that the provisions would affect their preparation for appeals as the PACC could come into force anytime.

At this point, Sundaresh lost his cool: “Nobody is making you wait for the law to come into force. You can file any application you have the right to today. I don’t understand your point.”

The three judges then adjourned the hearing, only to return less than five minutes later with the decision to dismiss the prisoners' case.

In their ground of judgement, they said, “Even if the appellants’ case were taken at its highest, and the contentions (that the provisions of the PACCA infringe the appelants' rights) are true, we do not see how the appellants have been affected at all.”

The prisoners' case was struck out by the High Court late last year.

PACC was introduced in 2022 with a new procedure for death row inmates to appeal once they have exhausted all appeals.

This came after the city-state was internationally condemned for the way in which prisoners were executed without being properly represented by lawyers in their last-ditch attempts to stay alive.

The prisoners said two of the provisions denied them the right to a fair trial and violated Articles 9 and 12 of the constitution.

The new law states that a prisoner must obtain permission from the Court of Appeal before applying for a stay of execution.

One of the provisions states that the court must consider whether the prisoner's application has a chance of being granted when deciding whether to grant the authorisation.

With the dismissal of the case, there are fears that the doors to challenging unjust convictions or miscarriages of justice in Singapore's judicial system will be closed.