Measures to prevent abuse of court process in concluded cases

Robust gatekeeping measures are among the proposed legal changes aimed at preventing abuse of the court process and waste of judicial resources by people trying to reopen their criminal cases after exhausting all avenues of appeal.

Under the proposed procedure, a person who wants to reopen his concluded case has to first apply for leave, or permission, from the court.

Currently, there are no mechanisms to filter applications to reopen concluded cases.

The court will have the power to summarily dismiss the leave application based on written arguments, without a hearing. If leave is granted, the court hearing the substantive matter will have the power to summarily dismiss it.

Each person is allowed only one application to reopen a concluded criminal case, and no further appeal or application is allowed.

Also, to reopen a case, the arguments and evidence raised must be new and must be able to compellingly show there was a miscarriage of justice.

The defence must also show that the court decision being challenged is clearly wrong, tainted by fraud or a breach of natural justice.

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    Number of applications each person can make to reopen a concluded criminal case.


    Number of criminal motions (seeking to reopen criminal cases after all avenues of appeal have been exhausted) filed in the Court of Appeal in 2015.

The prosecution cannot make use of the procedure to overturn acquittals or seek harsher sentences, unless it is challenging decisions that have compromised the integrity of the judicial process.

The amendments give the court more control, striking a balance between preventing miscarriages of justice and the need for finality in criminal proceedings, said the Ministry of Law.

In recent years, there have been a growing number of applications seeking to reopen criminal cases. In 2015, 11 criminal motions of this nature were filed in the Court of Appeal.

Last year, convicted murderer Jabing Kho's multiple attempts to quash his death sentence were found to be an abuse of process by the Court of Appeal.

He filed an application containing a particular argument, but withdrew the argument before the hearing. After the first application was dismissed, he filed a second one, premised on the withdrawn argument, an approach described by the court as "drip-feeding".

He also mounted a "collateral attack" on the death sentence by filing a civil action. Kho was hanged in May last year.

The proposed procedure will apply where the defence's appeal has already been determined on its merits, where the Court of Appeal has confirmed the imposition of a death sentence or where the defence has failed to reinstate an appeal which was dismissed due to the absence of the accused.

Changes have also been proposed to allow the court to summarily refuse leave for an individual to file a criminal reference, a procedure in which important questions of law are referred to the apex court.

However, the decision must be unanimously made by the judges on the panel.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2017, with the headline 'Measures to prevent abuse of court process in concluded cases'. Print Edition | Subscribe