Parliament: MHA studying legal concept of wilful blindness, after Nigerian's acquittal in drug case

Under the concept of "wilful blindness", which can be used in drug offence cases, a person will be treated as having knowledge of the drugs, if it can be shown that he suspected that something was amiss yet did not verify that suspicion out of fear o
Under the concept of "wilful blindness", which can be used in drug offence cases, a person will be treated as having knowledge of the drugs, if it can be shown that he suspected that something was amiss yet did not verify that suspicion out of fear of legal consequences, and he had reasonable means of discovering the truth.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is studying the different observations on the legal concept of wilful blindness, which played a pivotal role in the acquittal of a Nigerian man in May this year.

On May 27, Mr Adili Chibuike Ejike walked away from death row a free man on appeal after the apex court found that the prosecution had failed to establish that he knew the 1.96kg of methamphetamine, commonly known as Ice, in his suitcase were in his possession.

Mr Adili was caught at Changi Airport in November 2011.

Two packets of Ice were found hidden in the inner lining of the suitcase which he was instructed by childhood friends to hand to someone else in Singapore.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin said in Parliament on Monday (July 8) that there are other observations made by the Court of Appeal on wilful blindness, adding: "We are studying those observations carefully, and will set out the Government's views in due course and whether any legislative amendments are necessary."

He was responding to a question by Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) on whether the provisions in the Misuse of Drugs Act needed to be reviewed in light of Mr Adili's acquittal.

Mr Amrin said that for someone to be guilty of importing drugs under Section 7 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, he has to be in possession of the drugs, know of its presence and nature, and have brought the drugs into Singapore without prior authorisation.

"In practice, it can be difficult to prove a person's state of mind. To address this, the (Act) builds in presumptions."

"When these presumptions apply, a person charged with importing prohibited drugs can be presumed to know of their presence, as well as their nature. It is then for the accused to give sufficient evidence to rebut the presumptions," Mr Amrin said.

 
 

Under the concept of "wilful blindness", which can be used in drug offence cases, a person will be treated as having knowledge of the drugs, if it can be shown that he suspected that something was amiss yet did not verify that suspicion out of fear of legal consequences, and he had reasonable means of discovering the truth.

Mr Amrin said that in Mr Adili's case, the key issue was whether he could rebut the presumption that he knew the nature of the drugs in his suitcase.

The Court of Appeal noted that the prosecution had conceded that Mr Adili did not actually know of the presence of the drugs, from cross-examination and arguments addressing the issue.

Since the presumption is what allows the court to conclude that the accused did know the drugs were present, Mr Amrin said "obviously the presumption cannot be relied upon" in Mr Adili's case.

"This legal reasoning is neither novel nor new, and is not in any way different from the Government's understanding of the law," he added.

Mr de Souza also asked about the effectiveness of presumptions as a legal tool and if, following Mr Adili's judgment, the accused in drug cases could "claim a defence that he has no knowledge (of the drugs) by virtue of the drugs being well concealed".

In response, Mr Amrin said: "The fact alone that the drugs were well hidden, would not cause the presumptions to be rebutted."

Instead, the outcome of each case depends on a holistic assessment of all its unique facts and circumstances, as well as the evidence presented, he added.

"Our courts in the past have carefully scrutinised such claims, to assess if they are credible, such that the presumption is rebutted, and I'm confident that they will continue to do so."


Correction note: An earlier version of this article said the concept of "wilful blindness" is built into the Misuse of Drugs Act. The concept is not actually built into the Act, but can come into play in drug offence cases.