13 prisoners file civil case against AG over forwarded personal letters

The prisoners are asking the High Court to declare that the Attorney-General and the Singapore Prisons Service have acted unlawfully. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Thirteen death-row inmates, who had their private letters forwarded by prison officials to the Attorney-General's Chambers, have filed a civil case against the Attorney-General.

The prisoners are asking the High Court to declare that the AG and the Singapore Prisons Service (SPS) had acted unlawfully - the former by requesting prisoners' letters and the latter by disclosing them.

They want the court to order the AG to stop making requests for copies of their personal correspondence and to order SPS to stop forwarding the correspondence.

Six plaintiffs are seeking damages for breach of confidence. They are also asking the court to order the destruction of the copies of their letters received by the AGC.

Three are seeking nominal damages for copyright infringement.

The plaintiffs, mostly drug offenders, also include former policeman Iskandar Rahmat, who was convicted of the 2013 Kovan double murders of a businessman and his son.

The legal action was filed last Friday (July 2) by their lawyer, M. Ravi.

The case arose out of criminal proceedings involving two of the inmates, Gobi Avedian and Datchinamurthy Kataiah, who were seeking to stay their executions.

Datchinamurthy complained that his letters to his lawyers and family had been forwarded by prison officials to the AGC, which is the opposing party in the case.

In August last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that prison regulations did not permit the SPS to forward inmates' correspondence to the AGC.

However, the court accepted that this was due to oversight and not an attempt to seek any legal advantage.

After the ruling, a total of 22 death-row inmates who believed their letters may have been forwarded, applied for pre-action disclosure, typically sought to get more information before deciding whether or not to launch legal action.

The 22 inmates wanted copies of the forwarded letters as well as information such as the identities of the individuals who made the requests and those who responded.

The pre-action application was dismissed by the High Court in March.

Justice See Kee Oon said pre-action disclosures are not within the scope of disclosures provided for in the Government Proceedings Act.

The judge added that the A-G had voluntarily disclosed all the inmates' correspondence received from the SPS. It emerged that only 13 of the 22 inmates had their letters forwarded.

The judge said the voluntary disclosures by the A-G had provided the plaintiffs with sufficient documents and information to mount their contemplated claims.

In response to The Straits Times' query on the latest court action, an AGC spokesman said: "The Attorney-General's Chambers is aware of the matter. As the case is before the court, we are unable to comment further."

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