Apex court rejects bid by Malaysian drug trafficker to challenge death sentence

The court also dismissed Nagaenthran's request for him to be given time to locate psychiatrists to assess him. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - The Court of Appeal on Tuesday (March 29) rejected a bid by Malaysian drug trafficker Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam to start judicial review proceedings to challenge his death sentence.

Nagaenthran's execution looks set to go ahead, after the five-judge court also dismissed his request for his pending execution to be stayed while he locates a panel of psychiatrists to assess him.

Delivering the court's decision, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the case Nagaenthran mounted was "baseless and without merit both as a matter of fact and of law".

Nagaenthran's lawyer, Ms Violet Netto, had argued on March 1 that the 33-year-old was "not competent" to be executed, claiming he was mentally disabled.

Chief Justice Menon said there was no admissible evidence showing any decline in Nagaenthran's mental condition.

The only evidence offered by Nagaenthran’s former lawyer Mr M. Ravi was a “self-serving” affidavit in which he speculated that the inmate had the mental age of a person under the age of 18.

There was no credible basis for Mr Ravi’s assertion, which seemed to be based on a single interaction with Nagaenthran on Nov 2 last year, lasting less than half an hour, said the Chief Justice.

Chief Justice Menon also pointed out that Nagaenthran’s lawyers had objected to psychiatric and medical reports relating to the inmate’s scheduled check-ups - conducted on Aug 5 and Nov 3 last year - from being admitted as evidence to the court.

“Having called his medical condition into question, we cannot see how the appellant can, at the same time, in good faith, prevent access to evidence that pertains to the very condition in question,” he said.

Chief Justice Menon said these reports, which are presumed to be objective, could have shed real light on Nagaenthran’s mental condition.

The lawyers’ objection supports the inference that Nagaenthran is seeking to prevent the court from accessing that evidence because he knows or believes it would undermine his case, he said.

As for two reports from overseas experts submitted by Mr Ravi in November last year, Chief Justice Menon said no reliance could be placed on them because the experts had not even spoken to Nagaenthran.

The Chief Justice said Nagaenthran has been afforded due process under law, and it was not open to him to challenge the outcome of that process when he has put nothing forward to suggest that he does have a case to be considered.

“In our judgment, these proceedings constitute a blatant and egregious abuse of the court’s processes,” he said.

The Chief Justice added that the way the case has been conducted showed that it was a "stop-gap measure" devised by Nagaenthran and his lawyers to try to delay the execution.

“It is improper to engage in or to encourage last-ditch attempts to reopen concluded matters without a reasonable basis,” said Chief Justice Menon.

He added that at a societal level, the proper recourse for those with “passionate views that run counter to imposition of the death penalty” was to seek legislative change.

“But as long as the law validly provides for the imposition of capital punishment in the specified circumstances, it is improper for counsel to abuse the process of the court and thereby bring the administration of criminal justice into disrepute by filing one hopeless application after another and by drip-feeding the supposed evidence.”

Nagaenthran was arrested in 2009 at the age of 21 with heroin strapped to his thigh.

He was convicted of trafficking 42.72g of heroin in 2010 and given the mandatory death penalty.

His appeals against conviction and sentence were dismissed in 2011.

In 2017, the High Court found that he did not qualify to be given life imprisonment, after considering the evidence from four psychological and psychiatric experts.

Nagaenthran's case came under the spotlight in October last year after a letter from the Singapore Prison Service to his mother in Ipoh, informing her that the death sentence would be carried out on Nov 10, was circulated on social media.

In an eleventh-hour bid to halt the execution, his former lawyer Ravi contended that, based on his opinion, Nagaenthran had the "mental age" of a person below 18 years old.

The bid for permission to start judicial review proceedings to challenge his death sentence was dismissed by the High Court. He then appealed to the Court of Appeal.

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