Court dismisses last-minute bid by mother of Malaysian drug trafficker to halt execution

Ms Panchalai Supermaniam arrives at the Supreme Court for the final appeal on April 26, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The mother of Malaysian drug trafficker Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam on Tuesday (April 26) failed in an eleventh-hour attempt to halt his rescheduled execution, which is due to be carried out on Wednesday.

Her last-minute application was dismissed by a three-judge Court of Appeal, comprising Justices Andrew Phang, Judith Prakash and Belinda Ang.

Justice Phang said the application was patently devoid of factual and legal merit, and was a clear continuation of tactics to “drip-feed” applications to prevent the sentence from being carried out. 

The attempt came nearly a month after a five-judge Court of Appeal, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, on March 29 rejected Nagaenthran's last-ditch bid to challenge his death sentence, calling it a blatant and egregious abuse of the court's processes.

Nagaenthran, who was convicted in 2010, has exhausted his rights of appeal. He was first scheduled to be hanged on Nov 10 last year but filed a last-ditch challenge. 

After his mother's application was dismissed, the court granted Nagaenthran two hours to spend with his family members and hold their hands.

Earlier on Tuesday, before a packed courtroom, Madam Panchalai Supermaniam told the court through a Tamil interpreter: "I want my son back alive, Your Honour."

She said that she needed time to get a lawyer.

Court papers filed on behalf of mother and son on Monday (April 25) contended that Chief Justice Menon, in presiding over Nagaenthran's appeal, had "fundamentally breached" Nagaenthran's constitutional right to a fair trial, and that this gave rise to a "reasonable apprehension of bias".

This argument was premised on the fact that Chief Justice Menon was the serving Attorney-General when Nagaenthran was convicted and had his sentence upheld on appeal.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Wong Woon Kwong said this argument was baseless and conveniently omitted the fact that Nagaenthran and his previous lawyers had no objections to Chief Justice Menon presiding over the case.

The prosecutor said Chief Justice Menon's tenure as Attorney-General had specifically been brought to Nagaenthran's attention, but the inmate had confirmed through his counsel that he had no objections.

DPP Wong added that Chief Justice Menon was not involved in any of the decisions relating to Nagaenthran's prosecution.

The prosecutor also highlighted that the court papers, which were written in legal language, could only have been drafted with some form of legal advice.

He asked the court to direct Madam Panchalai to state the identities of the person who had prepared the papers, saying that counsel should not be allowed to hide behind the veil of anonymity to evade the consequences of abusing the court process.

He also noted that the signature on the application was different from that of Madam Panchalai on her affidavit.

When questioned by the judges as to who had helped her draft and file the court papers, Madam Panchalai maintained that she did not have a lawyer. She said the papers were drafted by "educated" friends and the motion papers were signed by a relative. 

But Justice Phang said the documents were clearly drafted by a lawyer.

He added that the allegation that Nagaenthran had been denied a fair trial was clearly an afterthought.

The judge said Nagaenthran has had more than five years to raise this concern, as Chief Justice Menon first heard an application he filed in December 2016.

“The choice to keep this application in the pocket until the second day before his scheduled execution is reprehensible and improper,” said Justice Phang.

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

His appeals against his conviction and sentence were dismissed in 2011.

In 2017, the High Court found that he did not qualify for a life term, after considering psychological and psychiatric evidence.

His case came under the spotlight after a letter, which was sent from the prison authorities to his mother informing her that the death sentence would be carried out on Nov 10, was circulated on social media.

On March 1, his lawyers argued that Nagaenthran was "not competent" to be executed, claiming he was mentally disabled.

On March 29, the five-judge court said there was no admissible evidence showing any decline in Nagaenthran's mental condition.

The only evidence offered by Nagaenthran's former lawyer 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.

Nagaenthran's lawyers had also objected to psychiatric and medical reports of the inmate's scheduled check-ups - conducted on Aug 5 and Nov 3 last year - from being admitted as evidence.

The court said 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.

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