Court of Appeal allows Singaporean death row inmate to argue his case on scheduling of executions

Syed Suhail Syed Zin is seeking judicial review of the Singapore Prison Service's decision to carry out the death sentence on him before those who were convicted before him.
Syed Suhail Syed Zin is seeking judicial review of the Singapore Prison Service's decision to carry out the death sentence on him before those who were convicted before him.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The Court of Appeal on Friday (Oct 23) gave the green light for Singaporean drug trafficker Syed Suhail Syed Zin, 44, to argue his case that death row inmates are not being treated equally in the scheduling of executions.

Suhail is seeking judicial review of the Singapore Prison Service's decision to carry out the death sentence on him before those who were convicted before him, which he contends is a violation of his right to equality under the Constitution.

The decision by the apex court to grant permission for judicial review came after Suhail's lawyer, Mr M. Ravi, cited the case of Malaysian drug trafficker Datchinamurthy Kataiah, who was given the death sentence before Suhail in 2015.

Mr Ravi also pointed out that Datchinamurthy's inmate number is 944, while Suhail's is 949, to support his case about the sequence in which they were put on death row.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, giving the decision of the three-judge apex court, said that on the face of it, there is an inconsistency between the known facts and an affidavit submitted to the court by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

Based on this apparent inconsistency, the threshold to grant permission for judicial review has been crossed, he said.

The affidavit stated that "when the 18 September 2020 date was scheduled for the execution of the appellant's sentence, the appellant was the earliest to have been sentenced to death among all offenders in the same position as he was at the point of scheduling".

After Mr Ravi cited Datchinamurthy's case, Senior Counsel Francis Ng, for the Attorney-General, sought to submit a further affidavit to explain the specific circumstances of that case.

Mr Ng noted that the MHA affidavit had been prepared to address questions that were raised by the apex court at a previous hearing on Sept 22.

"We apologise if we understood the questions wrongly; we read them as referring to general terms," he said.

Suhail was sentenced to death by the High Court on Dec 2, 2015, for trafficking 38.84g of heroin.

His appeal was dismissed on Oct 18, 2018. On July 5, 2019, Suhail was told that his petition for clemency had been rejected.

On Sept 11 this year, he was told that he would be hanged on Sept 18.

Mr Ravi filed an application for leave, or permission, from the court for judicial review of the Singapore Prison Service's decision on the scheduling of his execution.

On Sept 17, his application to the High Court for judicial review was dismissed, but Suhail's execution was stayed pending the appeal.

He then appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The case was heard on Sept 22, when the court posed questions and asked parties to make submissions.

On Friday, the Chief Justice said he accepted that the state has a measure of flexibility in the scheduling of executions, which he noted cannot be effected in a way that is "entirely mathematical".

However, he added that flexibility has to be exercised in a way that is rational and fair.