Court rejects death-row inmate's bid to reopen drug trafficking case

A drug trafficker on death row who lost his appeal tried to reopen his case before the Court of Appeal, arguing that the drug sentencing regime was unconstitutional.

However, the court dismissed his bid, saying Abdul Kahar Othman, 62, had no basis to reopen the case.

Kahar was convicted of two drug trafficking charges in 2013 and given the mandatory death penalty. His appeal against his conviction was dismissed in 2015.

In 2016, in the case of murderer Jabing Kho, the Court of Appeal set a test for reopening a case that has exhausted its avenue of appeal. It said there must be new and compelling material on which the court can say there has been a miscarriage of justice.

In trying to reopen his case, Kahar argued that the test did not apply to him because, unlike Kho's case, his was not a last-ditch effort to avoid the death sentence.

His application was dismissed in August. Yesterday, the court issued written reasons for the decision.

The court said the test laid down in Kho's case applies to all attempts to reopen a concluded case, and Kahar's did not pass the test.

His arguments could have been raised in 2015 and were not new, the court said.

Also, his arguments that the law was not constitutional would not have affected the case's outcome, and therefore could not establish a "miscarriage of justice" justifying the reopening of the case.

The court also found no merit in his arguments on the substantive issue. Kahar had argued that it was unconstitutional for the Public Prosecutor to determine whether a drug courier has provided substantive assistance to the Central Narcotics Bureau. Such a courier could be given a life sentence instead of the death penalty. The court said this argument had already been rejected in a previous case.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2018, with the headline 'Court rejects death-row inmate's bid to reopen drug trafficking case'. Print Edition | Subscribe