Court urges lawyers to avoid sensational language, says justice best served when all are cool-headed

Norasharee Gous was handed the death penalty for instigating another man to traffic in heroin. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Court of Appeal has urged lawyers not to use "needlessly sensational language" and not to adopt "an unwarranted accusatory tone" in court proceedings.

Singapore's highest court made the observations on counsel's choice of words on Wednesday (April 21) in a judgment dismissing an application by a death row inmate to reopen his case.

Norasharee Gous, 46, was handed the death penalty for instigating another man to traffic in heroin.

The court noted that Norasharee's new lawyer M. Ravi had made "strongly worded" submissions in arguing the case, which cast aspersions on the competence and objectivity of Norasharee's former defence counsel, the investigating officers, prosecutors and the trial judge.

However, the apex court found that the allegations against Norasharee's former lawyer were "completely unfounded and unfair" and that the criticisms against the prosecution and the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) were "unjustified".

The court, which comprised Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and justices Andrew Phang and Tay Yong Kwang, said there was no miscarriage of justice in Norasharee's conviction and hence, dismissed his application.

The judgment, written by Justice Tay, also reminded all counsel to be temperate in their use of words.

"We think it is highly undesirable for any counsel (both the prosecution and defence counsel) to use needlessly sensational language and to adopt an unwarranted accusatory tone in submissions, whether written or oral."

The court added: "Passionate advocacy should not be the antithesis of courteous discourse or even disagreement. Justice is best served when everyone involved in its administration is cool-headed and calm and completely objective in thinking."

Norasharee was convicted by the High Court in June 2016 of instigating Mohamad Yazid Md Yusof to traffic in not less than 120.90g of heroin in 2013.

The trial judge accepted Yazid's testimony that he met Norasharee on Oct 23, 2013, at VivoCity mall and was given instructions to collect the drugs.

Norasharee appealed against his conviction, but the appeal was dismissed in March 2017.

In July 2018, he applied to reopen the appeal by raising an alibi defence. Norasharee said his colleague at the time, Mr Mohammad Faizal Zainan, could support his account that he did not meet Yazid that day.

Mr Faizal's testimony was recorded but ultimately, the apex court found that his evidence was not compelling and inconsistent in several aspects.

Norasharee claimed his former lawyer Amarick Gill had failed to carry out his instructions to call Mr Faizal as a witness during the trial.

However, the apex court did not accept this.

Mr Ravi said Norasharee had been "dogged by failures in investigating procedures" and criticised prosecutors and investigators for "indolence".

He claimed that the CNB failed to record statements from Mr Faizal. He also claimed that the prosecution had failed to disclose the fact that no statement was recorded from Mr Faizal.

The court noted that when CNB officers approached Mr Faizal in 2015, he did not tell them he was with Norasharee on the day in question.

The prosecution and the CNB were therefore not aware of the significance of Norasharee's relationship with Mr Faizal and saw no necessity to take a statement from him, said the court.

Mr Ravi also accused the trial judge of "prejudgment" because the judge had asked him at the start of a hearing whether he had anything to add to his written submissions.

The apex court said: "Besides being questionable in logic, such accusatory rhetoric lacks courtesy."

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