Ex-Supreme Court judge T S Sinnathuray dies: 6 memorable cases he presided over

Ex-Supreme Court judge T S Sinnathuray died on Jan 18, 2016.
Ex-Supreme Court judge T S Sinnathuray died on Jan 18, 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

Retired Justice T S Sinnathuray, who died on Jan 18 aged 85, was known for many notable cases that he heard and tried in his days at the High Court.

One rare case remembered for the drama that led to a U-turn by the accused, showed Justice Sinnathuray's down-to-earth and practical style in dealing with high-stake criminal cases.

It involved the trial of three Queenstown Remand Prison officers who faced manslaughter charges for the death of a prison inmate in 1995. The inmate, Ghazali Abdul Manaf, 31, had been badly bashed and found with 121 injuries.


All three, Abdul Jamil Khan, 33, and warders Adnan Mohamed, 26, and Selamat Saini, 27, had pleaded not guilty when the trial started and several witnesses testified over several days with the prospects of a protracted hearing.

On the fifth day however, a key inmate witness was called. Defence lawyers objected, claiming he was a prison "hantu" or informer and he worked for a certain Mr W, the prison intelligence officer. This was denied by the prosecution.

The judge overruled the defence. The inmate - who being a 'cookie' or prison helper - was seated at one corner of the hallway where the incident occurred and had a ringside view of the assault which involved more than 100 injuries.

His account was graphic in detail, and at the end of it, Justice Sinnathuray asked the last question: what did you do when you saw all this?

"I informed Mr W," he replied spontaneously.

And the judge said: "I see, now we are getting somewhere."

The inmate was the last witness for the day, and thereafter, Justice Sinnathuray asked to see both defence lawyers and prosecutors in his chambers.

Come the next morning, the defence made a U -turn and all pleaded guilty to the charges.

One did not need brilliance to surmise what happened in chambers the previous evening. The judge would have told the defence they had a futile case and advised them to change course. It is arguable if prosecutors also agreed in exchange to change tack and not press for a deterrent jail term.

The three officers were sentenced to between six and 10 years' jail and ordered to be caned for causing the prisoner's death.

Such was the calibre of the judge who cut to the bone, making for a judge-led process that averted an otherwise long trial including the expensive need for experts whom defence lawyers had planned to call from Australia to shore up their case.

In 1983, he and the late Justice F.A. Chua heard one of Singapore's most sensational murder trials involving ritual killer Adrian Lim, who was charged with murdering two children in his Toa Payoh flat.

For 41 days, the two judges heard gruesome accounts of sexual perversion, drinking of human blood and purported exorcism before they found the accused guilty and sentenced him to death.

Twelve years later, in 1995, Justice Sinnathuray had another vicious killer in his courtroom - British serial killer John Martin Scripps who murdered and chopped up the bodies of three tourists.

He convicted Martin, 35, after a 17-day trial. He was convinced that the accused had killed a South African tourist here as well as two Canadian tourists in Thailand.

His ruling, in what became known as the "body parts murders", was hailed as authoritative by the police in Singapore, Thailand, Canada and Britain.

In 1997, three weeks before he stepped down from the Bench, he made legal history when he sentenced a serial sex offender to 40 years in jail, the longest ever imposed by a court here.

He wanted the accused, Kelvin Lim, to be "effectively removed from society for a long period of time" because doctors had said the chances of Lim molesting boys again were very high.

Lim , 29, a serial sex offender was convicted of sexually abusing five boys, aged eight to 13, between 1995 and 1996, which he committed within three months of being released from prison from previous child sex offences. The Court of Appeal,comprising Chief Justice Yong Pung How, Judges of Appeal Thean Lip Ping and M Karthigesu affirmed the sentence.

The judge was also not spared making difficult decisions in emotionally charged cases as well

For example, in 1995, he sentenced a mother to six years' jail for throwing her daughters, one aged two months and the other three years, from the sixth floor of a block of flats in Choa Chu Kang.

Tan Hang Cheng, 29 had admitted to two charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

According to psychiatric reports, she had been under a great deal of stress when she threw her daughters to their deaths She had been dismissed from her job in October last year when she was pregnant and became depressed.

She lived with four of her in-laws and her father-in-law suffered nightmares and would wake up shouting at night, aggravating her insomnia. Her baby who was born in February that year, suffered from jaundice while her elder child had asthma.

When her mother-in-law left for a holiday in Thailand, she had to care for the children and her father-in-law. Tan's husband could not help as he had his own business to run and often came home late.

Justice Sinnathuray quoted a judgment from a previous case of a mother, Lim Lai Choo, convicted of killing her three children in 1989 :

"You will have to live with the memory of what you have done and that may be a punishment far more severe than any punishment the court can impose on you."

But Justice Sinnathuray said he still had to impose a deterrent sentence as a lenient sentence would give the impression that the court condoned her conduct, he said.

He sentenced her to six years' jail.