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24 death-row inmates’ lawsuit against AG: Apex court rejects appeal and last-ditch stay of execution for prisoner

SINGAPORE — After some seven hours of deliberation and at a hearing that went past midnight, the Court of Appeal denied an eleventh-hour stay of execution for convicted drug trafficker Abdul Rahim Shapiee, who was among 24 death-row inmates suing the Attorney-General (AG).

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (pictured in 2021) was one of three judges at an appeal hearing on Aug 4, 2022 for a lawsuit filed by 24 death-row prisoners. He spent most of the time explaining the process of cost orders to the inmates.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (pictured in 2021) was one of three judges at an appeal hearing on Aug 4, 2022 for a lawsuit filed by 24 death-row prisoners. He spent most of the time explaining the process of cost orders to the inmates.
  • On Aug 1, 24 men on death row filed a lawsuit alleging that their access to lawyers was obstructed
  • They lodged an appeal after the High Court struck out the suit two days later
  • One inmate, Abdul Rahim Shapiee, due to hang on Aug 5, also applied for a stay of execution
  • The Court of Appeal dismissed both applications, calling Abdul Rahim's bid an "abuse of process"
  • The hearing began early on Thursday, reconvened at 2.30pm, ended at 5pm and the judges deliberated on the outcome for about seven hours until just before midnight when hearing resumed for the judgement 

SINGAPORE — After some seven hours of deliberation and at a hearing that went past midnight, the Court of Appeal denied an eleventh-hour stay of execution for convicted drug trafficker Abdul Rahim Shapiee, who was among 24 death-row inmates suing the Attorney-General (AG).

This means that Abdul Rahim, 45, will be hanged on Friday (Aug 5).

The Singaporean had told the court that he filed a complaint on Wednesday against his trial lawyer for failing to call a witness to testify in his defence, which was the basis for his bid to postpone his execution.

However, the apex court judges called this an "abuse of process", that it was "plainly an afterthought" given that the argument first surfaced just days before his scheduled hanging.

The hearing, which began early on Thursday, reconvened at 2.30pm, ended at 5pm and — in an unprecedented fashion — the judges deliberated on the outcome for about seven hours until just before midnight when hearing resumed for the judgement.

Members of the public, reporters, death penalty activists and friends of the inmates were present in the courtroom, while the inmates and judges appeared over video-conferencing platform Zoom.

Earlier on Monday, Abdul Rahim and the other inmates filed a civil lawsuit against the AG, claiming that their access to lawyers for appeals and reviews of their cases had been obstructed.

They argued that the power of the courts to order costs against defence lawyers made them afraid to take up legal challenges.

The inmates sought a declaration that the costs provisions were unconstitutional and therefore null, void and unlawful. They also sought damages for breach of the defendant's statutory duty to allow "access to justice".

The lawsuit was thrown out on Wednesday by a High Court judge who said that it was “plainly unsustainable and unmeritorious”.

The 24 inmates, mostly convicted drug traffickers, then filed an appeal against the decision.

The three-judge Court of Appeal — Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Justice Woo Bih Li — dismissed the appeal on Friday.

THE 24 INMATES NAMED IN THE LAWSUIT

  • Iskandar Rahmat
  • Datchinamurthy Kataiah
  • Abdul Rahim Shapiee
  • Rosman Abdullah
  • Pannir Selvam Pranthaman
  • Saminathan Selvaraju
  • Masoud Rahimi Merzad
  • Mohammad Rizwan Akbar Husain
  • Roslan Bakar
  • Pausi Jefridin
  • Jumaat Mohamed Sayed
  • Ramdhan Lajis
  • Lingkesvaran Rajendaren
  • Syed Suhail Syed Zin
  • Mohammad Azwan Bohari
  • Hamzah Ibrahim
  • Mohammad Reduan Mustaffar
  • Moad Fadzir Mustaffa
  • Mohamed Shalleh Abdul Latiff
  • Zamri Mohd Tahir
  • Muhammad Faizal Mohd Shariff
  • Sulaiman Jumari
  • Tangaraju Suppiah
  • Tan Kay Yong
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INMATES SPEAK OF RUSHED PROCEEDINGS

Former police officer Iskandar Rahmat, 43, who has been on death row since 2017 for a double murder in Kovan four years earlier, spoke most of the time on behalf of the other inmates.

Iskandar repeated arguments that they or their families had approached several lawyers who did not want to represent the inmates because they were afraid of adverse cost orders.

This was later echoed by Abdul Rahim and another inmate involved in the lawsuit, Datchinamurthy Kataiah, 36.

Iskandar also alleged once more that Singapore Prison Service officers had intentionally obstructed the inmates when they tried to file their originating claim on July 28.

The Singapore Prison Service refuted these claims in a media statement on Thursday morning.

Iskandar told the court that the alleged “unlawful delay tactic caused us to have this case heard expeditiously on an urgent basis”.

He disagreed with High Court Judge See Kee Oon, who had struck out the lawsuit on Wednesday, that even if their originating claim was filed on July 28, there would still be a need for an expedited hearing.

Iskandar claimed that if they had succeeded that day, the Singapore Prison Service would not have issued a notice of execution to Abdul Rahim the next day because he would have had an ongoing court matter.

Deputy Senior State Counsel John Lu, who represented the Attorney-General, told the court that the relevant prison officer was ready to file a court affidavit attesting that they did not refuse to help the inmates in order to facilitate the carrying out of Abdul Rahim’s execution.

Iskandar further argued that they did not have a right to a fair hearing because of the rushed nature of the proceedings, which meant that they could not gather evidence and put together the relevant material to help the court make a finding.

On his part, Chief Justice Menon spent much of the hearing explaining the process of cost orders to the inmates.

The judge repeatedly emphasised that costs are only ordered when proceedings are frivolous, vexatious or an abuse of process.

He said: “The court has control over its process, and in the exercise of its control over its process, it has the ability to impose cost sanctions on lawyers who conduct themselves in a way that amounts to abuse of process or that take frivolous points.

“Lawyers are officers of the court. They have a duty to come and do their best for their client, but doing their best means having to do it in accordance with the law.”

CLAIMS OF NEW EVIDENCE

In his application for a stay of execution, Abdul Rahim said that he had new evidence for the court to consider.

He alleged that he had asked Mr Nadwani Manoj Prakash, the pro bono lawyer who defended him during his drug trafficking trial, to call a co-accused person to the stand.

This person was Nuraiin Rosman, who has since been sentenced to life imprisonment for her role in the trafficking.

Mr Manoj allegedly declined to call Nuraiin as a witness and told Abdul Rahim that changing lawyers midway through the trial would complicate things.

Abdul Rahim also rehashed arguments that his role was limited to being a courier because he meant to deliver the drugs to a man called “Jebek”.

In response, Deputy Senior State Counsel Lu said that the prosecution had offered Nuraiin as a defence witness during the trial. However, she was never named as someone who could help with his defences.

Abdul Rahim also did not mention her when he appealed against his conviction and sentence, and Jebek did not support his claims during the trial, Mr Lu added.

The state counsel said that the 24 inmates have been allowed to talk to some lawyers, activists, their family and friends — which meant that they did have access to legal advice.

Mr Lu said to Abdul Rahim: “They can come and make their arguments, and as Your Honour (Chief Justice Menon) said, you had the most rational and reasoned discussion with Iskandar. So there is no prejudice that they suffered from their inability to secure legal representation.”

Abdul Rahim later told the court that his younger sister managed to secure a lawyer who said that he would come in only if he gets a stay of execution.

'SIMPLY NO REASONABLE PROSPECT'

In delivering the court's judgement, Chief Justice Menon said that the declarations sought by the inmates were not viable.

He noted that the legal provisions of cost orders against lawyers are there "for good reason" and there could be two reasons why no lawyer wanted to take on the inmates' case — either they had misunderstood the provisions, or they could not see any merit in the prospective case that the inmates wanted to run.

Such a deterrent effect was exactly what the cost orders seek to achieve, he added.

As for Abdul Rahim's stay of execution application, Chief Justice Menon noted that he had not raised his argument during the High Court trial in 2018, or the appeal against his conviction and sentence two years later.

"It beggars belief that throughout that period, he did not see fit to mention this to his new counsel (for the appeal). He did not take any steps... until literally days when the sentence was carried out," Chief Justice Menon told the court. 

There was "simply no reasonable prospect" of Abdul Rahim's conviction being reopened based on his new argument, the apex court noted.

It was an "abuse of process" and "cannot be the basis for granting a stay of execution", Chief Justice Menon added.

Related topics

court death row Singapore Prison Service inmates appeal Attorney-General

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