Apex court allows constitutional challenge by heroin trafficker on death row

Amir Hussain
·Senior Reporter
·3-min read
Singapore Supreme Court (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)
Singapore Supreme Court (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — The Court of Appeal on Friday (23 October) granted leave, or permission, for a judicial review application by a drug trafficker on death row to be heard.

Syed Suhail Syed Zin, 44, is arguing that his previously scheduled execution ahead of others on death row is unconstitutional, as it breaches his right to equality under the law guaranteed by Article 12 of the Constitution.

He is also arguing that because no clemency has been granted by the president to any drug offender since 1998, the powers of pardon conferred under Article 22 of the Constitution has also been effectively extinguished.

The High Court had dismissed Suhail’s application for leave, but Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on Friday found that the threshold for allowing the application to proceed had been crossed.

The judicial review will be scheduled for an expedited hearing at the High Court.

Suhail’s lawyer M. Ravi, in his arguments, brought up the specific case of Datchinamurthy Kataiah, a drug trafficker who was sentenced to death before Suhail but has not been scheduled for execution.

About the case

Suhail, 44, received the mandatory death penalty in December 2015 for trafficking in not less than 38.84g of heroin. He was arrested in 2011 with 2.21kg of drugs in his room and claimed that all of it was for his personal consumption, although he admitted to having sold drugs in May that year.

The apex court dismissed his appeal in October 2018. Among other things, it considered that Suhail never mentioned to investigators that the drugs were for his own use; the evidence did not point to his alleged consumption of 12g to 18g of heroin per day; and that his text messages revealed he was in dire need of money.

On 8 September, the President ordered that Suhail’s sentence be carried out on 18 September. But on 17 September, Suhail’s lawyer M Ravi made a last ditch application to the apex court to review the case both on sentence and conviction.

Last Friday (16 November), the apex court threw out Suhail’s “patently unmeritorious” application, with Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang saying that finality is a fundamental part of the legal system, without which “dissatisfied litigants could (and probably would) bring repeated applications to the courts”.

“Judicial decisions must confer certainty and stability and it is impossible to have a properly functioning legal system if legal decisions are open to ‘constant and unceasing challenge’,” he noted.

“Indeed, it cannot be the case that a dissatisfied litigant could bring repeated applications until the desired outcome is achieved. If so, that would be the very perversion of justice and fairness and would make a mockery of the rule of law,” he said.

The judge added that lawyers should discourage clients from repeatedly bringing “patently unmeritorious applications” before the court.

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