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Stopping abuse of court process

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Death-row convicts' 11th-hour applications can lead to disrepute of system

Singapore's top court, faced with a recent string of last-minute applications from death-row convicts, wants to put a stop to what it sees as an abuse of the court process.

Last week, the Court of Appeal comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang gave notice that lawyers who submit such last-minute applications will now have to explain why they could not raise the arguments during earlier appeals.

The court pointed out how the four applications before it were the latest involving capital drug offenders who failed to satisfy the necessary requirements under Section 33B of the Misuse of Drugs Act. Introduced in 2013, it gives the court discretion in whether to impose a death sentence.

It requires an accused person to show that he was only a courier and had substantively helped the authorities to disrupt drug trafficking. The court highlighted a similar issue in a separate case in May, involving convicted murderer Kho Jabing, who has since been executed.

"No court in the world would allow an applicant to prolong matters ad infinitum through the filing of multiple applications," it said.

In rejecting Kho's 11th-hour application, Judge of Appeal Chao highlighted how his lawyers presented arguments that had been made earlier.

"This case has been about many things. But today, it is about the abuse of the process of the court," he said.

If such unmeritorious applications were allowed, it would throw the whole justice system into disrepute, he added.

The apex court took similar exception to the four applications it dismissed last week, making clear that "such a drip-feeding approach clearly squanders valuable judicial time".

Criminal Lawyers Association of Singapore president Sunil Sudheesan said while the court will hear applications involving a miscarriage of justice based on new material, its latest signal is a reminder. "One cannot just file an application based on the client's instruction. One does not jump off a cliff because a client instructs one to do so."

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