Apex court in Singapore dismisses death-row convict’s judicial review application

Syed Suhail Syed Zin (pictured) was set to be executed on September 18, 2020, but the day before the hanging, his lawyer M Ravi applied for leave to make a review application. — Picture via Facebook/M Ravi
Syed Suhail Syed Zin (pictured) was set to be executed on September 18, 2020, but the day before the hanging, his lawyer M Ravi applied for leave to make a review application. — Picture via Facebook/M Ravi

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SINGAPORE, Oct 17 — The Court of Appeal yesterday threw out an application by a Singaporean drug trafficking convict to conduct a judicial review into his case. He was originally scheduled to be hanged last month.

Syed Suhail Syed Zin, 44, was in 2016 sentenced to death for trafficking at least 38.84g of heroin in 2011.

He was set to be executed on September 18 this year, after the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal against his conviction and sentence in 2018. 

However, the day before the hanging, his lawyer M Ravi applied for leave to file a review application. Syed Suhail was granted an interim stay of execution pending the review.

A judicial review seeks to ensure that the law is not in conflict with the doctrines of rule of law and separation of powers, or inconsistent with the Constitution.

Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, who delivered the court’s decision on Friday in a 25-page judgment, stressed the stringent requirements to be satisfied in a review application.

The other two judges on the court’s bench are Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash.

The judges noted that Ravi’s application was “so lacking in merit” that it would provide a basis for similar applications in the future to be dismissed at the leave stage.

They emphasised again the point that lawyers who raise arguments without a reasonable basis in a review application would be abusing the court process. The courts “will not hesitate to summarily dismiss patently unmeritorious applications in the future, even at the leave stage”, the judges said.

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

Bid to disqualify AGC unjustified 

The judges heard the review application on September 22, when Ravi sought to disqualify the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) from the case — including Deputy Chief Prosecutor (DCP) Francis Ng, who appeared in court.

Ravi said that this was because the prosecution had, without the inmate’s consent, come into contact with privileged or confidential information from Syed Suhail’s earlier appeal. 

The information in question was contained in a personal correspondence from Syed Suhail’s former lawyer Ramesh Tiwary and four letters sent to the inmate from his uncle.

Community Action Network, an activist group that supports a campaign against the death penalty, argued that this raised questions about the public prosecutor’s respect for the inmate’s privacy. It urged an independent inquiry into the matter.

The judges said they were satisfied that Ravi did not produce anything to justify his claim. DCP Ng also confirmed that he had neither been involved in the earlier appeal nor seen the contents of the letters, even though they were sent to AGC.

Judge Phang noted that Ravi did not give notice about this argument and merely spoke about it orally. “We take this opportunity to reiterate that this is not the appropriate way to raise such issues before the court.”

Stringent requirements

The judges emphasised the stringent requirements for a judicial review.

Applicants must show that there is enough material, either evidential or of a legal nature, for appellate courts to conclude if there has been a miscarriage of justice.

If the material does not satisfy any of the following requirements under the law, the review application will be thrown out:

  • The material was not explored at any stage during previous court proceedings
  • It was compelling enough to show a miscarriage of justice in relation to an earlier decision
  • The material could not have been adduced with reasonable diligence

In Syed Suhail’s application, the judges found that all three requirements were not met.

Ravi had put forth two grounds in the application: Whether Syed Suhail suffered an abnormality of mind that was not explored before and that Tiwary had failed to use available evidence to show that the convict received a S$20,000 inheritance from his uncle. This would have rebutted the prosecution’s argument that Syed Suhail could not have bought all the heroin for his own use.

The judges found the inheritance argument to be a “non-starter”. Ravi did not rely on the argument eventually.

As for the argument on abnormality of mind, Syed Suhail had confirmed during his trial that he would not be raising that.

The Court of Appeal will on Oct 23 hear Syed Suhail’s constitutional challenge against his death sentence.

The conviction

Central Narcotics Bureau officers arrested Syed Suhail on Aug 3, 2011, near a traffic junction in Chua Chu Kang. He was escorted to his rental home nearby, where officers found heroin weighing no less than 38.84g.

He was convicted of possessing the drug for the purposes of trafficking after a seven-day trial in the High Court in December 2015.

The Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal in October 2018.

Anyone convicted of trafficking more than 15g of heroin faces the death penalty. — TODAY

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