SINGAPORE — A Singaporean heroin trafficker who was scheduled to be executed ahead of other drug traffickers who had been given the death sentence before him has been given permission by the Court of Appeal to begin judicial review proceedings. The court released its grounds of decision on Wednesday (23 December).
Syed Suhail Syed Zin, 44, was arrested in 2011 and convicted in December 2015 of having at least 38.8g of heroin for trafficking. The apex court dismissed his appeal in October 2018 and the President rejected his clemency petition in July last year. On 8 September, the President ordered that his execution be carried out on 18 September.
Two days before he was scheduled to head to the gallows, Suhail, through his lawyer M Ravi, filed an application to the High Court for permission to begin judicial review proceedings challenging the President’s clemency powers, as well as challenging the scheduling of his execution ahead of other prisoners similarly awaiting capital punishment. The High Court dismissed Suhail’s application, but stayed his execution pending an appeal.
On 22 September, the apex court heard the appeal, alongside another application by Suhail for permission to reopen his concluded appeal, which had been dismissed in 2018 on the grounds that relevant evidence had not been adduced. The apex court threw out Suhail’s bid to reopen the concluded appeal on 16 October, describing it “patently unmeritorious”.
Then on 23 October, the Court of Appeal allowed Suhail to begin judicial review proceedings in the High Court solely on the scheduling ground. Among other things, Ravi had argued that the reason for Suhail’s scheduled execution ahead of other such prisoners was because the State had decided not to execute foreigners while border restrictions due to COVID-19 were in place, as this prevented relatives from entering Singapore and repatriating their remains. But this “discrimination based on expediency” violated Suhail’s rights under Article 12 of the Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of the law to all persons, Ravi contended.
Delivering the verdict of the Court of Appeal, Chief Justice Sundaresh said, “The facts of this case were unique in that they arose out of the context of a significant number of executions arising for scheduling at the same time due to their scheduling having been put on hold. It was in these circumstances that there was a need for the State to decide the sequence in which these executions were to be carried out.
“Nevertheless, the rarity of the circumstances did not preclude the need for the State to exercise its discretion in a manner which was consistent with the prisoners’ legal and constitutional rights.”
The Chief Justice said the court found a prima facie case of reasonable suspicion that merited further examination in judicial review proceedings because of an apparent inconsistency in the scheduling of executions.
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