Under Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), trafficking of more than 500g of cannabis or 1,000g of cannabis mixture mandates the mandatory death penalty.
Sundar Arujunan, whom his lawyer argued had a low IQ level of 62, pleaded guilty to the reduced charges and therefore escaped the death sentenced. He was given 20 years in jail and 15 strokes of the cane for each offence, but he can only be caned a maximum of 24 times in total.
Sundar had passed the drugs to the second accused, Ramalingam Ravinthran, in July, 2006, when both of them were caught.
Ramalingam, whose charges were not reduced, was found guilty and was sentenced to death.
His subsequent appeal to the Court of Appeal against the sentence was rejected.
Ramalingam’s applications to the High Court for a judicial review on the Attorney-General’s prosecutorial discretion – in preferring two different charges on two different persons for the same crime - could not be granted, the court said, “without ignoring the effect of the decision of the trial judge and that of the Court of Appeal. The accused should have applied to the Court of Appeal for leave to file a motion to re-open the case for his arguments on the point of breach of his constitutional rights.”
The High Court, however, affirmed that prosecutorial discretion was subject to judicial review only in two circumstances: (a) when the discretion is abused in the sense that it is exercised in bad faith for an extraneous purpose, or (b) where the exercise of the discretion results in a contravention of constitutional protection and rights. (Law Watch)
Ramalingam is now asking the Court of Appeal to allow his case to be re-opened on the grounds that his constitutional rights have been violated as a result of the Attorney-General preferring two different charges on two different persons for the same crime.
In other words, he is asking the courts to adjudicate if the Attorney-General (AG) has acted against his (Ramalingam’) constitutional rights under Article 12(1) of the Constitution which states that: “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.”
When the prosecutor charges two people differently for a similar crime, especially one which would mandate the mandatory death penalty on one of the two accused, as has happened in Ramalingam’s case, is the prosecution acting contrary to Article 12(1)?
Ramalingam also cites Article 9(1) which says that: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law.” He is arguing that the prosecution’s decision violates Article 12(1) and is thus contrary to the constitutional provision of Article 9(1). The courts should also quash his conviction and send the case to a re-trial, and a stay of execution be granted in the meantime, he argues.
In its earlier argument against such a review, the Attorney-General explained that prosecutorial decisions involve “multifaceted considerations” and “extra legal factors’ which the courts are “ill-equipped to deal with”.
“There are no objective standards, no statutory guidelines or codes, by which the courts can assess and evaluate the appropriateness or correctness of the prosecutorial decision. The courts would face intractable problems in trying to evaluate and substitute its own decision on whether prosecution is in order for each individual case.”
The Attorney-General also explained that any meaningful review by the courts would require examination of investigative papers and files of the law enforcement agencies. “Yet these are confidential or secret documents, the disclosure of which not only may be adverse to the accused persons, but which may also undermine prosecutorial effectiveness by exposing the strategies of law enforcement agencies.”
Ramalingam’s arguments are that in his case prosecutorial discretion has been exercised in an arbitrary manner, that a violation of natural justice has occurred, and that a “legitimate sense of grievance has arisen” on his part because of the disparity in charges between him and Sundar Arujunan.
The Court of Appeal is expected to hear the appeal in October.