Govt should stop ignoring huge flaw in Public Prosecutor’s role

Govt should stop ignoring huge flaw in Public Prosecutor’s role
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Mohd Jeefrey bin Jamil’s last attempt to escape the death sentence was met with a rejection by the President on 17 April.

And rather unusually, on the same day his clemency appeal was rejected, his family was informed that he would be hanged in Changi Prison 4 days later, on Friday, 21 April.

Mohd Jeefrey would have missed having his life spared by a whisker, thanks to the law which empowers the Public Prosecutor with the authority to deny him the Certificate of Cooperation (COC).

His death would bring to an end a case which has lasted 5 years.

The death row inmate was arrested in 2012 for trafficking 45.26g of diamorphine, and found guilty of trafficking, which warranted the death sentence under Singapore’s drug laws.

However, Mohd Jeefrey, 52, is being sent to his death based on one thing alone: that the Public Prosecutor (PP) has refused to grant him the COC.

Under Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), a trafficker can be spared the death sentence if he satisfies two criteria:

  1. That his role in trafficking drugs was that of a courier, and nothing more
  2. That the PP has issued him a COC

At the High Court, the PP had told the court that Mohd Jeefrey was indeed considered a “courier”.

This satisfied the first condition.

According to the MDA, the COC may be issued to a convict if “the Public Prosecutor… [has] certified that the person has substantively assisted the [Central Narcotics] Bureau in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore.”

Unfortunately, the PP had decided not to grant Mohd Jeefrey the COC, which would have allowed the latter to apply to the court to have his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

Mohd Jeefrey thus failed to satisfy the second condition.

“As one requirement was not met, the mandatory death penalty applied,” said High Court judge, Tay Yong Kwang.

As lawyers and anti-death penalty activists have pointed out repeatedly, there is a serious problem with the powers being vested in the PP vis a vis the COC.

The PP’s reason for not granting Mohd Jeefrey the COC is not subject to question, or even judicial review (unless there is “bad faith” or “malice” on the PP’s part), as the MDA states:

“The issue of the certificate will be determined by the Public Prosecutor in his sole discretion. No action or proceeding shall lie against the Public Prosecutor in relation to any such determination unless it is proved to the court that the determination was done in bad faith or with malice.”


Without the PP’s assent, the Court of Appeal stands helpless in commuting an inmate’s death sentence to life imprisonment.

Such is the absurdity of the MDA.

The PP, in effect, has been given equal or more power than the Cabinet and the President, who decide if clemency is to be granted.

Indeed the PP possesses more power than the Court of Appeal itself, when it comes to sparing an inmate’s life.

The PP stands as a god, with power over life and death, by the very act of deciding whether to issue the COC.

This is a huge flaw in the law which needs to be urgently addressed.

The same question of the PP’s powers in granting the COC is also being highlighted in the case of S Prabagaran, another death row inmate convicted of drug trafficking. The PP has also decided not to grant Prabagaran the COC.

Without any transparency on how and why the PP has decided either way, the accused’s life is left hanging.

Prabagaran, for instance, insists that he had rendered “substantive cooperation” to the Central Narcotics Bureau during investigations, and yet has been denied the lifeline of a COC by the PP.

Having exhausted all his avenues of appeal in Singapore, including a clemency appeal to the President which was denied, a COC was his best hope.

It is deeply troubling that the PP is not required to explain or publish the reasons for his decision on the COC, or even to have his decision subject to a judicial review, in capital cases where a mistake could mean the difference between life and death.

But more fundamental than this is the very question of why should such an individual possess such seemingly unfettered powers over another person’s life.

What if the PP’s decision to not grant the COC is flawed, or based on wrong facts, or based on superficial whims? No one would know as his decision is not open to question, even by the highest court in the land.

Eugene Thuraisingam, the lawyer for Mohd Jeefrey, posted on his Facebook page:

“I think it is completely unjust and wrong for a drug addict who trafficks drugs to feed his addiction to be killed by the State. The responsibility for his death must rest squarely on the law minister and his cabinet as they have the power to recommend that his sentence be commuted to life imprisonment instead. They have chosen not to exercise their power in this case.”

There is no law anywhere else in the world which sends a man to his death just because the Public Prosecutor feels he has not “substantively assisted” the police.

Such a law makes a circus of the courts, for it allows the Public Prosecutor to, effectively, dance around it and usurp the powers that should rightly be vested in the courts, based on the merits of each case.