Inmate’s case again highlights problems with Public Prosecutor’s powers

Inmate’s case again highlights problems with Public Prosecutor’s powers
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PHOTO: Eswary Vengatasamy, the mother of S. Prabagaran broke down during a press conference, January 11, 2017. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng (Yahoo)

Malaysia rules out interference in S’pore death sentence case

A last-ditch attempt to save the life of a death row inmate in Singapore has ended without success, and has once again raised questions about the immense powers vested in the Public Prosecutor.

Lawyers acting on behalf of 30-year old Malaysian citizen S Prabagaran had filed an application for judicial review with the country’s court to force the government there to take Prabagaran’s case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The lawyers argue that their client has been deprived of a fair trial in Singapore on the basis that Prabagaran has been denied a fair trial, and a Certificate of Cooperation, which would have enabled him to apply to the court to commute his death sentence to life imprisonment.

His lawyers and anti-death penalty activists have argued that Prabagaran had helped Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau to disrupt drug activities, a prerequisite under the law for the COC to be issued to him. However, the Public Prosecutor has denied him such a COC despite his cooperation, they say.

“We are aware that there is an effort to put pressure to bring a particular court case here to a higher profile,” Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore, Datuk Ilango Karuppannan, told Malaysian newspaper, Bernama.

The filing in the Malaysian courts, made in January, had named the Foreign Ministry and the Malaysian Government as respondents.

“The crux of the argument here is that before one is deprived of his life, there must be a strict adherence to due process, particularly the fairness of trial,” says lawyer M Ravi, who has been working with his Malaysian counterparts on the case. They are also being assisted by Ben Cooper, QC,from the UK, and Parvais Jabbar of the Death Penalty Project in London. Both specialise in international human rights law relating to capital cases.

Prabagaran was arrested for trafficking more than 15g of heroin into Singapore in 2014.

He has, however, maintained his innocence and says that he was not aware of the drugs which was found in the car he was driving.

The case has once again highlighted an issue which activists have raised since changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) in Singapore were made in 2012. The revisions were made following constitutional challenges in the Singapore courts, particularly those brought by human rights lawyer, M Ravi, and high publicity cases such as that of another Malaysian, then 19-year old Yong Vui Kong.

Among the changes to the mandatory death penalty (MDP) practice, where judges were given more discretion in passing judgements in capital cases, were also the rules pertaining to the COC.

The law gives the Public Prosecutor the authority to issue the COC, based on his own assessment of whether the accused had provided “substantive cooperation” to the police during investigations.

“Substantive cooperation” is defined as “substantively assisting in the Central Narcotic Bureau’s operations to disrupt drug trafficking activities within or outside of Singapore”.

This, argue activists, effectively gives the Public Prosecutor power over the life and death of an inmate, something which only the courts should have.

Denial of the COC inevitably means the inmate will be executed.

Also, the decision by the Public Prosecutor to grant or deny the COC to the inmate is not open to any judicial review.

The Prosecutor is also not bound to provide any explanation to the inmate about his decision.

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

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

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.

Prabagaran’s judicial review hearing in Malaysia will take place on 7 March. If that fails, he could still appeal to the Federal Court of Malaysia.

“The whole process [would] take at least a year,” said Mr Ravi. “Singapore should stay execution pending the outcome of such a hearing, in the event that the court compels the Malaysian government to act.”

The Singapore government has been silent on the matter of the COC and this latest development in Prabagaran’s case. There is also no word on whether it has imposed a moratorium on execution because of this case.