The appeal hearing for Yong Vui Kong ended a couple of minutes ago.
After two stays of execution, the 3-judge Court of Appeal has reserved its judgment after hearing the arguments put forth by Vui Kong’s lawyer, M Ravi. The judges thanked M Ravi for updating them on the current international practice with regards to the death penalty. [My thanks to Seelan for this update]
I was at the hearing today which began at 10am. The Court of Appeals chambers was as cold as the mandatory death penalty which the Singapore government so efficiently practices. Over 50 people were squeezed into the small public gallery. I saw Vui Kong escorted into the chambers by four police officers. He followed the proceedings via the mandarin translation by a court interpreter. He seemed just like any other 21 year old with his spiky hair and the sides shaved. But unlike any other 21 year old, he’s facing the hangman’s noose.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay longer. When I left about an hour into the proceedings, i looked at Vui Kong who was seated behind a glass partition with two police officers on his left and right. I wondered what was going through his mind knowing this hearing was all about, to put it bluntly, to hang or not to hang and if it’ll be the last time i’ll be seeing him….alive.
Post updated Mar 16, 2010 with a photo of Vui Kong’s legal team courtesy of Choon Hiong and MSM reports on the appeal hearing:
Lawyers for Yong Vui Kong argue country’s policy of mandatory execution in drug cases is a breach of human rights
Automatic execution for drug smugglers is inhumane and disproportionate, a court in Singapore has heard, as a 21-year-old challenged his death sentence for bringing heroin into the country.
Lawyers representing Yong Vui Kong, a 22-year old Malaysian, argued that the mandatory death sentence violates international standards and human rights laws. Singapore executes anyone found guilty of importing more than 15g of drugs. It is one of the few countries in the world to impose mandatory death sentences for drug offences.
“This is a young man, only 22, who committed a non-violent offence,” said Saul Lehrfreund, co-founder of the Death Penalty Project, a London-based legal program that appeals against death sentences. “The court in Singapore has no choice by to impose death by hanging, regardless of the individual circumstances of the case. In this day and age that just seems ludicrous.”
Kong, whom lawyers describe as “impoverished and vulnerable”, was due to be hanged last December until lawyers obtained an emergency reprieve. He was convicted in 2008 of smuggling 47g of heroin into Singapore.
The case is regarded by experts as an important challenge to the country’s death penalty and has attracted media attention across Asia, where executing people for drug offences remains controversial.
Taiwan recently absolished the mandatory death penalty. China, which continues to execute prisoners for 68 different offences including 44 non-violent crimes, allows judicial discretion in sentencing drug-related cases.
Singapore has seen a big decline in its use of the death penalty since having the highest execution rate in the world in the 1990s, but the government is resisting any change to the law. Singapore’s attorney general, Walter Woon, has argued that parliament has the power to show mercy in individual cases.
Kong was refused mercy in December, and his lawyers are arguing that the courts and not the executive should have the discretionary power. “It can’t be right that an administrative body not amenable to judicial review effectively becomes the sentencing body,” said Lehrfreund. “There is a clear global trend away from sentencing people to death without taking their age, vulnerability and other powerful mitigating factors into account.”
Court metes sentences within parameters set by Parliament: AG
SINGAPORE – Should the death penalty be an automatic punishment for drug traffickers? The debate came up during the appeal of convicted Malaysian drug mule Yong Vui Kong yesterday, which saw the Attorney-General make a rare court appearance in which he weighed in on the question.
Yong’s lawyer, Mr M Ravi, told the Court of Appeal that a mandatory death penalty is not in line with customary international law because it is “cruel and inhumane”.
He said the court should have the discretion to look at the different circumstances concerning individual drug traffickers before deciding on meting out the death penalty.
“When you sentence someone for 15g of drug and someone for 100kg, that’s a difference and discretion should come in,” Mr Ravi said, adding that 93 per cent of the countries in the world do not have a mandatory death penalty. Only 14 countries have such a punishment, he noted.
To this, Justice Andrew Phang pointed out: “It’s not a numbers game. It’s a qualitative issue as well.”
The prosecution, led by Attorney-General Walter Woon – in one of his last court appearances as the country’s top prosecutor before he steps down on April 10 – said that if there was to be any change to the law on mandatory capital punishment, it could only be effected by the legislature, not the judiciary.
“The Parliament sets the parameters within which the court gives sentences. It’s the function of the prosecution and the court to give effect to the will of the Parliament,” said Prof Woon. “The decision to grant clemency is a matter of policy, and therefore not susceptible to judicial supervision.”
The harsh punishment, he added, was needed to protect Singaporeans from the harm of drugs.
And while one is free to campaign for the removal of the mandatory death penalty, there is a parliamentary process for the issue to be aired, Prof Woon noted.
The Attorney-General also noted that Yong had been given every chance to put forward his case. He was tried and had exhausted his right of appeal, and he had filed a clemency plea which was rejected by the President.
The Court of Appeal will give its decision at a later date.
Yong, 22, was sentenced to death in November for trafficking 47g of heroin and was to have been hanged in December. But days before the sentence was to be carried out, Mr Ravi obtained a rare stay of execution from the High Court – a decision the Attorney-General’s Chambers had opposed, as it said the court did not have the power to put off Yong’s execution after the President had rejected his clemency plea.
Yong had originally filed an appeal against the conviction and sentence, but withdrew it last April.
THE fate of a condemned drug trafficker given another shot at an appeal remains in the balance following arguments made against and for the death penalty by his lawyer and the prosecution before the highest court in the land.
The Court of Appeal, which heard the intense legal debate for more than 2 1/2 hours before a packed courtroom yesterday, said it would deliver its decision on Yong Vui Kong’s case at a later date.
The session saw legal heavyweights in attendance on both sides.
Attorney-General Walter Woon, flanked by seven prosecutors, argued the case himself.
Yong’s lawyer, Mr M. Ravi, had a three- man research team from London, led by a Queen’s Counsel, which flew in specially for the hearing. They are doing the case pro bono.
Yong, 22, was convicted by the High Court in 2008 of trafficking in 42.27g of heroin and given the death sentence, mandatory for offences involving more than 15g of the drug. He filed an appeal but told his lawyers later to withdraw it, one week before the hearing in April.
In December last year, represented by Mr Ravi, he was given the chance to file a new appeal. The Court of Appeal said it had a duty to hear new legal arguments even after a criminal case had come to a close, especially if it involved the death penalty.
Yesterday, Mr Ravi made several arguments against the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking.
He argued that this was unconstitutional as the sentence was imposed without allowing a judge to take into account mitigating factors. He also argued that the mandatory death penalty was not in line with customary international law.
Citing decisions by Britain’s Privy Council, Mr Ravi argued that it was now generally recognised that the mandatory death penalty was cruel and inhuman.
He said only 14 countries in the world had the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking, which left 93 per cent of the world frowning on such a punishment.
He argued that since the prosecution had the discretion to decide if an accused person should face capital or non-capital charges, judges should have the same leeway in deciding whether or not to pass the death penalty.
But Professor Woon argued that the mandatory death penalty was not unconstitutional, that the practices of various states showed there was no international consensus that it contravened customary international law. He noted that at least 31 countries still retained the mandatory death penalty for various crimes. These included China and India which account for ‘half of humanity’.
As for whether the mandatory death penalty was inhuman, Prof Woon argued: ‘It’s not for the Privy Council sitting in London to decide for the rest of humanity.’
He noted that the role of the courts was to interpret the law laid down by Parliament. ‘Any change should be made by Parliament, and not by the courts.’