I received word at 11.30am from Rachel that the Court of Appeal has rejected Yong Vui Kong’s appeal against his death sentence. Vui Kong’s lawyer, M. Ravi, is applying for time to present a clemency petition. Furthermore, the Court of Appeal has closed off further arguments and the Mandatory Death Penalty will stay.
Executions by hanging are carried out by the State usually at 6am on Fridays. The death sentence could be carried out next Friday, 21st May.
The Court of Appeal reserved its judgement on Mar 15, 2010. It delivered its judgement today at 11am. See here for a timeline of articles/posts/videos on Vui Kong’s case. Read also these two news articles from 2005: The precision of ritual in the gallows’ shadow and Singapore accused of hypocrisy on drug stance.
May 17 update: Vui Kong’s lawyer, M. Ravi, has 3 months to submit a clemency petition to the President.
June 10 update: Singapore government attempts to defend its harsh drug laws
Mandatory death penalty constitutional, says court, Khairulanwar Zaini, TOC, 14 May 2010
The Court of Appeal today has rejected the appeal of Yong Vui Kong and declared that the mandatory death penalty is constitutional.
Yong had appealed against his death sentence for drug trafficking.
In a landmark ruling, Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong affirmed the line of decisions passed in Ong Ah Chuan and Nguyen. He ruled that Article 9 (1) of the Singapore Constitution, which establishes that ‘no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law’, neither precluded ‘inhuman punishment’ nor did it embrace customary international law that prohibits the mandatory death penalty, as lawyer M Ravi had argued.
CJ Chan said that the rulings of certain Caribbean jurisdictions against the mandatory death penalty were concerned with murder cases, and as such had no direct application to the case at hand. Furthermore, he noted the lack of an explicit prohibition against inhuman punishment in the Singapore Constitution.
CJ Chan mentioned that reading the constitutional proviso of Article 9 (1) to forbid ‘inhuman punishment’ would be an act of ‘legislating … new rights under the guise of interpreting’. He noted that the government had considered – and rejected – a proposed constitutional clause against inhuman punishment in 1969.
The court also did not find applicable the Indian Supreme Court ruling that declared the mandatory death penalty inconsistent with their constitutional equivalent of Article 9 (1). CJ Chan found that to accept the Indian standard of a ‘fair, just and reasonable procedure’ would require judicial interpretation of the scope of ‘reasonable’ – thus potentially leading to a conflict with Parliament. Affirming the decision of Ong Ah Chuan, the court believes that any law that conforms to the ‘clear’ principles of natural justice would suffice.
Primacy of domestic law
CJ Chan also declared that Article 9 (1) did not sufficiently encompass customary international law. The court reaffirmed that a rule of customary international law would only qualify as a valid local law in so far that it remains consistent with domestic statutes.
Thus, CJ Chan established that any change in customary international law or legal developments in foreign jurisdictions would have little bearing on the scope of Article 9 (1).
CJ Chan also found in favour of former Attorney-General Walter Woon’s arguments that in the absence of an ‘extensive and virtually uniform state practice’, there was consequently no customary international law against the mandatory death penalty.
CJ Chan furthermore rejected the argument that the 15g threshold of diamorphine that triggers the mandatory sentence was arbitrary, finding it as a valid classification since it constituted an intelligible and rational differencier.
As a parting remark, CJ Chan observed that Yong’s appeal have had mustered the most substantive constitutional arguments against the mandatory death penalty. As such, the rejection of this appeal would mean that ‘under Singapore law as it stands, further challenges in court [against the mandatory death penalty] have been foreclosed’.
Before the session adjourned, M Ravi registered his ‘deepest disquiet’ to the court over statements made by Law Minister K Shanmugam about the case in a dialogue session last weekend.
Speaking to reporters after the ruling, Ravi raised his concerns that the Law Minister’s ‘specific’ comments about Yong’s appeal would transgress sub judice laws prohibiting public opinions on cases awaiting judgment.
Even though a presidential pardon remains possible, Ravi noted that, in practice, it is the Cabinet that decides on the outcome of clemency pleas. He thus believes that the articulation of such statements by the Law Minister would deny Yong a fair clemency, as the process has already been ‘poisoned by biasness’.
Other than questioning the effects of the Law Minister’s comments on Yong’s case, Ravi plans to file a legal brief to highlight the defects of the clemency process. He said that process was ‘flawed’ by the denial of the accused to see the report and the involvement of the Attorney General’s Chambers in the clemency deliberation. Ravi asserted that consulting the AGC on the very same case that it has prosecuted would violate principles of natural justice, and thus deny Yong of a fair chance at clemency.
Singapore’s decision to maintain mandatory death penalty for drugs criticised by the International Harm Reduction Association
14 May 2010
The International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) has expressed its deep regret at the decision of the Singapore Court of Appeals to retain the mandatory death penalty for drug offences, a judgment that forecasts the execution of Yong Vui Kong for an offence committed while he was only a teenager. Yong Vui Kong today lost his appeal against his conviction in 2008 of smuggling 47 grams of heroin into Singapore.
“Today’s unfortunate decision places Singapore on the extreme fringe of the international community by keeping the country as one of the few that impose a mandatory death sentence for drugs,” said Rick Lines, Deputy Director of IHRA and the co-author of a forthcoming international report on the death penalty and drug offences being released next week.
“Numerous UN human rights monitors have found both the mandatory death penalty generally, and the death penalty for drugs specifically, to violate international human rights law. We regret that the Court has chosen to support a practice that not only violates human rights, but that serves no demonstrable criminal justice purpose.”
The mandatory death penalty for drugs was introduced in Singapore in a 1975 Amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1973. Subsequently, Singapore earned a reputation as one of the highest per capita executioners in the world – with the vast majority of the condemned being drug offenders. According to Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs, between 1999 and 2003, 110 of 138 executions were carried out for drug offences.
Next Monday May 17 IHRA is releasing a report The Death Penalty for Drug Offences – Global overview 2010 to be officially launched on the opening day of the 19th session of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, taking place in Vienna next week.
The report is the first detailed country by country overview of the death penalty for drugs, monitoring both national legislation and state practice of enforcement. The report points out that of the states worldwide that retain the death penalty, 32 jurisdictions maintain laws that prescribe the death penalty for drug offences, Singapore being one of them.
Singapore has a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of importing, exporting or trafficking in more than 500 grams of cannabis, 200 grams of cannabis resin or more than 1,000 grams of cannabis mixture; trafficking in more than 30 grams of cocaine; trafficking in more than 15 grams of heroin; and trafficking in excess of 250 grams of methamphetamine.
To see IHRA’s 2007 report on the death penalty for drugs, click here.