Apex court throws out suit by 24 death row inmates alleging right to counsel violated
SINGAPORE – Twenty four prisoners on death row, who sued the Attorney-General alleging that they had been deprived of their right to counsel, had their case thrown out by the Court of Appeal in the early hours of Friday morning (Aug 5).
One of the inmates, Abdul Rahim Shapiee, who is scheduled to be hanged on Friday (Aug 5), failed in his bid to get a stay of execution.
The court, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Justices Tay Yong Kwang and Woo Bih Li, delivered its judgment some seven hours after hearing arguments on Thursday afternoon (Aug 4).
The 24 inmates were led by Iskandar Rahmat, the former policeman sentenced to death for the 2013 Kovan double murder.
In a hearing held via video conference on Thursday afternoon, Iskandar argued that lawyers were unwilling to act for them in post-appeal applications because they feared being ordered to pay personal costs.
Under the law, the court can order lawyers to pay costs if the court finds that the legal action is frivolous or vexatious or an abuse of the court process.
Iskandar argued that the legal provisions that gave the courts the power to impose such costs orders were unconstitutional.
But Chief Justice Menon said these provisions cannot reasonably deter lawyers from acting in bona fide applications.
He said such costs orders are imposed in proceedings brought or conducted with some impropriety.
The costs provisions do not impinge on the right to counsel at all because there can be no right to improperly advance a case, he said.
As for Abdul Rahim, he had sought a stay of execution pending the resolution of an 11th hour negligence suit he filed against his former lawyer on Wednesday (Aug 3).
He claimed that the lawyer, who was assigned to defend him during his trial, had failed to follow his instructions to call a certain witness.