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Court dismisses mental-age claim by drug trafficker facing gallows

Court dismisses mental-age claim by drug trafficker facing gallows

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 09 Nov 2021
Author: Selina Lum

Justice See Kee Oon reiterated that Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam has been accorded due process in accordance with the law.

The High Court yesterday dismissed a bid by a 33-year-old Malaysian, who is scheduled to be hanged tomorrow for drug trafficking, to escape the gallows.

However, Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam was granted a stay of execution pending a hearing before the Court of Appeal at 2.30pm today.

Nagaenthran was arrested in 2009 at the age of 21 with a bundle of heroin strapped to his left thigh. He had sought to challenge his execution, contending that he had the mental age of a person below 18.

He argued that the execution of intellectually disabled persons is prohibited under customary international law as this amounted to inhuman punishment.

He also claimed the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) has an "internal policy" not to execute convicts who are mentally disabled - a claim the agency has refuted.

In his oral remarks dismissing the application, Justice See Kee Oon said there was no credible basis for Nagaenthran's assertions as to his mental age.

The alleged mental age was based on the opinion of his lawyer, Mr M. Ravi, who has no medical expertise and has met the prisoner only once, last Tuesday, for 26 minutes, the judge noted.

He reiterated that Nagaenthran has been accorded due process in accordance with the law.

"It is not open to him to challenge the court's findings pertaining to his mental responsibility, whether directly or indirectly, in yet another attempt to revisit and unravel the finality of those findings."

Nagaenthran's case came under the spotlight late last month when a letter from the SPS to his mother in Ipoh on Oct 26 was circulated on social media.

The letter informed her that the death sentence on her son would be carried out on Nov 10 and that SPS would facilitate extended daily visits till then.

A petition calling for Nagaenthran to be pardoned from the death sentence has garnered more than 64,000 signatures. It argues that he should be spared the gallows because he had committed the offence under duress, and had been assessed to have a low IQ of 69.

He was sentenced to death by the High Court in 2010 after being convicted of trafficking 42.72g of heroin. The Misuse of Drugs Act provides for the death penalty if the amount of heroin imported is more than 15g.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal against his conviction and sentence in July 2011. His execution was put on hold as the Government was then carrying out a review of the mandatory death penalty.

In 2013, the law was changed to give judges the discretion to impose life terms and caning for drug couriers, instead of death, if specific conditions are met.

Given the chance for his case to be reviewed, Nagaenthran applied on Feb 24, 2015, to be re-sentenced under the new regime.

One of the issues considered was whether his mental responsibility was substantially impaired at the time of his offence.

After considering the facts and expert evidence from four psychiatric and psychological experts, the High Court held that Nagaenthran knew what he was doing, and upheld the death sentence in 2017.

The court noted that he was "continuously altering his account of his education qualifications, ostensibly to reflect lower educational qualifications each time he was interviewed".

In 2019, the decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeal, which said it was satisfied that Nagaenthran clearly understood the nature of his acts.

It noted that he knew it was unlawful for him to be transporting drugs, and hence tried to conceal the bundle by strapping it to his left thigh and wearing a large pair of trousers over it.

This was "the working of a criminal mind, weighing the risks and countervailing benefits associated with the criminal conduct in question", the court added.

AGC: Lawyer objected to disclosing client's psychiatric records in court

The lawyer acting for convicted drug trafficker Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, who is challenging his impending execution tomorrow on the basis of intellectual disability, objected to disclosing his client's latest psychiatric and medical records - which would have revealed his mental state - in court yesterday.

And in contradiction to Mr M. Ravi's argument that Nagaenthran suffered from an intellectual disability, a senior prison officer who had interacted with Nagaenthran for close to three years had not seen any abnormal behaviour from the inmate, who was able to request religious counselling after being told that he would be hanged in the near future.

These points were made by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) in a statement yesterday after Nagaenthran's application to challenge his execution was dismissed by the High Court.

The sole factual basis for the application rested on Mr Ravi's testimony that Nagaenthran "did not appear... to understand what is happening to him in respect of the impending execution of his sentence of death", said the AGC.

Mr Ravi argued that 33-year-old Nagaenthran has a mental age of a person below 18 years old.

In its statement, the AGC noted that Nagaenthran - who was arrested in 2009 with a bundle of heroin strapped to his thigh - undergoes regular medical and psychiatric assessments in prison.

The AGC said it wrote to Mr Ravi last Friday to seek Nagaenthran's consent to disclose to the court the records of his latest assessments.

It said Mr Ravi did not reply and took no instructions from Nagaenthran on this issue.

The AGC said it again asked Mr Ravi at the hearing before Justice See Kee Oon yesterday if Nagaenthran consented to the disclosure of the records, and said the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) would facilitate a video call for Mr Ravi to speak to his client.

"When asked by the court as to whether he would like to take up the state's offer, Mr Ravi refused, and when asked by the court if he was objecting to the production of the records, Mr Ravi confirmed that he was," said the statement.

The AGC also recounted the testimony that a prison officer gave the court about his dealings with Nagaenthran. The officer said Nagaenthran had no problem communicating with prison officers in English, Malay and Tamil, making requests and responding to instructions.

When Nagaenthran was notified that he could be hanged in the near future, he requested religious counselling, a DVD player to play religious songs, phone calls to his family and visits by them, and his choice of prison officers to attend to his needs in the lead-up to his execution.

The AGC noted that Nagaenthran was also able to plan his daily visit and call schedules, communicate coherently and purposefully, as well as provide the contact numbers of relatives and a childhood friend.

"In the context of making these arrangements, Nagaenthran had emphasised to the SPS officer that he had a short time left to live."

Mr Ravi has filed an appeal, which will be heard today.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.


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