Yong Vui Kong v Attorney-General

CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
JudgeChan Sek Keong CJ
Judgment Date04 April 2011
Neutral Citation[2011] SGCA 9
Citation[2011] SGCA 9
Defendant CounselAedit Abdullah, Low Siew Ling and Shawn Ho Hsi Ming (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Published date15 April 2011
Plaintiff CounselM Ravi (L F Violet Netto)
Hearing Date17 January 2011
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 144 of 2010
Date04 April 2012
Subject MatterCourts and Jurisdiction,Constitutional Law,Words and Phrases,Administrative Law
Chan Sek Keong CJ: Introduction

This is an appeal by Yong Vui Kong (“the Appellant”) against the decision of the High Court judge (“the Judge”) in Yong Vui Kong v Attorney-General [2011] 1 SLR 1 (“the HC Judgment”) dismissing his judicial review application in Originating Summons No 740 of 2010 (“OS 740/2010”).

Factual background

The events leading to the filing of OS 740/2010 are as follows. On 14 November 2008, the Appellant was convicted of trafficking in 47.27g of diamorphine, an offence under s 5(1)(a) of the Misuse of Drugs Act (Cap 185, 2001 Rev Ed) (“the MDA”), and was sentenced to death (see Public Prosecutor v Yong Vui Kong [2009] SGHC 4 (“Yong Vui Kong (HC)”)). On 27 November 2008, he appealed, via Criminal Appeal No 13 of 2008 (“CCA 13/2008”), against both his conviction and his sentence. Subsequently, he indicated, via a letter dated 23 April 2009 from his then counsel, that he wished to withdraw CCA 13/2008. The Court of Appeal accepted the withdrawal of that appeal when it came on for hearing on 29 April 2009, and dismissed it formally.

After CCA 13/2008 was formally dismissed, the Appellant submitted a petition to the President on 11 August 2009 for clemency under Art 22P of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1985 Rev Ed, 1999 Reprint) (“the Singapore Constitution”). The President, acting on the advice of the Cabinet, declined on 20 November 2009 to grant clemency. On 30 November 2009, four days before his death sentence was due to be carried out, the Appellant, through his current counsel, Mr M Ravi (“Mr Ravi”), filed Criminal Motion No 41 of 2009 (“CM 41/2009”) seeking leave to pursue his appeal to the Court of Appeal (ie, CCA 13/2008) notwithstanding his earlier decision to withdraw the appeal and its consequential formal dismissal. The ground relied on by the Appellant for seeking leave to pursue CCA 13/2008 was that (inter alia) he had earlier withdrawn that appeal in the mistaken belief that he could not base it on the legal argument that the mandatory death penalty prescribed for the offence of trafficking in more than 15g of diamorphine (see s 33 of the MDA read with the Second Schedule thereto) was unconstitutional. Pending the hearing of CM 41/2009, the President, on the advice of the Attorney-General, granted a temporary stay of execution in respect of the death sentence imposed on the Appellant.

At the hearing of CM 41/2009 on 8 December 2009, the Court of Appeal granted the Appellant leave to proceed with CCA 13/2008 on the ground that his earlier decision to withdraw that appeal was a nullity, given his mistaken belief as to his legal rights (see Yong Vui Kong v Public Prosecutor [2010] 2 SLR 192). Subsequently, CCA 13/2008 was heard on 15 March 2010. In his written submissions for that hearing, the then Attorney-General stated (inter alia) that under Art 22P of the Singapore Constitution (referred to hereafter as “Art 22P” for short), the President had no discretion in exercising the clemency power as he had to act on the advice of the Cabinet. The Court of Appeal reserved judgment at the end of the hearing, and, on 14 May 2010, delivered its decision dismissing CCA 13/2008 (see Yong Vui Kong v Public Prosecutor and another matter [2010] 3 SLR 489 (“Yong Vui Kong (No 2)”)).

On 10 May 2010, shortly before the Court of Appeal’s decision on CCA 13/2008 was released, Mr K Shanmugam, the Minister for Law and the then Second Minister for Home Affairs (“the Law Minister”), was reported in a local newspaper, TODAY, as having made, at a community event the previous day, certain comments on the mandatory death penalty for serious drug trafficking offences (these comments will be referred to hereafter as “the Law Minister’s statements”). The material parts of the Law Minister’s statements, as reported in the 10 May 2010 edition of TODAY, are set out below:1

Death penalty, a trade-off

Saves ‘thousands of lives’ that may be ruined if drugs freely available: Minister

05:55 AM May 10, 2010

by Teo Xuanwei

SINGAPORE – The mandatory death penalty for serious drug offences here is a “trade-off” the Government makes to protect “thousands of lives” that may be ruined if drugs were freely available, Law Minister and Second Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said yesterday.

He was replying to a resident during a dialogue session at Siglap South Community Centre who asked if there would be changes on this policy, in light of the case of [the Appellant].

The 22-year-old successfully got a stay of execution from [the] High Court last December – despite the President rejecting his clemency plea – after being sentenced to hang for trafficking 47g of heroin.

He had told the court during his trial [that] he was unaware of the contents of the packages [he was carrying at the material time] as he was merely following the instructions of his boss in Johor Bahru when he drove into Singapore to deliver them.

But Mr Shanmugam said “thousands of lives have been ruined due to the free availability of drugs” in cities such as Sydney and New York. It also contributes to soaring crime rates, he added.

“People assume you can have this safety and security without this framework of the law; that you can change it, and yet your safety and security will not be affected,” he said. “But there are always trade-offs. The difficulty the Government has sometimes in explaining this is that the trade-offs are not apparent. The damage to a large number of others is not obvious.

“You save one life here, but 10 other lives will be gone. What will your choice be?”

If [the Appellant] escapes the death penalty, drug barons will think the signal is that young and vulnerable traffickers will be spared and can be used as drug mules, argued Mr Shanmugam.

“Then you’ll get 10 more. There’ll be an unstoppable stream of such people coming through as long as we say we won’t enforce our laws,” he said during his ministerial community visit to Joo Chiat.

[emphasis added]

In response to the Law Minister’s statements, Mr Ravi declared that those statements had caused the Appellant’s fate to be “‘poisoned’ with ‘biasedness’”.2 Mr Ravi’s comments were reported in the 15 May 2010 edition of TODAY, which also elaborated on the Law Minister’s statements and a press statement released by the Ministry of Law in respect of those statements (“the MinLaw press statement”), as follows:3

Convict’s last chance to escape death … President to hear clemency plea; lawyer takes issue with minister’s remarks

05:55 AM May 15, 2010

by Teo Xuanwei

SINGAPORE – His first clemency plea was unsuccessful and now convicted drug mule Yong Vui Kong’s [viz, the Appellant’s] last chance to escape death lies in the President’s hands, after the highest court in the land dismissed his appeal.

But [the Appellant]’s lawyer, Mr M Ravi, told reporters he plans to file for a judicial review before the Court of Appeal over Law Minister K Shanmugam’s remarks relating to his client’s case during a residents’ dialogue session last Sunday in Joo Chiat.

The resident had asked if [the Appellant]’s case would affect Singapore’s laws on the mandatory death penalty.

Mr Shanmugam replied: “[The Appellant] (who was sentenced to hang for trafficking in 47g of heroin) is young. But if we say, ‘We let you go’, what’s the signal we’re sending?

“We’re sending a signal to all drug barons out there: Just make sure you choose a victim who’s young or a mother of a young child and use them as the people to carry drugs into Singapore.”

With the sympathy generated after these people are caught, he added, there will be “a whole unstoppable stream of people coming through as long as we say we won’t enforce our laws”.

As [the Appellant]’s case was subjudice, or still under judgment, Mr Ravi said his client’s fate had been “poisoned” with “biasedness”.

In reply to media queries, the Ministry of Law said: “The Government has made clear its policy and philosophy on having the mandatory death penalty for a number of offences, such as drug trafficking.

“Minister Shanmugam, in response to a specific question … reiterated the policy and philosophy behind the death penalty and why Singapore adopted a tough stance.”

[emphasis added]

Following the above reports in TODAY, the Appellant commenced OS 740/2010 pursuant to O 53 of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed) on 21 July 2010, naming the Attorney-General as the respondent (“the Respondent”) and seeking the following orders:4 That leave be granted for [the] hearing of prayers 2–12 as set out below:– That under Article 22P of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore [(1985 Rev Ed, 1999 Reprint) (“the Constitution”)] it is the … President and not his advisors who has the discretion to decide whether or not to grant the [Appellant]’s petition for clemency, this being a matter in respect of which the President may decide in his discretion under Article 21(2) of the Constitution, it being a function the performance of which the President is authorised to act in his discretion pursuant to Articles 21(2)(i) and 22P of the Constitution[.] That the Executive’s statements that “Although in theory it is the President who exercises the prerogative of mercy, in fact it is the Cabinet that makes the decision” and that “the President does not have discretion [in] this matter” amount to a preemption and usurpation of the decision making powers of the … President under Article 22P and jeopardise a fair and just determination of the [Appellant]’s clemency petition[.] That the … President’s manifest acquiescence in the Executive’s position as aforesaid is ultra vires and in breach of the Constitution inasmuch as: It amounts to an abdication by the … President of his decision making powers under Article 22P; It constitutes a breach of the maxim delegatus non potest delegare inasmuch as the … President is delegating to [the] Cabinet the...

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10 books & journal articles
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    • International Journal of Evidence & Proof, The No. 18-4, October 2014
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