Apex court dismisses appeals by M'sian drug trafficker to challenge death sentence

It's not clear when his execution will take place.

Fiona Tan | March 29, 2022, 12:06 PM

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The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeals by convicted Malaysian drug trafficker Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam on Mar. 29.

This included dismissing Nagaenthran's request for him to be given time to locate psychiatrists to assess him.

Hearing on Mar. 29

This came after the court said it would "come back soon" with a judgement during Nagaenthran's final appeal on Mar. 1.

Back then, Nagaenthran's case was heard by five judges consisting Chief Justice Menon, Justice Andrew Phang, Justice Judith Prakash, Justice Belinda Ang and Justice Chao Hick Tin.

All five judges were also in attendance on Mar. 29.

Nagaenthran, 34, appeared in court in a purple prison jumpsuit with his head shaven.

He was represented by lawyer Violet Netto, with his previous legal counsel, M. Ravi, who was also in attendance to "provide technical support".

Gallery packed, family present

Similar to the hearing on Mar. 1, the court's public gallery was again filled with members of the public, and several members of the media, both local and international.

Mothership understands that two of Nagaenthran's family members were present at the hearing.

Chief Justice Menon delivered the judgement that Nagaenthran's appeals have been dismissed.

He said the case put forward was "baseless and without merit both as a matter of fact and of law".

Request for assessment by independent psychiatrists dismissed

The court had heard previously that Nagaenthran was "not competent" to be executed, as it was claimed that he was mentally disabled.

Netto put forth the central argument that Nagaenthran’s mental capacity had deteriorated since the time of his offence, and the death sentence could not be allowed to be carried out.

However, the prosecution said there was no basis to grant the application for Nagaenthran to be assessed by a panel of psychiatrists as there was no reliable evidence.

The court heard that the expert psychiatric reports submitted by Netto were “devoid of any weight”, as none of the overseas psychiatrists who wrote them had examined or spoken to Nagaenthran before.

They had also not seen Nagaenthran’s present medical records. Instead, the psychiatrists had relied on affidavits filed by Ravi and Nagaenthran’s brother, Navinkumar Dharmalingam.

Chief Justice Menon added that the independent psychiatric review was "at best" an attempt to adduce additional evidence to support Nagaenthran's civil appeal.

He said this was "procedurally improper".

Ravi and Nagaenthran's brother were both witnesses with an interest

Chief Justice Menon added that the only evidence to show Nagaenthran's mental decline was a "self-serving" affidavit by his former lawyer Ravi.

This was because as Nagaenthran's former legal, Ravi was not a disinterested party counsel, and should not have put himself forward as the appellant's witness.

Additionally, Ravi had made a "bare assertion" about the Nagaenthran's mental age, and speculated that Nagaenthran had the mental age of a person under the age of 18.

This, the court heard, was based on a single interaction between Ravi and Nagaenthran that was less than 30 minutes on Nov. 2, 2021.

Furthermore, Ravi acknowledged that he did not have the necessary medical expertise.

This was also the case for Nagaenthran's brother, Navinkumar, who claimed that he noticed Nagaenthran's mental state had deteriorated severely during a prison visit.

Chief Justice Menon said Navinkumar’s evidence was unreliable as he was an interested and unqualified witness.

Legal counsel objected to using Nagaenthran's prison medical and psychiatric assessments as court evidence

The court heard that Nagaenthran's lawyers had objected to using Nagaenthran's prison medical and psychiatric assessments that were conducted on Aug. 5 and Nov. 3, 2021 as evidence on the grounds of confidentiality.

To this, Chief Justice Menon said: "With respect, having called his medical condition into question, we cannot see how the appellant can at the same time, in good faith, prevent access to evidence that pertains to the very condition in question."

Chief Justice Menon said these reports were "presumptively objective" as they were from routine scheduled prison check-ups rather than as part of a litigation response.

"The objection mounted on the appellant's behalf supports the inference that he is aware of the evidential difficulties with his case, and is seeking to prevent the court from accessing that evidence because he knows or believes it would undermine his case," said the Chief Justice.

Nagaenthran's lawyer's conduct was further reason to dismiss appeal

The court took offence with how Nagaenthran's latest appeal was conducted, and said these proceedings constitute a "blatant and egregious abuse of the court’s processes", said Chief Justice Menon.

He said Ravi, and then Netto, were "drip-feeding" various applications to “thwart the court’s efforts to discharge its responsibility to dispose of the matter timeously” and as a "stop-gap measure" to try to delay the execution.

Chief Justice Menon said: "The appellant has been afforded due process under law, and it is not open to him to challenge the outcome of that process when he has put nothing forward to suggest that he does have a case to be considered."

On this point, Chief Justice Menon said: "It is improper to engage in or to encourage last-ditch attempts to reopen concluded matters without a reasonable basis."

He added that the proper recourse for those with "passionate views that run counter to imposition of the death penalty" was to seek legislative change instead.

"But as long as the law validly provides for the imposition of capital punishment in the specified circumstances, it is improper for counsel to abuse the process of the court and thereby bring the administration of criminal justice into disrepute by filing one hopeless application after another and by drip-feeding the supposed evidence."

Unsure when Nagaenthran will be hanged

In response to Mothership's queries, Ravi said he was not sure when Nagaenthran will be hanged.

At the time of writing, Mothership understands that his family members have not been notified of his execution date.


The Malaysian was arrested in 2009 at the age of 21.

He had heroin strapped to his thigh.

In 2010, he was given the mandatory death penalty after being convicted of trafficking 42.72g of heroin.

His appeal against conviction and sentence were dismissed in 2011.

In 2017, the High Court found that he did not qualify to be given life imprisonment, after evidence from four psychological and psychiatric experts were considered.

In October 2021, a letter from the Singapore Prison Service to his mother in Ipoh, informing her that the death sentence would be carried out on Nov. 10, was circulated on social media.

Attention then turned to his case.

His former lawyer Ravi made the submission that Nagaenthran had the "mental age" of a person below 18 years old to halt the execution.

The High Court dismissed the bid for permission to start judicial review proceedings to challenge Nagaenthran's death sentence.

Ravi then appealed to the Court of Appeal.


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