S'pore Prison Service says allegations it stopped death row inmate from filing legal claim are 'untrue'

A woman had penned a letter alleging that her brother was denied access to the courts.

Andrew Koay | August 05, 2022, 01:31 PM

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The Singapore Prison Service (SPS) has refuted a woman's allegations that her now-executed brother faced "impossible obstacles" while trying to file a claim with 23 other death row inmates.

In a statement released on Aug. 4, the SPS said that claims they had intentionally obstructed the submission of a legal application by the group of inmates in order to facilitate the execution of Abdul Rahim Shapiee were "untrue".

Allegation by sister of death row inmate

The woman, Norhafizah Shapiee, had written in a letter addressed to Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon that when the group of inmates had tried to file their civil claim on Jul. 25, 2022, they were met "for the first time" with requests from prison authorities for application and e-litigation forms.

"Obviously, as they are death row prisoners, it is impossible for them to make available these forms," wrote Norhafizah.

She added that they were thus unable to file their application on Jul. 25.

"As such, it amounts to a total denial of their right to file their action in court."

Norhafizah said that her 45-year-old brother Abdul Rahim was subsequently told on Jul. 29 that he would be executed on Aug. 5.

According to CNA, Abdul Rahim was convicted in 2018 of possessing drugs for trafficking.

"As his sister, I worry that the prison was aware on Monday 25 July of his scheduled execution, even though notice had not been given to him yet, and therefore blocked his application."

No approach to prison officers by death row inmates on Jul. 25

Yet, according to SPS, no death row inmates had approached prison officers on Jul. 25 with a request to file a legal application.

SPS said that a request for advice on the process of filing an originating claim with the court had been made by two inmates to an officer on Jul. 28, 2022.

"Since the advice related to legal proceedings to be filed in Court, the SPS officer told them that they should seek advice from the Court on the specific documents required for the filing of an application of that nature, as well as the fees involved," read SPS's statement.

"This is the standard procedure for prisoners who are not assisted by legal counsel for the filing of non-routine applications."

"Contrary to the claims made, SPS officers did not ask any PACP [death row inmate] for any application form or e-litigation form, or deny any request to file a court application on such basis," the statement continued.

"The two [death row inmates] mentioned [above] did not inform SPS that their intended originating claim involved Abdul Rahim, or that the application required urgent attention."

SPS said, in fact, that their officer was informed by one of the inmates that his documents were not finalised and that he was awaiting an upcoming visit on Aug. 1 to receive a printout of another document.

The agency pointed out that the application was successfully filed on Aug. 1 with the assistance of an SPS officer at the Supreme Court.

Lawsuit struck out

On Aug. 3, the lawsuit by 24 death row inmates — claiming that their access to defence lawyers for appeals and reviews of their cases were obstructed — was struck out by a high court judge, reported CNA.

While the inmates had argued that the power of courts to impose hefty costs had left defence lawyers unwilling to take up their cases, Justice See Kee Oon found that the claim was "plainly unsustainable and unmeritorious".

Abdul Rahim was executed on the morning of Aug. 5.

Top image via Ministry of Home Affairs