Court Claimed Lawyer Trying to Appeal M’sian Drug Trafficker’s Execution Abused the Court Process


On Tuesday (1 March), the Court of Appeal criticised the lawyers for Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam for exploiting the court processes by delaying the sentence through submitting reports at the eleventh hour and “drip-feeding” applications bit by bit.

The remark was made at an appeal hearing after Lawyer Violet Netto argued for Nagaenthran to be spared from the death sentence on the basis of his mental disability.

Summary of Nagaenthran’s Crime and Mental Disability

In 2009, Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, aged 21 then, was caught by the Singapore Immigration Police for smuggling 43.72g of diamorphine.

In the offender’s testimony, he denied knowing what the contents strapped to his thighs were, and that he was threatened to take the package across borders as his girlfriend would be killed if he failed to do so.

However, owing to the amount of diamorphine that he was trafficking, which exceeded 15 grams, Nagaenthran was given the mandatory death sentence in 2010.

From the consequent assessments of numerous psychiatrists, it has been proven that Nagaenthran has a lower-than-average IQ of 69.

It was to the extent where one clinical psychologist even concluded, “[The offender’s] borderline intelligence and concurrent cognitive deficits may have contributed towards his misdirect loyalty and poor assessments of risks in agreeing to carry out the offence.”

The Tedious Process of Appeals and Dismissals

Despite the appeals that Nagaenthran’s lawyers filed over the last 11 years, they were either denied or dismissed.

His death sentence is still being upheld till this day, in spite of the public protests

As the execution date of 10 November 2021 loomed closer, the lawyers made a last attempt to challenge his execution, on the grounds that he had mental disabilities.

The appeal was dismissed by the High Court, but he appealed again afterwards.

In a fit of irony, his life was extended because he tested positive for COVID-19 on 8 Nov 2021, two days before his execution, which adjourned his appeal hearing to a later date.

Abuse of Court Processes or Righteousness?

Whether Ms Violet Netto is abusing the court processes to extend the offender’s life one painstaking day at a time is up for the readers to decide:

In the hearing, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon asked Ms Netto to explain why she belatedly submitted a two-page report from Australian expert Danny Sullivan, just the morning before the court session.

Ms Netto apologised repeatedly but offered no explanations for the late submission.

The Chief Justice felt that her actions were an attempt to abuse the court processes, and that it was “calculated to delay the resolution” of the case.


Ms Netto refuted, stating that Nagaenthran was “not competent” to be hanged and he should be given time to find independent psychiatrists who are willing to examine him.

In turn, CJ Menon questioned what the evidence and basis for her opposition was.

He said, “None of the three medical reports emanate from people who have examined the applicant. They have relied on information furnished to them on observations of the applicant’s brother and the opinions of Mr Ravi (another lawyer). None of that is evidence of opinion with qualification.”

Ns Netto refused to give in, repeating that an independent assessment was required for Nagaenthran.

Although CJ Menon acknowledged Ms Netto’s challenge that there might be a real issue to inspect with regards to the offender, he remained firm that they needed evidence first.


Among the evidence they could refer to was Nagaenthran’s prison records, but Ms Netto did not allow the court to look at them, oddly enough.

International Laws versus Domestic Laws

When asked about Ms Netto’s adamance to stop the execution, she listed out international conventions and treaties against capital punishment.

Alas, this is Singapore.

On 17 Nov 2020, a resolution in the Third Committee of the General Assembly for a moratorium on the use of capital punishment was called once again, to show the word’s rejection of the inherently cruel and irreversible form of punishment.

120 UN member states voted in favour.

Only 39 countries voted against the resolution, and Singapore was among them.


Thusly, CJ Menon stated that customary and non-binding international law—since the resolution was passed in the UN General Assembly and not the Security Council—cannot supersede the clear and unequivocal domestic law of a sovereign country.

Therefore, her argument was not tenable in Singapore’s court.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Wong Woon Kwong agreed, saying that the continuation and constant appeals were just a cynical attempt to take advantage of the court processes.

DPP Kwong disputed that there was a lack of reliable evidence that can support the claims that Nagaenthran is not fit for execution and that the defence was trying to “suppress” objective medical records.

Deteriorating Mental Health in Prison

During the appeal hearing, CJ Menon gives the defence a small benefit of the doubt, asking the DPP what the Court can and should do if a prisoner was suffering from declining mental health leading up to his execution.


The DPP responded that nothing in the law states that the mental state of the offender is a legal reason for changing a sentence.

In fact, that was another matter altogether, since a change of sentence would necessitate clemency, respite, or a pardon of some form.

DPP Kwong then compares the death sentence to caning, wherein prisoners are examined by medical officers first to see if they can be caned.

…but that’s like comparing apples to oranges, as the severity and irrevocability of the different punishments are vastly different.

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Another judge on the panel, Justice Andrew Phang, pointed out that there were a lot of last-minute applications being made by the defence.

Nagaenthran even filed another application last November to reopen his conviction, but no other documents were submitted to substantiate the validity of the appeal.

He seems to insinuate that the appeal attempt lacked genuineness, and was just trying to drag out the time for as long as possible.

As to whether the appeal will be the final nail in Nagaenthran’s coffin, or buy him a bit more time, remains unknown until the Court announces its decision at a later date.


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