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Human rights lawyer, Mr M Ravi, took on Mr Shanmugam when the Law Minister denied that he had breached the Constitution by commenting on Mr Yong Vui Kong’s impending execution in May this year. Mr Yong is sentenced to die for peddling heroin in Singapore and his appeals have failed. Mr Ravi is representing him.
Mr Ravi issued a press release (see below) stating that Mr Shanmugam’s remarks, made just prior to a Court of Appeal decision on whether to grant Mr Yong clemency, were indeed prejudicial to his client’s case.
Cabinet should not usurp Elected President’s Constitutional powers
Background and summary
1. This press release is issued in response to the statement from the Ministry of Law regarding the death sentence for Yong Vui Kong.
2. Law Minister Mr Shanmugam first commented directly on Yong’s case on 9 May 2010, stating that “Yong Vui Kong is young. But if we say ‘We let you go’, what is the signal we are sending?”. These remarks were made at a public event and widely reported in the Singaporean media.
3. In a subsequent statement on 9 July 2010, the Ministry of Law asserted that Mr Shanmugam’s remarks were justified as the Government’s policy is “matter of public importance”. Additionally, the Law Ministry took the opportunity to further prejudice the clemency process by highlighting prejudicial information based on charges that were never brought against Yong. These make clear that Cabinet intends to reject my client’s clemency petition even before it has been filed.
4. The consequence of these statements is as follows:
a. There has been an egregious breach of the Constitution as the President, not Cabinet, is supposed to make clemency petition decisions.
b. A Cabinet Minister (Mr Shanmugam) and his Ministry have made public statements referring to my client by name, evincing a plain desire that my client be executed regardless of the clemency process.
c. The crux of the issue is that it is clear that Cabinet cannot play any further role in the clemency process as it has obviously prejudged Yong’s case.
“The President does not have a discretion in this matter”
5. One key concern for my client is that the Attorney-General Walter Woon is on record saying that, “Although in theory it is the President who exercises the prerogative of mercy, in fact it is the Cabinet that makes the decision”. He made this submission in the Court of Appeal. The AG also said, unrebutted, that, “The President does not have a discretion in this matter.”
6. This flies directly in the face of the Constitution which confers the power of clemency on the Elected President himself, and clearly states that Cabinet’s powers are only to advise the Elected President on the exercise of the prerogative. This extraordinary revelation has only come to light as a result of the disclosure made by the Attorney-General in his submissions before the Court of Appeal in Yong’s case.
7. This revelation is startling as clemency petitions are submitted to the Elected President on the assumption that the Constitution is followed in letter and spirit. Cabinet’s exercise of the Elected President’s Constitutional prerogative amounts to a usurpation of the Elected President’s clemency powers conferred on him expressly under Article 22P of the Constitution.
The Law Minister’s remarks
8. The Law Minister’s prejudicial comments were made even before the Court of Appeal had passed judgment. The Court had to decide the very issue of whether it is constitutional to execute a convicted person without considering his youth or other personal circumstances. On 9 May 2010, the Law Minister commented that, “Yong Vui Kong is young. But if we say ‘we let you go’, what is the signal we are sending?” Even before the clemency process is initiated, it is clear from these comments that Yong’s youth and other personal circumstances would count for nothing in the clemency process.
9. As a result of all the above factors, I am confident that there will be a judicial ruling which restores to the President his decision making powers on clemency petitions under Article 22P of the Constitution. However, even if this is done, it cannot erase the prejudice displayed by the body which the Constitution says must advise the President. The views of Cabinet on the merits of Yong’s case have been publicly aired before his current petition has even been received. His youth and personal circumstances have been ruled ineligible for consideration even though these are the very things which the Elected President can take into consideration.
The President must pardon
10. The only way in which the Constitution can be observed in relation to my client is for the Elected President to peremptorily pardon him in order to assuage the gross procedural and substantive improprieties that have taken place in this case. The Elected President must now pardon my client or the Court must grant my client’s application for judicial review where there has not been and cannot be a proper clemency process.
Counsel for Yong Vui Kong
Dated 11 July 2010