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AGC slams lawyers in last-ditch Kho Jabing appeals for abusing court processes

SINGAPORE — In a strongly-worded statement, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) on Wednesday (May 25) slammed the three lawyers who represented convicted murderer Kho Jabing for abusing court processes and demonstrating “legal opportunism”, in their last-ditch attempts to save him from the gallows last week.

AGC slams lawyers in last-ditch Kho Jabing appeals for abusing court processes

The Attorney-General's Chambers said the actions of convicted murderer Kho Jabing’s three lawyers - Mr Alfred Dodwell (second from left), Ms Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss (right) and Mr Gino Hardial Singh (not pictured) - amounted to an abuse of court processes and "not in keeping with the paramount duty a lawyer owed to the Court”. Photo: Robin Choo

SINGAPORE — In a strongly-worded statement, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) on Wednesday (May 25) slammed the three lawyers who represented convicted murderer Kho Jabing for abusing court processes and demonstrating “legal opportunism”, in their last-ditch attempts to save him from the gallows last week.

Kho, a Sarawakian, was executed last Friday afternoon after he had gone before the Court of Appeal five times, with the final two challenges mounted by Mr Gino Hardial Singh last Wednesday and by Mrs Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss a day before the execution was due to take place. Mr Alfred Dodwell was then roped in by Mrs Chong-Aruldoss to argue an appeal against the court’s dismissal of her application. 

The apex court had thrown out both appeals, on the basis that they were rehashed arguments, and the judges rapped Mrs Chong-Aruldoss and Mr Dodwell in particular for abusing the process of the court. The judges said such actions could not be allowed or they would “throw the whole system of justice into disrepute”. 

Agreeing with the judges, the AGC said in its statement on Wednesday that the actions of the three lawyers were not in keeping with the “paramount duty a lawyer owes to the court”. It added: “It is wrong for any lawyer to assert that his duty to the clients allows the court’s processes to be abused.”

The AGC noted that it is a “cherished principle in our legal tradition that a legal practitioner must do his utmost to uphold the administration of justice”. “He must also conduct proceedings before a court in a manner that maintains the fairness, integrity and efficiency of those proceedings,” it said. “In this context, it is important to set the record straight concerning the multiple applications filed by (Mr Singh, Mrs Chong-Aruldoss and Mr Dodwell).” 

The AGC stressed that the facts are clear: Kho had brutally murdered a construction worker in 2008. “His case was considered by both the High Court and Court of Appeal twice — once under the old law, and again after the law on murder was amended. The death penalty was imposed on him in both instances,” the AGC pointed out. 

After Kho’s rights of appeal had been exhausted, the Court of Appeal gave him a further opportunity to present arguments for his case to be reviewed. The AGC said: “In the conduct of his matter, the actions of Jabing’s three lawyers amounted to an abuse of court processes. Simply put, this was a case where, after every legitimate avenue for legal challenge had been attempted and exhausted, legal opportunism prevailed.”

Kho’s lawyers had repeatedly raised old arguments, which were earlier dismissed by the court or withdrawn by Kho’s previous lawyer Chandra Mohan. Also, knowing that the criminal process had been exhausted, Mrs Chong-Aruldoss and Mr Dodwell “tried to skirt around the law” by raising arguments through the civil route, the AGC said. Pleading for more time to prepare their arguments, they had also tried to have the execution stayed, and asked for the hearing of Mrs Chong Aruldoss’ application and subsequent appeal postponed. 

Separately, the Ministry of Home Affairs on Wednesday issued a statement to rebut “several inaccurate points” that have been made. Among other things, the ministry noted that the lawyers had not made new arguments, despite filing various last-minute applications. “It appeared that the sole purpose of the applications was to try and delay the execution which had been set for May 20, 2016,” the statement said. 

Kho was first given the mandatory death penalty in 2010, after he killed Chinese construction worker Cao Ruyin near Geylang Drive by bashing him over the head with a tree branch. He mounted a failed challenge against the murder conviction in 2011, but was spared the hangman’s noose two years later when amendments to the mandatory death penalty regime came into effect. The High Court re-sentenced him to life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane.

The prosecution appealed, and his death sentence was re-imposed. He was due to hang on Nov 6 last year but was granted a stay less than 24 hours before he was to be executed, when Mr Mohan contended that he had new evidence. The apex court dismissed the case in April. Kho’s execution was rescheduled to 6am last Friday before the applications by his lawyers. 

Following the conclusion of the case, some including lawyer Choo Zhengxi and anti-death penalty campaigner Kirsten Han spoke up for Kho’s lawyers. 

“In the best traditions of the bar, Jeannette and Alfred stepped into the breach and argued their client’s case with vigour,” Mr Choo wrote on Facebook. Ms Han shared Mr Choo’s post and thanked “all the lawyers, past and present, who have tried so hard against such massive odds”. 

Mrs Chong-Aruldoss and Mr Dodwell also took to social media to give their side of the story. 

Mrs Chong Aruldoss said that she had received a call from Kho’s sister, Jumai, who thanked her for her efforts. “I was merely her lawyer acting under her instructions. A lawyer’s job is to explore, pursue and exhaust his/her client’s legal recourses. Jumai would not regret that she had not done enough for her brother. Neither will I regret that I did not do my best for my client,” she said.

Mr Dodwell said the lawyers “firmly believe that Kho Jabing was undeserving of the death penalty”. “So we mounted a constitutional challenge. Only in Singapore can a constitutional challenge be characterised as an abuse of process. If we invoke the supreme law of the land, the courts should not wave it away to hurry toward execution,” he said.

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