On Monday, judicial history was made in Singapore when the death sentence imposed on Malaysian national, Gobi a/l Avedian, for importing class A drugs was overturned. He is the first person in known history to have had a death sentence overturned on a review by the Singapore Court of Appeal after exhausting all the usual avenue of appeals.
Gobi had initially been acquitted of the capital charge at trial in June 2017 when the trial judge accepted that he did not know at the time that the drug he was importing was heroin. However, the Attorney General’s Chambers appealed, and Gobi was convicted and sentenced to death by the Court of Appeal in October 2018.
Last year, Gobi filed an application to the Court of Appeal to review its previous decision after his clemency application had been denied by the President and his execution became almost certain.
The statutory criteria for review in Singapore in criminal cases is stringent and strictly observed. In addition, the Attorney General fought hard to resist the application, claiming it was an abuse of process and vexatious. But the Court of Appeal’s judgment on 19 October 2020 saw Gobi’s death sentence overturned and a term of 15 years’ imprisonment with 10 strokes of the cane substituted for attempting to import a class C drug, based on the account that he had given at trial.
The Court of Appeal held that Gobi should not be condemned because the prosecution’s case at trial was, in reality, one of ‘wilful blindness’ to the nature of the drugs. Yet the prosecution had not proved Gobi was ‘wilfully blind’ beyond reasonable doubt. This followed an earlier clarification of the law of ‘wilful blindness’ by the Court of Appeal in 2018. The Court also found that the prosecution had changed its case on appeal to one of actual knowledge, prejudicing Gobi and resulting in his conviction.
In-house counsel Amanda Clift-Matthews commented,
This case has shown that the review process for criminal cases in Singapore can play an important role in preventing miscarriages of justice. The Court of Appeal are to be commended for making the right decision in this case in the interest of justice. Whilst, naturally, finality in criminal proceedings is important, the consequences for Gobi would have been dire. A justice system shows its strength when the court is prepared to concede, if the circumstances demand it, that its previous decision can no longer stand.
Notes to editors
The Death Penalty Project provided support to Singaporean lawyer M.Ravi in the matter before the Court of Appeal.
The full judgment can be viewed here.