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Revelations from Queenstown Remand Prison

I braved the rain to go to Queenstown Remand Prison this morning.

What i experienced on the road of the cold torrential rain and wet road surfaces did not prepare me for the warm and over-enthusiastic reception i got at Queenstown Remand Prison. I was late by an hour.

Several days earlier when the prison booking was made by my secretary, a strange phenomena occurred. Officers from the prisons booking system were querying the purpose of the visit. My seccie had replied that it was to sign a notice of appeal. The query then came back as in which appeal. Now Gopalan had two sets of convictions, one for insulting public servant and for disorderly behaviour and the other for insulting Justice Belinda Ang.

I was on record for the appeal against the conviction for disorderly behaviour. The Grounds of Decision from DJ James Leong were not out yet and therefore the only possibility was an interview for the purposes for an appeal against the conviction for insulting Justice Belinda Ang. As all prison bookings were done by my secretary, I directed my secretary to answer accordingly.

I was already wondering to myself why should Prison Authorities be concerned as to whether or not a lawyer is visiting an inmate for purposes of which appeal. This was certainly not something within the Job scope of the Singapore Prison Service.

i had a shock when i completed my visit to Gopalan Nair.

The prison officer told me, as usual, that a copy of the document signed would have to be taken. I offered to give a copy there and then. I had 8 originals. I was asked to wait for another officer who would see me i the locker room. As i was walking up the stairs, I almost heard the officer asking if the appeal would be filed.

I made my way back to the locker room to get my belongings and get ready to leave, the female officer that came with a record book was SGT Nicolle Lim.

SGT Nicolle Lim had a book for me even to sign on it. I obliged. I gave her a copy of the signed Notice of Appeal.

She then asked if the notice of appeal was for the disorderly case or for the present case.

Now Gopalan was in jail for the present case convicted by Justice Kan Ting Chiu for insulting Justice Belinda Ang. I answered that it was for the present case whose sentence he was now serving. She then took issue with the fact that my seccie had told the prisons department that the visit was in regard of the disorderly case appeal. [Now was this even supposed to be a concern of the prisons department?]

I told her that me secretary must have made a mistake. The notice of appeal for the other case had been filed so the notice had to be for this case.

She then asked if we were going to file the appeal. I gave a non-committal answer having regard to certain concerns Gopalan made known to me in the interview room. I then asked why should the Prisons Department be getting involved in this.

She said that they had to know whether we were filing it. I told her that there was no reason for them to get involved. She then gave the excuse that they needed to know just in case there was any duress or pressure exerted in the signing of the notice. [Now this was strange and certainly something which i am hearing for the first time again – How are they going to ascertain whether or not there is duress or pressure when they did not even bother to get an officer to witness the interview i had with Gopalan?]

I told her that if anything there will have to be following the instructions of Gopalan Nair and on what basis is the prisons department getting itself involved in all this.

Ms Nicolle Lim let slip that she had to answer to her superior. I then asked who was her superior. She refused to tell. She then backed down saying that there had been a miscommunication.

I then told her that there was no reason or basis for the Prisons Department to be getting itself involved with all this and i turned to leave.

On my way back there was a phone call to my mobile. When i reached office, i found out that SGT Nicolle Lim had called my office as well. I returned the call. It transpired that they were still asking if i was going to file the appeal. I gave a non-committal answer and Nicolle explained that they were concerned that the Notice of Appeal given to them was an original and not a copy and were wondering if it was the original whether it was then beholden on the prison authorities to file it.

I explained once again that i prepared 8 originals.

SGT Nicolle Lim then passed the call to her superior a Mr. Guoh Tjin Soon. With Mr Guoh, i got a pair of even weirder questions.

1. When will it be clear that i would file the appeal?

my answer was that i would get a friend to verify with Gopalan if needed.

2. If Gopalan is dropping the appeal, how would we be doing it?

my answer was, i would then do nothing – that would dispose of the appeal.

I now recall, when i visited Chee Siok Chin in Changi Women’s Prison as well. The same prying questions were made. No attempt then was made to assist her to file her notice of appeal. No attempt then was also made to assist Dr. Chee to contact counsel to visit when he had repeatedly asked them for assistance to do so. This led to the late filing of the Petition of Appeal which leave of court had to be obtained.

I must say i was very touched but bewildered by the change in stance reflected by the current concern of the Prisons Department as to whether or not an inmate intends to proceed with an appeal.

I do hope that such concern would be accordingly extended to inmates who are imprisoned in non-political cases in time to come.

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September 24, 2008 - Posted by | Politics

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