Fresh Evidence on PTSD and PTSS in a Capital Criminal Offence

PP v Hamidah Binte Awang & anor [2019] SGHC 161


1. Introduction

On 8 July 2019, the Honourable High Court Judge, Justice Lee Seiu Kin (“Justice Lee”), released this judgment on our client, Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi (“Ilechukwu”). Justice Lee’s judgment is the latest development in Ilechukwu’s protracted criminal proceedings, which have been afoot since 2014.


2. Background

By way of background, one of the central issues in these long-running criminal proceedings has been whether Ilechukwu is able to furnish innocent explanations for certain inaccuracies and omissions made in his statements given to the Central Narcotics Bureau (“CNB”) in 2011, after he was arrested. At the conclusion of trial back in 2014, we successfully persuaded Justice Lee that, despite those inaccuracies and omissions, Ilechukwu had proved that he was not guilty of any offence. Justice Lee’s grounds of decision acquitting Ilechukwu is reported as Public Prosecutor v Hamidah Binte Awang and another [2015] SGHC 4.

However, in 2015, the Prosecution successfully persuaded the Court of Appeal to overturn Justice Lee’s acquittal. This was mainly on the basis that there was “no innocent explanation” for the “lies and omissions made by [Ilechukwu] in his statements. The Court of Appeal duly found Ilechukwu guilty of the offence of drug trafficking, and remitted the matter to Justice Lee to determine whether Ilechukwu should receive life imprisonment or the death sentence. The Court of Appeal’s judgment of guilty is reported as Public Prosecutor v Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi [2015] SGCA 33.

You may then recall that, subsequently in 2017, we successfully persuaded the Court of Appeal that there was a powerful probability that its previous decision in 2015, finding Ilechukwu guilty of drug trafficking, was wrong. This was the first time in legal history that the Singapore’s Court of Appeal agreed that there was prima facie sufficient fresh material on which the court may say that its previous decision was a miscarriage of justice. The Court of Appeal, in its decision reported as llechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi v Public Prosecutor [2017] SGCA 44, remitted the matter to Justice Lee, to receive expert fresh evidence on Ilechukwu’s state of mind when he gave the CNB statements in 2011. The Court of Appeal also directed Justice Lee to make findings on a list of questions formulated by it (the “Terms of Reference”) in its 2017 decision and also a subsequent decision in 2018 made upon a further application brought by us.

In 2018, we had conduct of the further evidential hearing before Justice Lee. Now, in this latest comprehensive judgment reported as Public Prosecutor v Hamidah Binte Awang and another [2019] SGHC 161, we have successfully persuaded Justice Lee that:- (a) Ilechukwu had previously suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome (“PTSD”) as a result of witnessing a massacre at his hometown in Nigeria when he was a child; and (b) when Ilechukwu was giving his CNB statements in 2011, Ilechukwu was suffering from some post-traumatic stress symptoms (“PTSS”).


3. Conclusion

At the conclusion of his judgment, Justice Lee observed that

[a]lthough the Court of Appeal… had not [previously] expressed it as such, it seems to me that the true question is whether, in view of the evidence at this trial and the findings that may be made from such evidence, such an innocent explanation is possible. As the answer is not within the Terms of Reference… I must be content merely to pose the question.

We are carefully studying this judgment.