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Man who stabbed law student to death gets life with a minimum 17 years

11 Aug 2023

| Author: Andrea Hilton

Life sentence accepted – Sentencing Act 2002 – calculated or lengthy planning – brutality, cruelty, depravity or callousness – vulnerability – statutory purpose of s 104 – manifestly unjust 17-year minimum imprisonment period

R v Singh [2023] NZHC 2040.


Kanwarpal Singh pleaded guilty to murdering 21-year-old law student Farzana Yaqubi on 19 December 2022 and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a 17-year minimum period of imprisonment (MPI).

A psychiatric assessment was completed before formal arraignment. Singh entered an early guilty plea. There were multiple eyewitnesses who could identify Singh, and his lawyer accepted life imprisonment was needed.

Singh, a 30-year-old security guard, came from India as an independent adult. He was brought up in a Sikh family but converted to Islam. It was normal in his family for his father to use violence or threaten violence to be obeyed. Singh also expected to be obeyed, especially by women.

Yaqubi came to New Zealand from war-torn Afghanistan as a two- year-old with her family and as a refugee.

After talking to Yaqubi on one occasion in September 2020, Singh persuaded her to have coffee with him. He kept in touch with Yaqubi on Instagram. Yaqubi blocked Singh but he continued to contact her throughout 2021 and 2022 by creating and using new Instagram accounts.

Some of Singh’s messages were threatening. For example, he said he would kidnap her and give her 365 days to fall in love with him. Singh also threatened to throw acid in her face. To remain in contact, he contacted her family and friends on social media. In December 2022 Singh followed Yaqubi in a shopping centre, prompting her to seek help from a security guard. Singh then sent Yaqubi a video of him outside her home. She was scared and complained to the police about Singh stalking her. She gave the police screenshots of his threatening messages.

On 19 December 2022, Yaqubi finished work and caught a bus home. While she walked along an alleyway Singh attacked her. He had parked his car near the alleyway, lying in wait for her. When he saw Yaqubi, he approached her with a large knife. He stabbed her 12 times as she tried to call police. When members of the public approached Singh, he ran to his car and fled.


Applicable principles: accountability and denunciation necessary consideration – whether s 104 circumstances displayed – whether calculated or lengthy planning displayed – Desai v R [2012] NZCA 534 – whether there was brutality, cruelty, depravity or callousness -whether victim vulnerable – Marong v R [2020] NZCA 179 – comparison with non-s 104 cases – whether 17-year MPI manifestly unjust – R v Davis [2019] NZCA 40 – whether features of offender justify a reduction – whether purposes of s 104 satisfied – Houhua v R [2019] NZCA 533 – appropriate discount for guilty plea – Frost v R [2023] NZCA 294.


Held: Three s 104 aggravating circumstances were displayed. Singh’s own circumstances did not justify a reduction to the nominal MPI of 16 years, six months.

The nominal MPI was determined by arriving at a comparative sentence of 17 years and six months, less one year for Singh’s guilty plea. An MPI of 17 years was not manifestly unjust.


R v Singh [2023] NZHC 2040

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