19 May 2005

Character Assassination of Mr.M.Ravi

"Straits Times starts to character assassinate Mr.M.Ravi instead of a pat on the back, he gets a knock on the head. Shame on Straits Times, it sounds more like a propaganda machine in trying to belittle Ravi. Its hard to find a lawyer like Ravi working for the rights of those facing the death penalty." Sinapan Samydorai and I second that... Think Centre.

NEWS Photo's Shanmugam's funeral

There's a report in today's Sunday Times [15 May 2005], "Lawyer's publicity stunts under fire".

It's about M. Ravi, a lawyer who tried his best to keep his client Shanmugam Murugesu from the hangman's noose.

It was reported that "Senior lawyers have distanced themselves from what some called publicity stunts by counsel M. Ravi, in his bid to get the death sentence lifted for drug trafficker Shanmugam Murugesu."The report quoted some of M. Ravi's peers. I felt like throwing-up when I read their comments.

One by Mr Lim Kia Tong, "a criminal lawyer for 25 years" was quoted as saying "The President's right to grant or not to grant clemency cannot be challenged...so Mr Ravi's tactics are quite senseless." Senseless? M. Ravi along with many others did their best to save Shanmugam. While trying to do that, they raised the awareness in Singapore of the death penalty issue. I find Mr Lim's comments senseless.

To read the entire article click here.


Jowie said...

This is so agitating upon confirming my views towards lawyers in singapore. Today afternoon, a friend asked me why I din't choose to practice law and i replied with my views on practicing laws in singapore and yes! I am right. :D

When public opinions have no weight on the "judiciary", where do we find "justice"? Anyway, even I've seen it, I won't recognise it cos I've never seen it b4! :P

But it's real sad seeing Ravi getting a stab on the back. Anyway, those comments are from lawyers who knew the laws and definitely aware of the consequences of opposing the gahmen views.

Consequences? DEFAMATION SUIT LOH! u dunno meh.. its a
suit(thick clothing) that gahmen loves.. :D enough of the nonsense.. tata. :P

kelvin said...

While I find the responses condemning Mr. Ravi's actions reprehensible, I also find the cursory and simplistic retorts of the author disturbing. If this is indicative of the best they can muster, what hope is there that Singaporeans who do not agree can intelligently engage in a real disagreement?

Jowie said...

no hope..

Anonymous said...

too many lawyers in s'pore r a bunch of yesmen.

i look at the photos and think "wow...the kind of grief caused to shanmugam's mother by her country".

shall stop saying more b4 i get thrown in jail (defamation) or put to death (treason).

Gilbert Koh said...

As a legal professional, I also found M Ravi's efforts rather senseless.

Why do I say this? Because legal professionals know how the law works. In other words -

here is the law; this is how it works; here are the legal options; there are the legal possibilities; these are the possible legal arguments; here are the potential legal strategies.

It is somewhat like maths. It's a closed system. There are these variables; there are certain formulae. You calculate and you solve and you calculate and you solve. And in this case, the same legal answer pops out - "Shanmugam dies."

So there is nothing left to do within the legal system. Once you exhaust the legal possibilities, you exhaust them.

Ravi exhausted his legal possibilities. But he went on banging his head against the law.

That is what the other lawyers find stupid in Ravi's action. I found it rather stupid too, from the legal/professional point of view.

Of course, it's possible to view some of Ravi's efforts as extra-legal. In other words, to view him as a social activist or a campaigner against capital punishment, rather than as Shanmugam's lawyer. But I feel that if he was trying to do these things - he should have made it clearer the capacity in which he was trying to act.

It's interesting to consider Jowie's opinion -

"When public opinions have no weight on the "judiciary", where do we find "justice"?"

Actually, the truth is that public opinion is not supposed to have any weight of the judiciary.

There is no provision in the law that gives the judge the power to change a decision because the public does not like the decision.

Nor is there any provision in the law that gives the judge the power to consider the fact that Shanumgam has a family etc etc, and thereby not sentence him to death.

The only way the judge could have saved Shanumgam is to tell a lie and say:

"Based on the facts, I believe that Shanumgam did not actually traffick in drugs."

This is the only way that the judge can save Shanmugam from the death sentence. Of course, faced with the extremely strong evidence in court, the judge would have been hard pressed to justify his belief. And in any event, it is not a good thing if our judges lied freely in court, is it.


Jowie said...

Ello! I'm back.. Thanks Gilbert for clarifying from the point from lawyers' views and I knew that those comments by lawyers are certainly valid in their own sense because they are just lawyers.

I don't exactly know what's going on during the trial where Ravi questioned the procedures but certainly Ravi pursue further for clemency is just an extra-role that I think, shouldn't be implicated in his status being a lawyer which of cos shouldn't be mock or commented.

Moreover, adverse comments have been published and made public. Isn't this unfair to him? In addition, I don't think he is concerned with just that law but rather more of a bigger picture that incorporated more of a senseful considerations for the wider society. In this case, it's death penalty and the suitability of sentence.

If public opinion aren't suppose to have weight on the judiciary, then wheres the procedural justice in regards to suitability of sentence. Can't we contribute some inputs regarding this?

Again, I reckoned that this article is definitely a warning to all current & going-to-be lawyers. As you know, they love publishing things in their favour. :D
Good day!

Gilbert Koh said...

Defence lawyers can do the clemency petition. In fact, in practically every capital case where the person is convicted, a clemency petition is sent in. It is a "nothing-to-lose" situation.

If the clemency petition fails, then it fails. There is no further avenue. The law does not give you any further route whereby you can, say, demand that the President explain his decision or refer the matter to the next-higher authority.

But I think Ravi went ahead and banged his head against the wall, anyway.

If I recall correctly, Ravi raised certain issues with Singapore's criminal procedure. That bit was rather silly. Every accused person, whether he is charged with petty shoplifting or littering or rape or drug trafficking, is subject to those same procedural laws. If you think that there is something wrong with those laws and need reform, you raise the issue elsewhere, but you shouldn't be raising the issue in an actual trial. You can't say, "These procedural laws apply to everyone, but they shouldn't apply to my client, because he would die and I would feel pretty upset about it."

But Ravi went ahead and banged his head against the wall, anyway.

No, public opinion should not affect a judge's opinion. In fact, the law is very clear about what judges should think about. That is why you see in movies how opposing lawyers stand up and tell each other, "No, this is not relevant. No that is not relevant. Judge, overrule that question." When hearing a case, a judge is required to focus on relevant facts only, and what's "relevant" is very specific, and to be decided by a complex set of rules which we call the law of evidence.

The fact that Shanmugam has kids and a mother -

the fact that public opinion went one way or the other way -

these facts were not relevant. The law would not have permitted the judge to take these factors into account as he worked through the legal process of determining whether Shanmugam was guilty or not.

But Ravi went ahead and tried to shape public opinion and he banged his head against the wall, anyway.

If the public has views about capital punishment, the avenue for change is through Parliament, which has the power to abolish or amend the laws. If Parliament changed the laws and took away the death sentence, the judge wouldn't be able to send Shanmugam to his death even if he was a child rapist plus murderer plus drug trafficker plus terrorist.

Anonymous said...

yes, laws r laws...bottom line, the law in s'pore sucks and there is no justice - or righteousness or watever u call it u know wat i mean (not the legalistic definition) - here.

while i'm not condemning lawyers in general with a sweeping statement, the fact is anti-lawyer jokes about them burning in hell dun happen for no reason.

Gilbert Koh said...

Of course. There are also jokes about Jews and blacks and Malays and doctors and no doubt you will say that these jokes don't happen for no reason.

soci said...

Hi Gilbert, thanks for clarifying the legal situation. I have often wondered if the executive in Singapore does have a very close association with the judiciary. Rather like the claim Lingle made a number of years ago.

From a lawyers perspective working within Singapore is it acceptable for the public to have zero influence and the executive/government, to have some influence? How would some one go about changing a law, any law in Singapore?

Anonymous said...

yeah but check out the contents/nature of lawyer jokes (wat they're trying to say/stereotype) vs dat of other jokes.

but anyway sorry just realised my blunder: i was targeting the lawmakers, not lawyers or judges - basically whose hands r tied.

i'm an embittered angry anarchist wishing for armageddon...er no actually i just wanna work towards becoming a citizen of another country and laugh from a safe distance =D

Gilbert Koh said...

How to go about changing a law? The correct way is to convince an MP to raise it in Parliament. If it is a sufficiently major issue, it will be discussed in Parliament, and then the MPs will vote, and the change will happen.

Of course it is not easy. Let me tell you about how I once strove to change a tiny bit of the law (and how I failed).

It's a bit technical, and I can't remember all the details, but it approximately goes like this:

The law draws a distinction between adults who commit crimes, and young persons who commit crimes.

Adults who commit crimes might get caning, be sent to prison, be inflicted with a permanent criminal record etc.

Young persons who commit crimes can just be sent to a Boys' Home or Girls' Home, or be put on probation etc. They cannot be caned and they cannot be sent to a real prison.

The problem is that in the Children & Young Persons Act, the relevant provision is poorly drafted and can lead to grossly unfair results.

For example, suppose you are 15+ when you commit an offence. However, your police officer dawdles on your case, and the courts are busy, and the DPP was on medical leave, and the witnesses were away overseas at a certain time, and this happened and that happened, and the months passed, and through absolutely no fault of yours, you turned 16 by the time your case was ready to be heard.

If convicted, you would then be liable to be punished as an adult, not a young person.

This unfair result nearly happened in one of my cases. When I received the file, my sharp beady eyes noted the teenager's date of birth.

I flew to court; upset everyone's schedule; got yelled at; I haggled and argued with the administrative judge; made him reset and rearrange a few judges' calendars; rejuggle other cases, and so on.

In the end, I squeezed the case into court two working days before the teenager's 16th birthday. I finished his case one working day before his 16th birthday. He qualified to be punished as a young person and did not have to be caned in Changi Prison.

He went instead to the Boys Home and although I've never seen him again, I hope he made good use of his second chance for a decent life.

You may think it's pretty funny that a DPP was going the extra mile to look out for the best interests of an accused person. After all, my job was to prosecute them, not help them. Ah, but I was always the noble, good-hearted sort of guy.

Anyway, I realised how dangerous this little provision was. In the great machinery of the criminal legal system, the wheels and cogs normally churn automatically.

Not every DPP cares as much as me or is as aggressive and determined as I am, to help young juvenile delinquents get a second chance.

As fate would have it, Parliament was reviewing the CYPA that year (that's like, a once-in-20-years type of event).

I seized the opportunity and contacted Prof Simon Tay (then an NMP - he had also previously taught me when I was in NUS law school).

I explained the provision to him and also discussed a few other technical details. Because he is a smart fellow, he understood very quickly and he agreed with me that the provision should focus on the accused's age at the time he committed the offence, NOT the time he is tried in court.

I asked Simon Tay to raise the issue in Parliament and get the provision amended. He declined, with some sadness. His reason?

There was no time in Parliament. He would not have sufficient time to raise this. Time is very short. Parliamentary debate focuses on the big picture, the principles.

The kind of amendment I was suggesting required careful legal reworking of the language in one specific provision of the Act. It was something too technical for non-lawyer MPs to understand quickly. And the Speaker would not give Simon Tay enough time in Parliament to talk about this at length.

So Simon Tay, while fully agreeing with my views on the CYPA, wasn't even going to try to get it amended.

If I had never seen Parliament in action, I would have been furious with Simon Tay. But I have. I have sat in the Strangers' Gallery in Parliament and seen them at work.

What Simon said was true. When MPs meet to discuss the entire nation's affairs, there would be no time for a tiny little provision in the CYPA to be given the kind of attention needed to have it amended.

Thus up to today, the provision still remains in the law books. I expect that every year, at least a few teenagers who have just turned 16 will go to prison and get caned unncecessarily. The stain of the criminal conviction - they will carry it for life.

At the individual level, these are tragic stories. At the national level, these are small chapters that pass largely unnoticed. They will not merit any attention in Parliament.

And you think these are the ONLY problems in the criminal law? No, the problems are everywhere, everywhere. If you will not rest until you've reformed them all - well, you'll never rest at all in this lifetime.

Sad, isn't it. I got worn out and I quit my DPP job eventually. I did my bit for justice and mercy and all that, and I'm very proud of it. But I can't play hero every day, you know. It saps your life.

Now I work in a commercial organisation. At least everyone is clear that it's all just about making money. No issues with horrible concepts like justice or mercy. No need to wrestle with notions of right and wrong. I sleep better these days.

Jowie said...

Hmm.. I'm so glad to hear that, Gilbert. :D

But no matter how big is the issue discussed in parliament I think they must provide a channel for such trivial issue to be brought up as u agreed that such trivial issues isn't that simple in the eyes of the affected ones.

Since you had known the govt. bureaucracy and that had revealed another major flaw in amending the laws, then the more it supports Ravi's action. And more to that, since there's such strict bureaucracy in altering unjust, then what's the point of classifying this as a channel?

It seems to me, there exist no channel at all. Of cos, unless it's a big issue to them. So Gilbert, You mean there exists numerous minor flaws?

Thanks for your expertise and clarification for some legal issues that had provided me insights. :D Appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Is most of our lawyer is pro-PAP. So they lick their boots and always help them and a little on others???

Jowie said...

Hm.. Not all of them I would say.. But one reason that they might be seen pro-pap because they knew the rules well and they knew what can't be played.

Think they should have seen quite alot of examples that are meant to be warnings. :D They really deters..

soci said...

Thanks gilbert very enlightening. Don't want to ask you too many questions as it is time consuming.
But aren't there governmental committees to deal with 'smaller/practical issues' made up of MPs?

Anonymous said...

There ARE such committees. They are called Select Committees.

There is also something called a Law Reform Committee. It is very high-powered. It consists mostly of senior and very well-respected members of the legal profession (judges, academics, top lawyers including Senior Counsels and so on).

Once upon a time, one of them wanted to nominate me to sit on the committee. This would have been highly unusual. I would by far have been the youngest, and the least distinguished person on the panel.

However, this chap was thinking of nominating me because he knew I had a very strong interest in law reform and lots of ideas. We had worked together in the Legal Service and I think he was impressed with my grasp of legal issues as well as my highly unorthodox behaviour as a DPP. He was a bit of a maverick himself.

When he discussed his idea of nominating me for the committee, I hesitated. I felt inadequate. I didn't have the self-confidence. I didn't know whether I could hold my own sitting as an member with such esteemed persons.

He said, never mind then. Take your time. No rush. Whenever you're ready, he said. Maybe in a year or two or three years' time, you'll feel ready.

It never happened. Two years later, this chap left Singapore and settled in the UK and I lost a mentor and a friend. As well as the chance to be nominated to sit on the Law Reform Committee.

I do wonder sometimes about the what-if's. There are many, in my life. This was one of the bigger ones.

For me, it was never about the things like respect and privilege. It was really, truly all about the chance to make things better, and if things became better, I would be happy even if I stayed in the background and never got any of the limelight.

But I never got that chance. Or rather I didn't take the chance when it tentatively came my way. Then the door closed. And that was that. Life goes on.


Anonymous said...

Dear Gilbert,

I understood that Ravi took on Shanmugam's case at the eleventh hour when all appeals were exhausted. He did so on pro bono.

What would you have done if you were in Ravi's shoes? How much would you charge the family?


Gilbert Koh said...

Capital cases - no need for pro bono. If the accused does not engage his own lawyers, the state will arrange for 2 lawyers (one senior lawyer, and one junior lawyer as assistant) to defend him. And the state will pay the legal fees.

To be a "volunteer", lawyers just sign up on a scheme known as the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme. When a capital case occurs, CLAS will appoint 2 lawyers from their list, to defend the accused.

Anonymous said...

gilbert koh....from what ive read in your comments, i think ure just like the freaking govt.

ure a sad case of STUPID

u called the Ravi's action, unprofessional???

people like you, should enrol for classes on humanity

how dare u put your kids photo up when, ure a pig yourself....

clean up your act and embrace humanity

Ted said...

Will it be incendiary to say that the lawyers arranged by the state would probably have advise the family to give it up and arrange for the last rites? Can't help thinking that way, well, we don't hear many of such cases whereby the state appointed lawyers fighting tooth and nail even in a hopeless case. And I think it was somewhat interesting (and maybe somewhat unfortunate too) to see that it was a lawyer of the same general ethnic background as the accused and his family taking up the case. Hmmmm....

Jowie said...

relax relax.. you cun blame those lawyers. I think it will be normal for them to have such opinions as they are trained in such a way. :D

I think the problem here is about the publicity of Ravi's action. It's kinda unfair towards him isn't it.. he just merely did alittle further and certainly he didn't make such a fuss in court instead, it's out of court.

It's usual to see one sided comments from the news. That's why i am here and i am here to develop a brand new perspective with a brand new opinion. :D But steve, no updates this few days eh? I'm here for the brand new news.. hee!! :D bi bor bi bor!

Anonymous said...

2 people one CANT TRUST




Mr Wang Says So said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gilbert Koh said...

If you had read my blog when it existed, you would see that I strongly oppose capital punishment.

This does not change my view that Ravi's actions, as a lawyer, were pointless.

If you like, you can compare Ravi's actions to a doctor treating a terminally ill patient. The patient is close to death, and there is nothing more that modern medicine can for him.

The doctor then starts doing a raindance; calling on the forest spirits to save the patient; using magic stones and blessed amulets; and flinging Tarot cards around in the hospital room.

That is somebody's job, if it is anyone's at all. It is not the doctor's job. If the doctor does these kinds of things, i don't think you would describe him as "embracing humanity". You would probably call him "unprofessional". You would probably agree that he really feels strongly about the whole thing, and that he cares a lot about his patient. This doesn't make his behaviour any less professional.

As for Ted's question -

one thing that the public probably does not know is that in capital cases, the law does not allow anyone to just "give up".

For non-capital cases, a person can plead guilty. A charge is read to him; a summary of facts is read out to him; he then can say, "Yes, I plead guilty, I agree with the statement." And he will then be sentenced.

In capital cases, this does not happen. Even if the evidence is utterly clear-cut and even if the accused himself says in court:

"Yes! Yes! It was me! I admit 100%! I killed all those people! In fact, I deserve death! Sentence me, sentence me!" -

the full trial must go ahead. Every relevant witness must be called to the stand to testify the judge;

every witness must face questions from the DPP and the defence counsel;

the accused is required to sit through the entire process, so that if he hears anyone saying anything that is inaccurate or false, he has the chance to object or tell his lawyers to object.

In practice, you do get accused persons who say, "For goodness sakes, just hang me and be done with it, I've already admitted to the offence, and I'l admit it another 20 times if you want me, this is an open-&-shut case, why do we have to go through this?!"

But the whole process will go on. The judge wants to completely satisfy himself of the accused peson's guilt. So there's no "giving up", to speak of.

On the portrayal of Ravi in the press, well, I do wonder if the articles reflected the true spirit of what the lawyers said.

For example, if you had followed the Acidflask case, you'd know that bloggers Mr Brown and Mr Miyagi were quoted in the press saying certain things, but in their own blogs on the same day, both Mr Brown and Mr Miyagi responded very strongly and said that their words had been twisted out of context. Mr Miyagi said that he was "very angry" and Mr Brown said that he wasn't going to talk the press ever again.

Same thing might have happened here. If you asked any half-decent criminal lawyer what he thought of Ravi's conduct, I think the most likely response is that as a lawyer, Ravi acted stupidly and not very professionally.

On the other hand, if you asked them to comment on Ravi's conduct not as a lawyer but, say, as an activist, you probably would get a wider range of responses, some favourable.

The press perhaps chose its questions carefully or selectively used the lawyers' comments to create an article with a slant that the individual lawyers might not have expected.

Anyway, all this discussion, IMHO, is somewhat misguided. To me, in the big picture of things, Ravi isn't the main thing. Even Shanmugam Murugetsu isn't the main thing, although he comes a lot closer.

The main thing really is whether capital punishment should or should not stay in Singapore.

Gilbert Koh said...

Somewhere in the long post above, I wrote this:

"You would probably agree that he really feels strongly about the whole thing, and that he cares a lot about his patient. This doesn't make his behaviour any less professional."

Of course, I had meant:

"You would probably agree that he really feels strongly about the whole thing, and that he cares a lot about his patient. This doesn't make his behaviour any less UNprofessional."

Jowie said...

greatly said... that's the point. And the point is, why read 'straight' time? Maybe in this case, it isn't about selective publication but rather those lawyers may have an obligation on making such comments.

And of cos, capital punishment and Gilbert certainly had clarified his stand.. nothing to argue about, just throw away the papers. :D

Anonymous said...

Dear Gilbert Koh,

You evaded my last two questions to you except to suggest that you would not work pro-bono in Shanmugam's case. You clearly suggested that Ravi should not have worked for free.

I asked you if you were in Ravi's shoes, having to take on a case after all appeals have been exhausted, what you would do? I also asked how much you would charge his family if you had taken on the case.

You called Ravi's actions "unprofessional"? Again, if you were him, what would you do?

You said you are opposed to the death penalty? What have you done in the course of your legal career or as a concerned citizen, in raising the issue of the death penalty in Singapore (besides writing about it in your blog which you have since deleted due to your fear of libel).

What do you think of Ravi's appeal to the United Nations? Would you have done it yourself?

Lawyer to call on UN to help save death row inmate

Colin Ang

Anonymous said...

Dear Gilbert,

Another 3 questions. What do you think of Ravi's attempt a convene a constitutional court to review Shanmugam's case?

Do you think that the publicity in Shanmugam's hanging has helped in some way to raise the debate of death penalty in Singapore? Is that a positive thing?

How then would you, as a lawyer acting for Shanmugam, try to raise the DP issue in public as that was your one of your client's final wish?

Colin Ang

Gilbert Koh said...

I never did criminal work on the defence side. I was a DPP. So no, I would not have worked pro bono for anyone. There probably would be some form of professional conflict of interest for a DPP to start acting for accused persons.

When I left my DPP job, I worked in a non-contentious area and no longer went to court. I focused on the banking industry and handled deals for clients such as DBS, OCBC, Standard Chartered and the former OUB. No more criminals.

So I frankly don't know how much defence lawyers would charge for handling a drug trafficking case. I have no experience from that side of practice. If I were defence counsel, I suppose I would charge whatever the market rate is.

However, you say that Ravi took on the case after all appeals were already exhausted. If by "all appeals" you mean the clemency petition as well, then my answer is that I would not take on the case.

Why should I? If all avenues are exhausted, then obviously there is no legal service that I can offer.
It is like engaging a doctor to bring a dead man back to life. You need Jesus for that - I'm not qualified.

If by appeals, you mean appeals within the court process, and you do not mean the clemency petition -
well, then there is one additional thing which a lawyer can help to do, which is to write the clemency petition.

Again I do not know how much the market price is, but I would expect it to be cheap. That's because you don't even really need a lawyer's skills to do it.

It is really nothing more than writing a letter to the President, mentioning the facts of the case, and describing the sad personal circumstances of Shanmugam Murugetsu's story.

Because this is an extra-judicial process, you don't really need any legal professional knowledge (remember - the President himself is not a lawyer).

You don't need to cite legal provisions; highlight relevant case law; analyse statutes etc. All those things are for the court appeals process which had already been exhausted. The President isn't interested in those sorts of things.

SR Nathan won't throw away your letter just because it wasn't written by a lawyer.

Yes, I am against capital punishment. I tend towards a Buddhist philosophy. Have I done anything about it? Nope. I worry about the shrinking rainforests too, and I think that the US acted outrageously in invading Iraq - I haven't done anything about those matters either. Have you?

Appeal to the UN? No, as defence counsel, I wouldn't have done it. There is nothing in the law which says that the UN can override any sentence imposed by any Singapore court.

Even if the UN takes the matter up and writes a violent letter of protest to the Supreme Court of Singapore, the court would be as powerless as myself.

The judge simply has no power under the law to reverse his earlier sentence.

So there is nothing for a lawyer to do.

But if for some reason I *had* decided to write to the UN, I definitely would have done it pro bono.

More precisely, I wouldn't have charged for it because it would be something I do outside my capacity as that client's lawyer.

"Pro bono" is not the right term because it suggests that you're providing legal services for free.

Why would I do it for free? Because it would be unethical to charge for it. This isn't "legal services". Whatever legal services could have been provided were already provided. Writing to the UN is outside the scope of the defence counsel's work. If you try to do it in the capacity of defence counsel, then you're acting unprofessionally.

I hope you're getting a better picture now. If the Constitution of Singapore (a legal document) contains an Article that says:

"If the President of Singapore rejects a clemency petition, the convicted person map appeal within the next 14 days to the United States, stating the grounds of his appeal against the President's rejection, and the United Nations shall have power to set aside, overrule or uphold the President's decision in accordance with the procedure stated in [ ] .."

... then there is something for a lawyer to do. But there's no such provision.

So if as a lawyer, you decide to write to the UN; to the Dalai Lama; to Amnesty International; to Nonviolence International; to ASEAN; to the Vatican ....

well you'd better not charge for it. You might be trying to do something, but whatever you're doing is not "professional legal services".

Colin Ang's questions:

The attempt to convene a constitutional court - did he succeed? I haven't followed the news, but I'm sure he failed. I'm quite sure he has no grounds to get the court to convene, much less actually win the case.

You see -

the constitutional court would obviously address constitutional issues.

If Shanmugam can win, it means that the death penalty is unconstitutional.

And it means that the Singapore courts has been illegally killing people for the past 40 years.

Now in the end, whether something is constitutional or not depends on the interpretation of what's written in the constitution.

And it would be very very surprising if everyone had got it wrong for the past 40 years -

ie thinking that the courts can sentence people to death, when actually it cannot.

It means that the entire system has screwed up - not just in Shanmugam's case, but in the case of every law in Singapore that involves the death sentence -

that means not just drug trafficking, but also murder, kidnapping, certain other offences relating to firearms etc.

How likely is that?

Now if you go look at the Constitution yourself, the relevant Article is very clear. (You can get the Constitution from http://statutes.agc.gov.sg - I think the Article relating to the right of life is somewhere at the start of Part IV - Fundamental Liberties).

It simply tells you that everyone has the right to life, unless he is deprived of it in accordance with the law.

In other words, as long as the legal processes were correctly applied in Shanmugam's case, that is to say, his matter was handled in accordance with the law,

(eg he had a fair trial; the charge was explained to him in a language he understood; he had the right to call witnesses; he had the right to question witnesses; the judge correctly applied the Misuse of Drugs Act; the prosecution proved its case beyond reasonable doubt etc etc)

then he can be deprived of his life, and this wouldn't be unconstitutional.

The death sentence isn't unconstitutional in Singapore.

Next question:

Do I think that the publicity in Shanmugam's hanging has helped in some way to raise the debate of death penalty in Singapore? And is that a positive thing?

I think so. As I have previously mentioned in my blog, there are many compelling arguments for doing away with capital punishment.

"How then would you, as a lawyer acting for Shanmugam, try to raise the DP issue in public as that was your one of your client's final wish?"

Are you talking about the situation where the client is still alive or where the client is already dead (but had a final wish to see the DP abolished)?

In the former situation, I may give a few press interviews etc, but I would stick to exploring avenues that lawyers do. And if those avenues are closed, I wouldn't act as if they were not, for the sake of generating publicity and making the public believe that there is some legitimate avenue still open when there really isn't. For example, I wouldn't try to convene a constitutional court.

In the latter case, if I did anything to publicise the DP issue, it would be because I felt strongly enough to want to do something, in my personal capacity.

I wouldn't do it simply because it is my client's final wishes. Especially not in the capacity as a "lawyer acting for Shanmugam".

xenoboysg said...

The situation around Shanmugam's case is indicative of how the issue became conflated as diverse constituents entered the fray.

First, it began as an appeal to save Shanmugam on the reason that there has been a miscarriage of justice by the courts meaning he had been convicted wrongly, he is actually innocent. This is the legal case mentioned by Gilbert.

Than the civil society activists come in and it spirals into an issue of the legitimacy of the death penalty and human rights.

Than Chee and the SDP comes in and it becomes an issue of Governmental hypocrisy since it has business dealings with the Burmese junta which is financed by international drug money.

In the end, I am disappointed with how the issue was exploited.

All the constituents fought their own battles by rallying around the appeal of a grieving mother when a coherent strategy was needed.

In the meantime, the executioner proceeds on his business. It is just his job.

From the receipt of Augustin, known as Awe, the Executioner of the rebel peasants of Frankenhausen in 1525 :

"So the sum total is 80 beheaded, 69 of whom had their eyes put out and their fingers cut off, which comes to 114 florins and two cents. From this should be deducted: 10 florins, received from the citizens of Rothenburg; 2 florins received by Ludwig von Hutten; leaving: 102 florins. To this should be added 2 months' pay; for each month 8 florins = 16 florins, which makes: 118 florins and two cents"

Anonymous said...

xenoboysg, I think it quite unfair that you speak of the various voices against the dealth penalty as having exploited the issue.

There is such a thing as coming at an issue from its various facets - and it's highly unlikely all of us have the expertise to speak on all the various facets.

I think you might have reduced this to the oft-heard, but simplistic, 'there are both sides of the issue'.

Anonymous said...

xenoboysg, I think it quite unfair that you speak of the various voices against the dealth penalty as having exploited the issue.

There is such a thing as coming at an issue from its various facets - and it's highly unlikely all of us have the expertise to speak on all the various facets.

I think you might have reduced this to the oft-heard, but simplistic, 'there are both sides of the issue'.

Anonymous said...

From: Nicole Herndon
To: Singapore Review
ST censors Anthony Yeo's defence of death penalty lawyer
27 May 2005

The letter below was sent to the ST but was not published.

a) Its bad enough that your country already has the world's highest
execution rates;

b) Its worse when the defendant's lawyers are taken to task for safe a man from
the gallows. (Is attempting to safe a man's life a sin?);

c) But its downright disgusting when your government, its sham kangaroo courts
and the propaganda local media engage in a concerted act to obscure facts and
make life doubly difficult for the defendant's counsel.

In any civilised country it is not wrong to attemtp to preserve life. Only here
in Palpatine Lee Kuan Yew's facist state is preservation of human life a social
wrong and evil.

This country's leaders and courts make me utterly sick and disgusted. Your PAP
Govt is pure evil personified and the beuty is that no one in Singapore is any
the wiser.

Yours Disgustedly

Nicole Henderson