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“This proceeding itself scandalises the judiciary” – M Ravi

Defense counsel for Mr Alan Shadrake, Mr M Ravi, said in his conclusion that the contempt of court proceedings were “a sure wastage of the Court's resources” and “entirely contemptuous”.

Mr Ravi was speaking on Tuesday in defence of the statements isolated by the Attorney-General's Chambers from Mr Shadrake's book 'Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock'.

Picking up from yesterday's session, Mr Ravi addressed statements 7 to 14 highlighted in the prosecution's submissions. He argued that none of them were aimed at undermining the Singapore judiciary, but could be taken as fair criticism.

Statements 7 and 8 were concerned with the alleged preferential treatment given to the rich, while statements 9 to 11 pertained to the alleged miscarriage of justice in the case of Vignes Mourthi. Statements 12 to 14 also allegedly insinuated that the Singapore judiciary is a tool of the People's Action Party (PAP) to suppress political dissent.

Mr Ravi argued that Mr Shadrake’s comments could be construed as fair criticism, as he was just representing the views of an average member of public. “An average man’s perspective must be taken into account here,” he said.

Since the courts take an individual’s contribution to society as a mitigating factor in sentencing, this gives the public “reasonable apprehension” to make the fair criticism that the rich would be more likely to receive lighter sentences, said Mr Ravi in response to the DPP’s written submissions on statements 7 and 8.

The fact that the wealthy generally have access to better legal counsels than the poor also provides his client with evidence to make the fair comment that the rich are more likely to receive lighter sentences than the poor in such cases, he said.

However, after consultation with his client, he conceded that Mr Shadrake had made a mistake in implying that Dinesh Singh Bhatia, who was arrested for consuming cocaine, would have been sentenced to 10 years in prison as well as a heavy fine if he had not been of a certain social status.

This was in response to DPP Hema Subramaniam’s assertion the day before that in Singapore law, first-time offenders like Bhatia would not receive the maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

Mr Ravi said that Mr Shadrake was willing to withdraw the sentence, and would also tell his publisher to remove it from future publications of the book. However, Mr Shadrake still maintains that his comment that Bhatia was able to access better legal counsel than those less privileged than him was a fair one.

In addressing statements 9 to 11, Mr Ravi argued that there is a circulation of prosecutors and judges in the Singapore courts. In fact, current Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong was a judge in the Supreme Court in 1988, before becoming Attorney-General in 1992 and finally Chief Justice in 2006.

This, Mr Ravi said, was an example of the “highly porous nature” of the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the judiciary, which led his client to fairly comment that the “higher echelons of the judiciary” knew about the investigation of corruption and sodomy charges against Sergeant Rajkumar.

Sergeant Rajkumar was the arresting officer and key witness in the trial of Vignes Mourthi, who was hung in 2003. The investigation of Sergeant Rajkumar had not been made known until after the execution of Mourthi.

Mr Ravi backed this claim up by referring to the transcripts of an interview Mr Shadrake conducted with top criminal lawyer Mr Subhas Anandan. In the interview, Mr Anandan indicated that during Vignes Mourthi’s trial, the prosecution “must have known” about the ongoing investigation of Sergeant Rajkumar.

Other lawyers have also commented on the alleged miscarriage of justice in the Vignes Mourthi case, Mr Ravi said. In August 2010, Lawyers For Liberty, a human rights and law reform initiative in Malaysia, submitted a protest memorandum to the Singapore High Commission calling for the Singapore government to acknowledge that there had been a miscarriage of justice.

Mr Ravi urged the Singapore state to hold a Commission of Inquiry to look into the allegations. “The matured response should not be contempt of court proceedings but a Commission of Inquiry,” he said. “The whole country failed when we allowed a miscarriage of justice to take place.”

With regards to the prosecution’s submissions on statements 12 to 14, Mr Ravi cited reports made by the Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) and the International Commission of Jurists to back up the International Bar Association report Mr Shadrake had quoted in his book.

The reports, Mr Ravi asserts, are sufficient proof to provide his client with the grounds to make a fair criticism on the lack of independence of the Singapore judiciary.

Similarly, Mr Ravi submitted that the fact that the Prime Minister is “significantly involved in the appointment of judges”, and that judges do not have tenure after the age of 65, presents Mr Shadrake – as well as members of the public – with the “reasonable apprehension” to comment on the lack of an independent judiciary in Singapore.

In conclusion, Mr Ravi stated that the Singapore judiciary “ranks at the apex of global opinon”, and therefore should not be afraid of criticism.

He also maintained that the Singapore public is “well-educated, sophisticated and mature”, with access to sources from the Internet, international media as well as social media, and are therefore used to criticism of the system and its leaders.

He pointed out that despite the prosecution’s assertion that his client had scandalised the judiciary, no attempt had been made to lodge a complaint against Mr Shadrake until he entered the country. The book has also not been banned in Singapore by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

“If the book is so bad that the State should forewarn that it undermines public confidence in the judiciary, they should gazette and ban the book,” Mr Ravi said. However, since no such action has been taken, the contempt of court proceedings are “totally unnecessary”.

With approximately 6000 copies of the book already sold, Mr Ravi said that it is clear that there is no risk of the judiciary being undermined. In fact, he asserted that the contempt of court proceedings “may itself be a factor that weakens the judiciary of Singapore”.

The hearing continues Wednesday morning. DPP Hema Subramaniam will give her response to the submissions made by Mr Ravi.

To find out more about the Vignes Mourthi case, click on the links below-

http://theonlinecitizen.com/2010/07/alan-shadrake%E2%80%99s-crime/

http://yawningbread.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/new-book-puts-death-penalty-on-trial/

http://theonlinecitizen.com/2010/08/i-want-my-sons-name-back/